Shetland’s leading archaeologist has opposed the proposed location of a spaceport in the islands.
Val Turner has expressed serious concerns about the impact a space centre for launching vertical rockets would have on historical sites and monuments in the north-east peninsula of the most northerly island of Unst.
In particular, she said it would have an adverse effect on monuments associated to RAF Skaw, one of the most prominent radar stations constructed in the UK during World War Two.
It was once used as the primary RAF source for detecting airborne threats in the area.
She said: “This is not an objection in principle to the space port at this location but it is a material planning objection to the layout as currently proposed.
“While I believe that there could be the potential to build a space station with three launch pads on this peninsula, it requires a major redesign, with the majority of the development located on land outside the scheduled area, to the west and north.
“This would significantly reduce the impact on the archaeological remains, retaining the integrity of this nationally important site and reducing the impact on its setting.
“A design which was in sympathy with the archaeological remains could significantly reduce the level of damage to, and even enhance, the monument.”
A planning statement produced by Shetland Space Centre “accepts that the site is Scheduled as a Nationally Important Monument and this development would result in a major level of significant impact, including the physical destruction of elements of the monument”.
It states: “Overall, there is judged be a high magnitude of direct impact on RAF Skaw resulting from the proposed development.
“Given RAF Skaw’s high importance, it being Scheduled as a Nationally Important asset, this would result in a major level of effect which is significant.”
Ms Turner said she believes the impact could be reduced “with a more sympathetic redesign”.
Major planning proposals were submitted to Shetland Islands Council in January on behalf of Shetland Space Centre.
Backers claim the creation of a space rocket launch centre on the island of Unst could provide hundreds of new jobs and significantly boost the local economy.
The proposals lodged by planning consultants Farningham Planning take the form of three separate but related planning applications, including the launch site at Lamba Ness.
Provision is made for the construction of three launch pads and associated infrastructure, including a satellite tracking facility, hangar and integration facilities, the creation of a range control centre at the former RAF Saxa Vord complex, use of the fuel storage facility at Ordale Airport at Baltasound and improvements to the launch site’s approach roads.
The proposals also include the building of a wildlife hide at Lamba Ness to enhance public access for the enjoyment of bird and whale watching.
The backers expect the launch site will create 140 jobs on Unst and inject at least £4.9 million a year into the island’s economy.
They also claim it will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, adding a further £2.9 million in gross value per annum to the economy.
The application claims the launch facility will have no or negligible impact on local bird species, although mitigation measures have been identified to ensure there is as little disturbance as possible.
A Shetland Space Centre spokesman said: “As with any large planning application, we expect a wide range of comments from interested parties. Once we have received them all, we will assess them in the round and respond in detail.”