1 November 2018
Campaign set up to oppose spaceport in Sutherland
By Steven McKenzie
A pressure group has been set up to oppose plans to construct a spaceport in Sutherland.
Land on the Melness Crofting Estate has been identified as the potential location for the launching of rockets carrying micro satellites.
The UK Space Agency and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are among organisations supporting the project.
But some crofters have concerns about its impact on the environment, local roads and crofting rights.
Three members of the Melness Crofting Estate company have resigned over the issue.
The launch site has been proposed for land on the Moine peninsula between Tongue and Durness.
Supporters of the project have said it would create hundreds of highly skilled jobs in Scotland.
'Destroy a peatland'
The new Protect The Mhoine (PTM) pressure group, whose members include crofters and non-crofting residents, is due to meet later on Thursday to discuss how it moves its campaign forward.
Its members' concerns include the boundary of the spaceport's exclusion zone being only a few hundred metres from their property, and also the handling of consultation on the project.
The site offers the chance to launch satellites into a particular orbit.
Under the proposals, satellites launched from Sutherland would fly from north to south.
As the Earth spins the satellites would be able to observe the entire planet over a period of four or five days.
Organisations looking at crop patterns, pollution or the movement of ice have an interest in this type of satellite Earth observation.
Chairman John William told BBC Scotland: "We think that drawbacks of building a spaceport on the Moine are far more serious and longer lasting than any possible benefits.
"The benefits are claimed to be 40 jobs in the area and perhaps 400 jobs worldwide. Those are tentative numbers.
"What is certain is if you destroy a peatlands area by putting roads across it, concrete in it and rockets on it the damage will last for hundreds or thousands of years."
Other crofters and residents in the area support the building of the spaceport, which could be linked to a mission control located at another, still to be confirmed, site in the Highlands.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said it wanted to work with all those who live in the local area.
Roy Kirk, HIE's spaceport project director, said: "Melness was identified by UKSA as the preferred site and approved a £2.5m grant to HIE towards the facility's development.
"We have always stressed the project is subject to agreement being reached with the Melness Crofting Estate and that this is something on which they will need to consult their members before entering into any formal agreement.
"Meantime, we are developing the proposals with a view to submitting consent applications within the timescales set out, but again this is all subject to land lease agreement being reached with the estate."
He added: "We believe the spaceport will bring many benefits for the local economy and community, notably through rural job creation and community resilience."
The UKSA said: "Scotland is the best place in the UK to reach in-demand satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets and there is a real opportunity here to capture the growing market for launching an estimated 2,000 small satellites by 2030.
"The proposed spaceport in Sutherland could create 400 jobs across Scotland and contribute to further growth of the UK's world-leading space sector."