Cleared for blast-off... crof ters say they’ll back spaceport
IT is the out of this world proposal which is more Cape Wrath than Cape Canaveral.
But stellar plans for a spaceport in the north of Scotland almost failed to take off after wary locals organised a campaign group against it.
Now, however, it seems all systems are go for the blast site on the A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland after it was given initial backing by crofters on the proposed land.
The remote location was chosen by the UK Space Agency earlier this year as the site for vertical rocket and satellite launches.
Crofters feared its effect on the environment, roads and crofting rights. A meeting last week, attended by ten people, revealed that they would share in an annual £70,000 in lands rents in a move which would also create hundreds of jobs.
This week, Melness Crofters Estate (MCE), which owns the prospective launch site, held a ballot of crofters, with 59 per cent voting in favour of working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on the project.
In total, there were 27 votes in favour, 18 against and one spoiled ballot paper.
HIE said the outcome means the £17.3million project can now move to the next phase, focusing on safety and environmental issues. A formal planning application is expected to be submitted to Highland Council by the end of next year.
MCE chairman Dorothy Pritchard said crofters still want to see the environmental impact kept to a minimum.
She added: ‘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.’
Miss Pritchard said it would be a matter for HIE to demonstrate a sensitivity towards safety and the environment.
She added: ‘While those who voted in favour see many local advantages with potential jobs to the area and the opportunity for our young people to get involved in this exciting industry, like those opposed to the development we will want to see this done in a way that the environmental impact is kept to a minimum and that all safety considerations have been adequately addressed.’
HIE project director Roy Kirk said: ‘The creation of a satellite launch centre in Scotland is a unique and exciting project.
‘We are grateful to the Melness crofters for agreeing to work with us as we progress plans to make our vision a reality in Sutherland.
‘We firmly believe the spaceport will open up opportunities for businesses that want to become involved in the growing space sector.’
He added: ‘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 is 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.’
‘A unique and exciting project’
All systems go: Most locals back plans for the rocket launch site