The coronavirus outbreak is expected to delay plans to build the UK’s first vertical-launching spaceport on Scotland’s north coast.
Construction work on the £17.3 million scheme, earmarked for the Melness Crofting Estate near Tongue, had been poised to get under way later this year.
But Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which is leading the ambitious project, has now said that the timetable “needs to be reviewed” in the wake of the pandemic.
A planning application was lodged in February for Space Hub Sutherland, and construction was expected to take about 15 months, with the first rocket carrying small satellites into orbit due to blast off from the A’ Mhoine peninsula within two years.
However, the coronavirus lockdown has caused disruption to the consideration of planning applications by Highland Council.
We hope that any delay that may result would be minimal.”
An HIE spokesman said: “We had been expecting that our plans would be considered by the Highland Council north area planning committee in April or June.
“However, due to Covid-19, the council is reviewing its arrangements and we are currently awaiting a revised timescale.
“We hope that any delay that may result would be minimal, and very much look forward to engaging with the council and the committee members as they determine the Space Hub Sutherland planning application.”
The development agency hopes the project will create about 61 “high quality” jobs in the far north and 250 across the region.
However, there remain a number of potential planning and legal hurdles to overcome, while questions have also been asked about the funding arrangements.
Rival vertical-launching spaceport projects are being developed at Unst, Shetland, and North Uist, on the Western Isles.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone said: “Local people in Sutherland back the spaceport to they hilt. They fully support the planning application.
“The UK and the Scottish Governments both know this – and for this reason I sincerely hope that any delay to this planning application being considered will be kept to the barest minimum.
“The spaceport can be a real shot in the arm for local employment and the local economy. This is why I support the project so very strongly.”