Ambitious plans to launch satellites into orbit from the north have been given final approval for lift-off.
Development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) intends to create the £17million Space Hub Sutherland on land owned by Melness Crofters Estate on the A’ Mhòine peninsula, south of Tongue.
HIE had submitted plans in February this year, including an extensive environmental impact assessment. Following a period of public consultation, these were considered in June by the Highland Council’s north planning committee.
Although the committee was minded to approve the application, the council was required to notify Scottish Ministers, as part of arrangements to ensure government overview of spaceport planning applications.
The Scottish Government has now 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.
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.
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 has approved a budget of £17.3m to develop Space Hub Sutherland, including funding from the UK Space Agency and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
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.
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.
“This is the first of Scotland’s spaceport projects to clear the planning process and it represents a significant step forward for both the project and Scotland’s aspiration to offer the full end to end capability for manufacturing and launching small satellites and analysing their data.
“The space sector has a key role to play in the fight against global climate change and this milestone has been achieved through the hard work of the Sutherland team in partnership with the local community, leading experts and public bodies.”
Graham Turnock, chief executive of UK Space Agency, added: “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.
“The UK government is committed to minimising the environmental impact of spaceflight activities and is developing a National Space Strategy which recognises the unique contribution of satellite technology to our understanding of global issues like climate change.”
David Oxley, director of business growth with HIE, also welcomed the council’s decision, saying: “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.”