Spaceport site suitability questioned in new study

Doubts have been cast on the suitability of the site chosen as the location for the UK’s first major spaceport.

The UK Space Agency announced last year the A’Mhoine peninsula in the Highlands had been selected as it is the best place in the UK to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets.

New research questions why a “wild land” site covered by environmental designations was chosen for the Sutherland spaceport (SSP).

SCIENCE Spaceport
(PA Graphics)

It also casts doubts on claims 40 “high-quality jobs” would be created, suggesting “the jobs which will be available to local people have been stated as housekeeping and security”.

The research by Professor Mike Danskin, of Heriot-Watt University, and Geoff Whittam, of Glasgow Caledonian University, 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 the population decline through the creation of jobs 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’.”

Sutherland was chosen ahead of sites at Unst in Shetland and North Uist in the Western Isles.

The paper questions the focus by Highlands and Islands Enterprise on the A’Mhoine site over others and suggests a consultants’ report commissioned in 2016 overstated the level of community support while not paying enough attention to infrastructural issues and environmental designations.

Other research had looked not only at A’Mhoine but also the sites in Shetland and North Uist, concluding Unst was the best.

The new study said research by Deimos Space UK found the Unst site  appears to be the “best commercial and social location, also offering the best value-for-public-money” meaning the Melness/A’ Mhòine location is not “unquestionably optimal”.

The report, which will be presented at a Rural Entrepreneurship conference in Inverness on Tuesday, 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”.

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