Lift-off: Approval granted for spaceport in Scotland

Final approval has been granted for satellite rockets to be launched from a spaceport in Sutherland.

Lift-off: Approval granted for spaceport in Scotland

Final approval has been granted for satellite rockets to be launched from a spaceport in north-west Sutherland.

Highland Council’s blessing follows confirmation that Scottish Government ministers have no objection.

The ambitious project has had considerable support but also prompted strong complaints from some residents in and around the Melness crofting area of the county where the facility is planned.

Millions of pounds of public money has been pledged by the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to support a private-led venture that promises new jobs in the area and elsewhere in Scotland.

The proposals were revised at the turn of the year due to public concern about the potential environmental impact on the local landscape.

Local objectors have registered their fears about possible damage to the environment and to the fragile roads network in Sutherland and Caithness due to anticipated construction traffic and a potentially huge influx of extra visitors once the spaceport is operational.

A number of residents told STV News they had already left or had considered leaving the community because of their strong opposition to the project.

The Moine, beside the Sutherland coast, has a tiny, scattered population.

The developers promise almost 200 jobs, dozens of which would be local.

Dorothy Pritchard of the Melness Crofters Estate has pointed to economic decline, citing the decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear plant and contraction in oil jobs, as grounds for backing the project.

Crofters own the site and ultimately supported the launchpad proposal in a ballot.

Opponents have claimed that the technology is risky and would “industrialise” an area with a fragile eco-system.

HIE submitted plans including an environmental impact assessment and consulted the public.

Commercial satellites and launch vehicles designed and manufactured in Scotland could be taking off from the site within a few years.

Up to 12 launches a year are expected.

HIE has approved a budget of £17.3m to develop Space Hub Sutherland, including funding from the UK Space Agency and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Scottish Government innovation minister Ivan McKee said: “It will support around 250 well-paid jobs in the Highlands and Islands including 61 in Caithness and Sutherland.

“This is the first of Scotland’s spaceport projects to clear the planning process.

“The space sector has a key role to play in the fight against global climate change and this milestone has been achieved through the hard work of the Sutherland team in partnership with the local community, leading experts and public bodies.”

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Growing our domestic launch capability will bring new jobs and investments to communities in all corners of the UK.

“Space Hub Sutherland is an integral part of these plans and this news strengthens our position as Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches.”

David Oxley of HIE said: “The UK’s space ambitions present a wonderful opportunity for the Highlands and Islands.

“A vertical launch spaceport is a key piece of the national jigsaw, along with the design and manufacture of satellites and launch vehicles, that will ensure Scotland can derive maximum economic benefits from this growing and exciting sector.”

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