Decarbonising heat and energy systems by creating private energy grids is only the beginning of Zero Carbon Perth's sustainability journey, as the city aims to lead the way on cutting carbon. By Andrew Collier


THE fair city of Perth is set to become even fairer. Ambitious and far-reaching plans have been put in place to turn it into the most sustainable small city in Europe over the next few years.

The project represents a major step forward in Scotland’s drive to move to net zero carbon by 2045, with an equally challenging reduction in CO2 of 75 per cent by 2030. 

The aim is to bring the city into harmony with its environment, tackling everything from a move towards electric vehicles, job creation and the just transition in the process.

The plan is being masterminded by the Perth City Leadership Forum, a group of individuals working with Perth and Kinross Council to build links and stimulate change by bringing the private sector into new and inspirational projects. Its Chair is Mike Robinson, who also leads the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Those involved in the new sustainability initiative are fully aware of how ambitious it is. “In the past, Perth has really been quite comfortable as a small rural Scottish city”, says Alan Caldwell, a community development consultant and the leader of Zero Carbon Perth, a working group within the forum.

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This means, he adds, that the area has been “slightly below the radar” in terms of its ambitions. “However, it is completely wedded to its landscape and its environment. These are an integral part of the city.

“As all the attention now moves to tackling the climate and biodiversity emergencies, we think Perth is extraordinarily well placed in terms of this integration and with its quality of life to play a much higher profile role in how Scotland looks forward.”

The notion of making it the most sustainable small city in Europe is a question of raising ambitions, he adds, and about 18 months ago the forum decided to explore this concept. 

“We wanted to challenge Perth to think about the issues we are now facing and how we might beat them. We held our first big conference in November last year and attracted about 300 people.

“We looked at initiatives overseas, taking inspiration from Copenhagen and holding workshops with people from different European capitals to inspire us. We also got individuals from Perth together to discuss what we wanted to do to meet our aspirations.”

Everything has moved on from there. Mr Caldwell’s own zero carbon group is currently looking at how to decarbonise Perth’s heat and energy systems, working with partners to create private energy grids.

The plan is that these will sit in and around the city, with large scale solar arrays linked to battery storage. The power generated will be fed directly to some of the big energy users in the area such as hospitals, schools and industrial areas.

“This will bring 100 per cent renewable energy, helping us to decarbonise, and it will take pressure off the national grid, which is under a lot of pressure locally. 

“We are hoping it will also feed a whole series of chargers for electric vehicles. And it will have an effect in terms of social equity because it will allow us to get energy and heating systems into some of the poorer areas and so help combat fuel poverty.”

Another Perth City Leadership Forum working group involved in the overall sustainability initiative – six of these bodies in total have been set up – is called A Growing City."

One of the things that holds Perth back is its demography”, Mr Caldwell explains. 
“We have a high proportion of elderly, and if we are going to meet our aspirations to be sustainable we have to be able to bring in more young people with the jobs to attract them. We believe that there is a lot of employment to be had in green business and that the quality of the environment in Perth makes it an ideal location for the increasing number of companies involved in this.”

Yet another group will look at revitalising the city centre by repurposing buildings, creating digital working hubs and bringing back affordable accommodation. “That will mean young people will have the sort of environment they need to provide enterprise and innovation.”

Connectivity will also be examined. This will involve improving physical transport links by looking at areas such as active travel, parking hubs and electric vehicles (EVs). It will also consider digital connections and how these can be upgraded to bring in new business.

A fifth working group will look at enterprise and prosperity, examining how improving Perth’s sustainability to put it in the forefront of European small cities will bring in new jobs and investment.

The final group is charged with considering issues of social justice and ensuring that the benefits of the overall project are distributed equally across the local population and that the poorest communities benefit most.

“There are also other exciting initiatives such as networks and climate cafes and we are also plugging into those as they fit with our overall objective”, Mr Caldwell says.

He acknowledges the substantial scale of the challenge in turning these plans into reality. “The role we are playing in the leadership forum is that of a catalyst and a matchmaker, partnering with people who will work incredibly hard to make these things happen.

“We are under absolutely no illusion about how enormous the task is. But we want to help make this happen. 

“We all live in and around Perth and the future of this place really matters to us.”

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