Crofters in Sutherland have voted in favour of pushing ahead with plans for Scotland’s first rocket base.
Melness Crofters Estate, who own the prospective launch site for small satellites, confirmed their intention to work with development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise towards agreeing terms to lease the land.
In a ballot of crofters held by MCE this week, 59% of votes cast were in favour (27 votes), and 39% were against (18 votes). There was one spoiled ballot paper.
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However, a campaign group opposed to the multi-million pound development claim not all of the 56 crofters eligible to vote actually registered their ballot papers.
John Williams, chairman of Protect The Mhoine, said this meant only 48% of those eligible to vote were in favour of the project, adding: “It is actually a minority of crofters who support the spaceport. The proposal has split the community. There is a lot of bad feeling.”
However, the outcome means that the £17.3m project can now move on to the next phase, which will focus on safety and environmental issues, as well as community engagement.
A planning application is expected to be submitted to Highland Council by the end of 2019.
Roy Kirk, HIE’s project director said: “The creation of a satellite launch centre in Scotland is a unique and exciting project.
“We are very grateful to the Melness crofters for agreeing to work with us as we progress plans to make our vision a reality in Sutherland.
“We firmly believe that the spaceport will open up a host of new opportunities for businesses that want to become involved in the growing space sector.
“As part of our next steps, we’ll be stepping up our communications and making sure local people know what the spaceport is likely to mean for them.
“It’s understandable that people have concerns as well as hopes for such an innovative venture, and we will be making sure there are opportunities to meet and discuss all the issues, from jobs and other economic benefits, to safety and the environment.”
Dorothy Pritchard, chairwoman of MCE said: “MCE held a ballot that resulted in support for progressing discussions to reach a heads of terms.
“This simply means we are happy to continue discussions with HIE, work towards a conclusion on the heads of terms and ultimately the land lease.
“The onus will be on HIE to demonstrate a sensitivity towards safety and the environment.”
Chris Larmour, chief executive of Orbex launch systems, said: “We are one important step closer to having satellites launched from British soil.
“We look forward to working with HIE and the crofters in the months and years ahead to make the spaceport a reality while safeguarding the incredibly beautiful environment that we will be operating in.”
HIE expect the spaceport to employ about 40 people and support around 400 jobs in the region.