6 November 2020
Billionaire landowners oppose Highlands space port decision
Scotland's biggest landowners are mounting a legal challenge against planning permission for a satellite launch site in the Highlands.
Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen, who own land near the proposed Space Hub Sutherland, have concerns about its impact on vulnerable protected areas.
The billionaires' company Wildland Ltd has sought a judicial review of Highland Council's planning approval.
The council said it had not received the petition and could not comment.
Public agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has proposed building the facility for launching small satellites on the Moine Peninsula, an area of peatland and crofts on the Highlands' north coast.
HIE has said the project would create jobs and help boost the Highlands' and wider Scottish economy.
Highland Council received 457 objections and 118 representations in support of HIE's planning application.
The impact on the environment, including the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area, and risk to human health were among the reasons for objections.
The local authority approved the plans in June and referred their decision to the Scottish government for scrutiny.
In August, Scottish ministers said the plans did not require a decision at national level and should be dealt with by Highland Council.
Wildland Ltd said following "a period of review and reflection" its initial concerns about the potential environmental impact of the space port remained, and it had gone to court to lodge a petition for a judicial review.
Chief executive Tim Kirkwood said it was "absolutely vital that planning applications of such scale and significance for environmentally vulnerable protected areas" were subject to "rigorous scrutiny" at the planning application stage, whoever the applicant happened to be.
He said: "We have carefully considered Highland Council's decision to approve a spaceport at the site and believe we were fully justified in our initial concerns over the granting of an application with a virtually unprecedented number of conditions."
He said Wildland Ltd believed that the council did not have access to "sufficiently detailed or rigorous impact assessments" on key aspects of the proposal to approve it.
"We therefore felt we had no option but to lodge an appeal for judicial review of what we believe to be a flawed decision."
Highland Council said it would be "premature" for it to make any comment until it received the petition.
HIE said it had carried out a series of detailed environmental impact assessments that were submitted as a "core part" of its planning application for Space Hub Sutherland.
A spokesman said: "The environmental conditions that were attached to planning approval strongly reflected recommendations that we and our consultants put forward to ensure robust protection is in place. These recommendations were developed with significant input from key partners.
"It is also worth noting that we expect many satellites launched from Space Hub Sutherland to be used for Earth observation, gathering data to help measure and address the impacts of climate change across the planet."
Danish businessman Mr Povlsen, who is reportedly worth £4.5bn thanks to his Bestseller clothes retail empire, first visited the Highlands on an angling holiday with his parents in the 1980s.
He bought the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate in the Cairngorms for £8m in 2006.
Since then, the billionaire, who is the biggest single shareholder in the Asos online retailer, and his wife have bought up huge swathes of the Scottish countryside. They now own about 220,000 acres across 12 estates.