Sutherland must grab the chance to build a spaceport with both hands, according to young people from the area.
Young Highlanders told the Press and Journal that Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s (HIE) proposal would bring jobs, opportunities and even entice exiles back to the area.
A poll conducted by YouGov found that 85% of Scots aged between 18 and 24 support the creation of the world’s first carbon-neutral space hub on the A’ Mhoine peninsula in the far north.
The results came as a judicial review triggered by neighbouring landowner Anders Holch Povlsen – Scotland’s richest man – concluded.
Mr Povlsen’s company Wildland raised concerns that a potential spaceport would have a detrimental effect on protected areas.
Planning permission for Space Hub Sutherland was granted in 2020 and there could be a space flight launching from Melness Crofters’ Estate land by next year.
Highland Council received more than 450 objections to the original proposal, but YouGov’s findings have suggested there is a strong level of support for the plan in the area.
Could the space hub help reverse the area’s population decline?
Over the course of the past 50 years, population figures in the area surrounding Melness and Tongue have declined.
In 1964, the local school roll at Tongue Primary had 60 pupils, with 30 at nearby Melness.
By the 1980s, the figure at Tongue had halved, with Melness closing altogether.
Today, there are only 18 pupils who attend Tongue Primary.
Lara Gunn is one local from Tongue who recently returned from London to bring up her young family.
She hopes the space hub’s arrival could inspire the next generation to pursue a career in the space industry.
The digital marketer, who has two children, one-year-old Nell and two-month-old Kit, said: “With something like the spaceport happening in the future, hopefully it is a great opportunity to help repopulate to the area and add to the school roll.
“Certainly for my children I hope there will be opportunities.
The young people in our community have always been high achievers, but so many have had to leave the area to pursue a career. We hope, one day soon, to see a revived community with job opportunities for all. pic.twitter.com/3GtLjMc8bd
— Melness Crofters' Estate (@MelnessCE) June 30, 2021
“It would be great if my children or the next generation got jobs there. It is such an interesting sector and it would be fantastic if there were opportunities for them if that is what they wanted to do.
“It could definitely shape the future of the area, not just in terms of employment and inhabitants, but also shape the legacy of this area and the identity of it.”
‘An opportunity definitely worth seizing for the community’
Other young locals have also thrown their support behind the project, which they hope can provide a sustainable future to keep young people in the area.
Steven Reid, who is originally from Tongue but now lives in Dundee, believes the space hub could entice exiles back.
The 23-year-old, who left to pursue a career in law, said: “Something needs to be done to not only encourage young people to stay in the local area but also to encourage those who have left to return.
“It may not be the perfect solution in many people’s eyes but opportunities such as this don’t come around often.
“I hope the jobs that have been discussed eventually materialise, to incentivise people to stay, or even entice new, younger families to come and work.
— Melness Crofters' Estate (@MelnessCE) June 22, 2021
“If not here, the project will likely be built elsewhere and I think it’s an opportunity definitely worth seizing for the community.”
Eva Mackay, who is originally from nearby Skerray, has said she hopes opportunities will open up as the space hub is developed.
The 23-year-old has had to relocate to Stoer along the coast to work at the Kylesku Hotel due to limited opportunities.
Miss Mackay has said hopes the space hub will help create a “new future for future generations”.
YouGov also found that 94% of adults aged between 18 and 24 in Scotland listed job creation as an important factor in the development of a rocket launch site in the far north.
The majority of the 1,015 people surveyed have said that protecting peatlands in the local area is also a big factor in the creation of the site.
The developers have said plans to ensure the land remains a working croft have been carefully considered at each stage.
This will ensure the crofting community, the area’s stunning landscape and native wildlife are all protected.
Support of young people welcomed
Dorothy Pritchard, chairwoman of Melness Crofters Estate, the landowners, welcomed the survey’s findings.
She said: “It’s great to hear that people throughout the country support the development of the space hub, and in particular, the younger generation can see the long-term benefits that having a space hub could bring.
“Our vision, from day one, has been to create opportunities for the local community while minimising disruption to our landscape here in Sutherland.
“If we don’t do something to create more opportunities for people to live and work here in Sutherland, then we will lose the heart and soul of our communities.”
She continued: “The job creation that comes as a direct result of the space hub and additional knock-on opportunities in the future will ensure that our community thrives for generations to come.
“Knowing that others in Scotland see the potential that the space hub has to revitalise our rural community is very encouraging.”