Q: 2040 is a long way off – how could this impact other potential activity at Ardeer before it’s operational?
A: Should Ardeer be successful in selection then UKAEA will commence presence on site in 2023 with a local office, and commencement of site investigations that will inform the design, ahead of the main build.
From there the STEP programme will need to seek the relevant permissions and consents to build the prototype plant. Once we have the permissions we need, full site development and then construction will take place.
Q: How would STEP impact on public access to Ardeer?
A: UKAEA would seek to acquire areas of Ardeer within the ownership of Ardeer Regeneration Ltd if the nomination is successful. Obviously with a development of this nature, for safety and security considerations, there will be areas of the project site that are not accessible to the public; however UKAEA have advised us that they understand the importance of existing public access, and will work with the community and statutory bodies to enable this to continue.
People will have a chance to understand and have their say on proposals well in advance of any plans being finalised. UKAEA will consult informally and formally throughout the planning process on where the various elements of the development might sit, what it might look like, and any access implications.
During construction there are typically wider temporary restrictions to ensure safety of the public and workforce.
Q: What steps are being taken to ensure the local economy and people of Three Towns and North Ayrshire benefit from this opportunity?
A: Engagement with all our communities and other stakeholders will be critical to securing this investment for the area and harnessing the opportunities it brings for our residents and businesses.
We are already working jointly with the Universities in the wider region as well as Ayrshire College, Skills Development Scotland and the Energy Skills Partnership to demonstrate how a pipeline of skills to support the delivery and operation of STEP can be developed locally and regionally.
A series of events will be taking place to engage and inform communities and encourage the conversations that we need to have in order to understand how the opportunities STEP affords can address local need and priorities.
Active engagement with schools is also key and we will work with local schools to ensure the next generation workforce is ready for this technology.
Additionally, we will engage industry across the region to explore supply chain, skills and employment opportunities we anticipate the investment will deliver. With a Community Wealth Building approach to economic development, North Ayrshire Council already works directly with businesses to help them maximise procurement and supply chain opportunities, and will continue to do so.
Given the early stage of the project, much of the detail is as yet unavailable. However early engagement will ensure our communities have maximum opportunity to benefit from the impacts of STEP.
Q: How might local schools, colleges and universities benefit from STEP being located at Ardeer?
A prototype fusion power plant at Ardeer would bring with it a wealth of new research and educational opportunities.
Academics and students at colleges and universities across the central belt of Scotland and beyond could have the chance to collaborate on new research projects as development work on STEP advances.
Students could also have the opportunity to benefit from placements at STEP for apprenticeships or research. Specialist training courses may also allow students to develop specific skills and knowledge to prepare them for work at STEP. Graduates from relevant fields could also find employment and career opportunities working at STEP.
Pupils at nearby schools may have the chance to visit STEP to learn about related topics such as the physics of fusion, the engineering challenges or building a tokamak, or the design and construction of the site. There may also be opportunities to explore careers in STEP-related fields across the breadth of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Q: If Ardeer is selected, how soon do you think an economic impact will be seen locally?
A: If Ardeer is selected, there will be some initial activity on site in 2023, with a local office and site surveys and investigations taking place to assist design and planning. Any building work and jobs associated with that will happen after Planning and other consents have been obtained. We don’t know exactly how long this will take but the permitting process will be comprehensive given the nature and scale of the proposed development.
Design concept work is still underway and will continue until 2024. Long-lead procurement will start after this, for early manufacture and site development work. The main construction will begin in the early 2030s, with full site development and commissioning in the late 2030s.
It’s also important to recognise that, if announced as the preferred location, we expect to see significant levels of investment interest in Ardeer, Ayrshire and the wider region. This could be from both existing and new businesses seeking to establish operations, strengthen existing capabilities, diversify their offer, develop local supply chains and work alongside UKAEA. STEP has the potential to trigger massive economic growth, even in these early stages.
Q: We have a history of developments that last 10 or 20 years. How can we guarantee long term sustained economic development after this particular site has ceased operation?
A: STEP would deliver economic benefits across the entire Ayrshire region and beyond. The site ultimately selected will be the birthplace of a brand new industry, moving fusion from research and development to design and delivery. The economic benefits of that, together with the potential benefits associated with attracting adjacent industries and other high-tech businesses, is huge.
The economic benefits we can realise from STEP will be significantly amplified and embedded through North Ayrshire’s Community Wealth Building approach to economic development. This will ensure socio-economic improvements are sustained in a community that has been strengthened and made more resilient by them; and will greatly minimise the risk of any potential economic shock in the long-term future.
In addition to the prototype power station, STEP would deliver all sorts of essential associated infrastructure and be the springboard for a host of Research and Development, industry and supporting services. This will be further strengthened by the work taking place through the Ayrshire Growth Deal.
The Ayrshire Growth Deal supports the transformation of the Ayrshire economy through a community wealth building lens. It is a regional deal agreed in partnership with the Ayrshire councils and the UK and Scottish Governments, committing over £250m direct investment into Ayrshire.
Within the Ayrshire Growth Deal investment, significant progress is being made to support Research and Development and innovation across a range of sectors, assets and infrastructure. We are developing strong working partnerships with leading academic institutions, including University of Strathclyde and the National Manufacturing Institute, University of Stirling and the University of West of Scotland.
We expect that academic partnership across the region to continue to mature and be a catalyst for innovation that will help us develop a net zero economy through working with our businesses. The innovation activities being advanced through growth deal investment have a very strong alignment with the STEP proposal. There are likely to be strong synergies across these projects that would provide additional infrastructure, expertise and capacity to maximise the impact of the STEP facilities and, likewise, ensure benefits across a range of other key growth sectors.