Controversial island spaceport given planning greenlight 

The proposed development in Scolpaig, North Uist, is capable of vertical launching sub-orbital rockets

Controversial North Uist spaceport given planning greenlight Fraser Architecture/Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Controversial plans for a spaceport in the Western Isles have been granted planning permission.

The proposed development in Scolpaig, North Uist, capable of vertical launching sub-orbital rockets, took the major step forward this week after Comhairle nan Eilean Siar councillors voted in its favour, subject to conditions.

That decision will now be notified to Scottish Ministers, who may decide to determine the outcome of the planning application themselves, or direct that the Comhairle may determine the application.

The facility is expected to make ten launches per year.

Planning Officers told the Comhairle’s Planning Applications Board, at its meeting on Tuesday, that the application, made by the Comhairle itself, had attracted more than 252 individual representations on the proposal, including a petition with nearly a thousand signatures opposing the plan.

Two hundred and forty-four of the responses objected to the plan, while only six were in support.

Planning staff outlined to the meeting that planning consent was required for both the use and the development of the site, with other regulations with regarded to maritime and civil aviation consents also being required. Planners stated that the development of the site’s infrastructure was ‘relatively modest’ but its use had potentially significant implications beyond the 1.8h site boundaries.

In terms of launch events, the meeting heard that rockets up to 2.5 tonnes could be launched from the facility using temporary launch towers, and with trajectories set to the north and west of the site.

The launch events would see designated hazard areas being identified for the duration of the launch activity, but the majority of these areas were contained within the existing MOD Hebrides Range danger area. Any exclusions from entry to these zones could last for up to four hours, but maritime traffic would be able to continue transit within the larger launch warning zones.

The meeting was told that launch events would take place between 7am and 9pm Monday – Friday, 8am and 7pm on Saturdays, and with no Sunday working other than ancillary activities such as security.

Planning officers stated that, in terms of impacts on the local environments, there are 11 sites of European designation near the development site, but that following impact assessments, it was determined that there would no no significant adverse impact on these designated sites.

In terms of the environmental impacts, planners stated that ‘significant environmental effects that could not be mitigated against had been taken into account in determining the planning balance in the decision they had reached to recommend planning consent for the project, adding that the mitigations outlined in the application meant that the development would have “a largely neutral effect on most planning issues”.

In terms of heritage, the meeting heard that there were several designated sites and non-designated sites in the vicinity of the proposed development, and some of these would be directly affected by the development.

Planning officer stated that there would be “modest harm” to landscape and the coastal character of the area, but with a significant visual impact from one of the representative viewpoints assessed as part of the application.

In terms of the material planning matters, Planning officers stated that the benefits of the development included the provision for space industry infrastructure, and a significant impact in terms of local jobs and the economy, and there would also be some modest benefit for biodiversity enhancements conducted as part of the development.

Planning staff concluded that the benefits of the proposed development out-weighed the identified potential negative impacts, and that the development met the terms of the local development plan.

Councillors unanimously backed the recommendation to approve planning consent.

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code