Fresh doubt is being cast on the selection of a remote Sutherland peninsula as the location of the UK’s first major spaceport.
Research into the £17.3million development by experts from two Scottish universities – being presented today at a Rural Entrepreneurship conference in Inverness – also questions claims the project will create 40 “high-quality jobs”.
The study by Professor Mike Danson, of Heriot-Watt University, and Geoff Whittam, of Glasgow Caledonian University, asks why a “wild land” site covered by environmental designations was chosen for the Sutherland Spaceport (SSP).
Highlands and Islands Enterprise has been urged to “reflect” on the findings by Highland Green MSP John Finnie and opponents to the ambitious project.
The study – Satellites to Sutherland: Not quite coals to Newcastle – expresses concerns that far from bringing jobs and prosperity to the area, the spaceport would obstruct the development of more appropriately-scaled businesses.
It states the spaceport could help stem population decline initially, but adds: “However, this narrative can be challenged on the grounds that the new jobs accessible to locals will be low quality, the damage caused by the construction and operation of the SSP will lead to the further destruction of this Highland ‘wild land’, and in turn this will reduce the opportunity for other more appropriate entrepreneurial ventures.
“In fact the spaceport will lead to ‘destructive entrepreneurship’.”
The UK Space Agency announced last year the A’Mhoine peninsula had been selected as the best place to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets – ahead of sites at Unst, Shetland, and North Uist in the Western Isles.
The report, which will be presented at the 17th Rural Entrepreneurship Conference being held in Inverness today, concludes “there are significant costs that have not been recognised in the case for the SSP while benefits for the locality and region have been exaggerated”.
The project, however, has the support of the Melness Crofters Estate, which voted in favour of leasing the land for the spaceport. But other locals have voiced concern.
John Williams, of campaign group Protect The Mhoine, said the latest study confirmed fears that Sutherland was not the right location as it would impact on the environment, archaeology and roads, as well as be a potential risk to the public.
An HIE spokesman said: “The HIE Board approved support for the Sutherland Spaceport following the UK Space Agency (UKSA) decision to support development at this site and to award research and development grant funding to two international launch companies as partners in the Sutherland project.
“One of these companies has already opened a factory in Forres where it is creating jobs.
“We commissioned an independent economic impact assessment as part of our due diligence. This concluded that Space Hub Sutherland has the potential to support 40 high-quality jobs locally, and 400 across our region.”