Space­port plans lift off as crofters vote to lease land

Vote means £17.3m rocket base project can go ahead

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS - BY ALIS­TAIR MUNRO

Crofters in Suther­land have voted in favour of push­ing ahead with plans for Scot­land’s first rocket base.

Mel­ness Crofters Es­tate (MCE), who own the prospec­tive launch site for small satel­lites, con­firmed their in­ten­tion to work with de­vel­op­ment agency High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise (HIE) to­wards agree­ing terms to lease the land.

In a bal­lot of crofters held by MCE this week, 59% of votes cast were in favour (27 votes), and 39% were

“The space­port will open up a host of new op­por­tu­ni­ties”

against (18 votes). How­ever, a cam­paign group op­posed to the multi-mil­lion-pound de­vel­op­ment claim not all of the 56 crofters el­i­gi­ble to vote ac­tu­ally reg­is­tered their bal­lot pa­pers.

John Wil­liams, chair­man of Pro­tect the Mhoine, said this meant only 48% of those el­i­gi­ble to vote were in favour of the project, adding: “It is ac­tu­ally a mi­nor­ity of crofters who sup­port the space­port. The pro­posal has split the com­mu­nity. There is a lot of bad feel­ing.”

How­ever, the out­come means that the £17.3m project can now move on to the next phase, which will fo­cus on safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, as well as com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

A plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion is ex­pected to be sub­mit­ted to High­land Coun­cil by the end of 2019.

Roy Kirk, HIE’s project di­rec­tor said: “The cre­ation of a satel­lite launch cen­tre in Scot­land is a unique and ex­cit­ing project.

“We are very grate­ful to the Mel­ness crofters for agree­ing to work with us as we progress plans to make our vi­sion a re­al­ity.

“We firmly be­lieve that the space­port will open up a host of new op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses that want to be­come in­volved in the grow­ing space sec­tor.

“As part of our next steps, we’ll be stepping up our com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mak­ing sure lo­cal peo­ple know what the space­port is likely to mean for them.

“It’s un­der­stand­able that peo­ple have con­cerns as well as hopes for such an in­no­va­tive venture, and we will be mak­ing sure there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet and dis­cuss all the is­sues, from jobs and other eco­nomic ben­e­fits, to safety and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Dorothy Pritchard, chair­woman of MCE, said: “MCE held a bal­lot that re­sulted in sup­port for pro­gress­ing dis­cus­sions to reach a heads of terms.

“This sim­ply means we are happy to con­tinue dis­cus­sions with HIE, work to­wards a con­clu­sion on the heads of terms and ul­ti­mately the land lease.

“The onus will be on HIE to demon­strate a sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards safety and the en­vi­ron­ment.”

Chris Lar­mour, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Or­bex launch sys­tems, said: “We are one im­por­tant step closer to hav­ing satel­lites launched from Bri­tish soil.

“We look for­ward to work­ing with HIE and the crofters to make the space­port a re­al­ity while safe­guard­ing the in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment that we will be op­er­at­ing in.”

ON LO­CA­TION: Re­tired teacher John Wil­liams from Mel­ness close to the pro­posed site of the space­port by A’Moine, west of Tongue

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