Put local councils at the heart of green recovery - Alison Johnstone

The Archimedes screw sounds like something from Greek mythology, but in fact it is a clever device that powers one of our city parks.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 7:00 am
The hydro dynamic screw, based on the Archimedes screw works in reverse, commissioned in 2007. It was the first of its kind in the UK & produces enough electricity for the Park to be self sufficient for some 8 months of the year.

At the weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Saughton park with Lorna Slater and Kate Nevens, the other Scottish Greens candidates who top the Lothians list, to see an exciting new renewable energy project that powers the park and its buildings. It also powers the ground source heat pumps which heat the café and other buildings.

This turbine, installed last summer, sits on the Water of Leith where the otters and kingfishers gather, as a council-run micro renewable energy generator.

This is old technology being used in an innovative way. The Archimedes Screw has actually been around since before Archimedes himself, used to lift water out of a river to irrigate dry land. Now that principle has been turned round, so the water pushes the screw downwards like a water wheel to generate energy. Unlike previous hydro-electric turbines, this is one that fish can swim down safely.

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Of course, given the urgency of the climate emergency this local project is just a drop in the ocean, but it’s a clear indication of what councils and communities can do to play their part. The Scottish Greens want to put local, democratic ownership at the heart of a green recovery. This means letting councils run local energy companies and giving communities the opportunity to develop their own ideas.

Imagine, for example, that every park in Scotland had its own micro renewable generator. Why don’t we have solar panels on all our schools and other council buildings? Although each of these things would be small contributions, think of the impact it could have if replicated around the country.

This is all part of our plans to give more powers to councils to give them more flexibility to reflect local circumstances. That means powers to set and collect non-domestic rates and other local taxes, including locally-determined environmental levies if necessary.

We also want to see communities more engaged, able to have far more say over local planning decisions and in charge of Local Place Plans that let them plan the future of their local areas.

Saughton park is a great exemplar for this kind of working. We saw all kind of input from the community in the restoration of this hidden gem of a greenspace, including the walking and cycling charity Sustrans.

There was a very eye-catching campaign at the weekend from the pedal on parliament group, which projected onto landmarks a picture of a bicycle with the words: ‘this machine fights climate change’.

We need to rethink our towns and cities that allow people to get around safely. The restoration of Saughton park has led to an accessible space for wheeling and walking, great facilities for people to get active, such as the top-notch skate park and of course it is all powered with clean energy.

Local solar, hydro or wind projects can play a big role in cutting Scotland’s emissions as we face up to the climate emergency with the urgency it needs. With only nine years left to show leadership on the climate crisis, we need to be empowering our communities to act now. Our future depends on it.

Alison Johnstone is a Green Party candidate for Lothian region