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Tue November 24 2020

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Highlands space hub gets go-ahead

20 Aug Plans for a satellite launching site in the north Highlands of Scotland have cleared the final planning hurdle.

Highland Council has approved the proposal submitted by development agency Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) to create Space Hub Sutherland on land owned by Melness Crofters Estate on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, south of Tongue.

The decision means that small commercial satellites and launch vehicles designed and manufactured in Scotland could be taking off from Sutherland within the next few years.

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.

Up to 12 launches a year will be permitted from the spaceport, which will include a control centre, 2.5km of road and a launch pad, occupying a total of just over 10 acres of the 740-acre site.

HIE had submitted plans in February this year. Following a period of public consultation, these were considered in June by the council’s regional planning applications committee, which was minded to approve the application. However, the council was required to notify Scottish ministers, as part of arrangements to ensure government overview of spaceport planning applications. On 3rd August, the Scottish government announced that ministers did not intend to intervene and the council was free to determine the outcome of HIE’s application, which it has now done.

Planning approval is subject to a set of 34 conditions, including measures to ensure operations are carried out safely and strict protection measures are implemented and monitored to protect the natural environment.

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Scottish government innovation minister Ivan McKee said: “I very much welcome the decision of the Highland Council to approve the planning application for Space Hub Sutherland, which will support around 250 well-paid jobs in the Highlands and Islands, including 61 in Caithness and Sutherland.”

UK Space Agency CEO Graham Turnock 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 today’s news strengthens our position as Europe’s leading destination for small satellite launches.”

David Oxley, director of business growth with HIE, welcomed the council’s decision. “The UK’s space ambitions present a wonderful opportunity for the Highlands and Islands,” he said. “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.

“Another important aspect is the role that satellites launched from Sutherland will play in gathering data that will help people around the world to understand and address the impacts of climate change.

“In developing our plans, we have always been very mindful of the environmental challenges presented by a project of this kind. Part of our ambition is to create the world’s most low-carbon space centre and the conditions applied to the planning approval will help us make that a reality.

“When all these factors are put together, that makes today’s decision a good result not just for the economy, but for the environment as well.”

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