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Spaceport: Landowner signs agreement with HIE over Sutherland satellite launch plans

HIE and Wildland Limited have signed  a memorandum of understanding over a planned spaceport in Sutherland.
HIE and Wildland Limited have signed a memorandum of understanding over a planned spaceport in Sutherland.

A landowner who previously launched a legal challenge against a spaceport in Sutherland has agreed to work with the project backers.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Wildland Limited relating to plans for the £17.3 million satellite launch site.

Space Hub Sutherland will be sited on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, within the community-owned Melness Crofters Estate and next to land owned by Wildland.

Plans for up to 12 launches a year from a single launch pad were approved by Highland Council in August 2020.

Decision subject to 34 conditions

The decision was subject to HIE addressing 34 conditions that cover issues including environmental protection, roads and safety.

Wildland, owned by Anders Holch Povlsen, Scotland’s richest man, opposed the council decision, leading to a judicial review.

But the judge Lord Doherty rejected Wildland’s case.  The company decided not to appeal, but said it was “deeply disappointed” at the decision.

Scottish Land Court approval, which was also required as the proposed development is on crofting land, was then granted.

In the memorandum, both parties confirm their commitment to work constructively on opportunities for sustainable economic and community development in and around Tongue, Melness and Skerray.

The proposed Space Hub Sutherland spaceport site.

Each will continue separately to support their own initiatives that they consider appropriate for the area and for the sustainable development of the space sector in the Highlands and Islands.

A third signatory to the memorandum is Braesgill Ltd, a sister company to Wildland, which holds a sporting lease with Melness Crofters Estate.

In the memorandum, HIE agrees that spaceport launches will be restricted to 12 per year until at least 2029, in line with planning conditions.

Wildland also agrees not to object to planning applications or variations submitted by HIE in relation to the site.

This is on condition these are for minor adjustments and there is no increase of infrastructure or launch activity planned as a result of any application.

Space hub will be ‘key economic driver’

David Oxley, HIE director of strategic projects, said: “We’re very pleased to be entering into this agreement with Wildland and Braesgill.

“We have lots of ambition to make Space Hub Sutherland a key driver of the local economy, boosting the community by creating jobs, attracting investment and supporting research opportunities.

“At the same time, we are determined to be a committed custodian of the natural environment around the launch site and a good neighbour within the community.

“The support of Melness Crofters Estate and input from a range of local people and organisations, including those in the Space Hub Sutherland Community Liaison Group, have been vital in helping us develop the project and prepare for construction getting under way later this year.

Anders Holch Povlsen raised a legal action against the plans.

“This memorandum of understanding sets out a framework for HIE, Wildland and Braesgill to pursue our individual initiatives, while building a relationship that recognises we have common goals too.

“That’s a positive step forward for the local area.”

Tim Kirkwood, CEO of Wildland Limited, said Wildland supports local investment and development, creating both jobs and opportunities for families in its growing conservation and tourism business in the area.

“We owe it to future generations that the wider unspoiled landscape and the nature that thrives on it, has every opportunity to be protected.

“So, we’re glad to have had the matter of the planning consent thoroughly reviewed and the requirements for any further consents that may be necessary to operate the development clarified.”

The spaceport is expected to create 61 local jobs and a further 250 across the region.

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