Peninsula’s crofters back spaceport proposals in ballot

Plans to establish the UK’s first spaceport in the north of Scotland have been given initial backing by crofters on the proposed land.

The A’Mhoine peninsula in Sutherland was chosen by the UK Space Agency earlier this year as the site for vertical rocket and satellite launches.

Melness Crofters Estate (MCE), who own the prospective launch site, held a ballot of crofters this week, with 59% voting in favour of working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on the project.

In total, there were 27 votes in favour, 18 against and one spoiled ballot paper.

HIE said the outcome means the £17.3 million project can now move to the next phase focusing on safety and environmental issues.

A formal planning application is expected to be submitted to Highland Council by the end of 2019.

MCE chair Dorothy Pritchard said crofters still want to see the environmental impact kept to a minimum.

She 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.

“While those who voted in favour see many local advantages with potential jobs to the area, STEM activities and the opportunity for our young people to get involved in this exciting industry, like those opposed to the development we will want to see this done in a way that the environmental impact is kept to a minimum and that all safety considerations have been adequately addressed.”

HIE project director Roy Kirk 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.”

The consortium behind the Sutherland spaceport proposal includes US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.