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Spaceport critics fear impact on salmon spawning

Sutherland spaceport
Sutherland spaceport

Protesters opposed to Europe’s first vertical launch spaceport in Sutherland have voiced fears over potential damage to salmon spawning areas.

Campaign group Protect The Mhoine spoke out after Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which is leading the £17.3million project,submitted its planning application for the controversial development to Highland Council.

The organisation expressed “astonishment” that HIE’s advisors deemed a site visit to research the environmental impact of the project unnecessary.

The proposed Space Hub in Sutherland

Protect The Mhoine spokesman Alistair Gow was yesterday still scrutinising the application – which has 95 documents, including a 282-page environmental assessment report – but his initial concerns regarded the impact on salmon spawning.

He was surprised HIE’s advisor Ramboll decided “desk-based research” of the local geology, hydrogeology and hydrology sufficient.

He added: “They propose to discharge water from the proposed development to the nearest watercourse, but give no strategy to protect spawning.

“HIE appear to have adjusted roads to take account of peat and streams, but nothing to protect salmon spawning areas.”

Mr Gow stressed he was still examining the numerous documents and may make more observations in time, but the campaigners have frequently questioned the impact the spaceport would have on the local environment – particularly the peat bogs which help in the battle against climate change – and the claims over job numbers.

HIE has predicted the project will create around 61 “high-quality” jobs in the far north and 250 across the region.

This is less than the target of 400 jobs in the region viewed as a “minimum” by HIE previously.

Proposed Space Hub Sutherland.

Highland Council has a meeting scheduled for April 21 when the application is expected to be considered.

If approved the development agency expects the first rocket, carrying small satellites into orbit from the A’Mhoine peninsula, to blast off in less than two years’ time.

Forres-based spaceflight company Orbex, which intends to launch its rockets from the Sutherland site, has welcomed the latest development in the application now being submitted.

A spokesman said: “Submission of the planning application is an important milestone in the development of Space Hub Sutherland and Orbex is hopeful of a positive outcome.

“The application is the culmination of years of detailed study led by HIE which has enjoyed the support of multiple government agencies.

“Orbex was happy to provide input into the technical requirements for the launch site and to have been involved in several of the pre-application consultations.

“We have also been pleased to see the very positive engagement and response of so many members of the local community.

“The combination of a small spaceport that has been designed to be carbon neutral and our own renewably-fuelled launch vehicle will place Sutherland and the Highlands at the forefront of an increasingly environmentally-conscious industry.”

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