Scottish spaceport near protected areas approved despite local opposition | Environment

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Plans to construct a spaceport on the small Hebridean island of North Uist, near closely protected chicken sanctuaries, have been given the inexperienced mild regardless of important native opposition.

The proposed spaceport at Scolpaig Farm, on the north-west coast of the island within the Outer Hebrides, will host as much as 10 launches a 12 months, firing small sub-orbital rockets out over the Atlantic.

They are going to be fired both aspect of St Kilda, the archipelago of world heritage web site islands west of North Uist. Two exclusion zones, 155 miles (250km) lengthy, might be imposed on the seas both aspect of St Kilda throughout launches. Some will contain launch levels and particles splashing into the ocean.

The proposals attracted greater than a thousand objections and vociferous opposition from native fishers. Close by fishing grounds might be closed throughout launches, that are anticipated to coincide with their foremost summer time inshore fishing seasons.

The Western Isles Fishermen’s Affiliation stated its members, in addition to tour boats taking guests by sea from close by Leverburgh to St Kilda, had already endured the financial impacts of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and price of residing disaster.

The spaceport proposal is being led by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles council, which purchased the farm for £1m and is creating it with the non-public navy contractor QinetiQ and the house trade companies Rhea Group and Business House Applied sciences.

Map exhibiting the placement of the proposed spaceport in North Uist

Scottish authorities planning officers waved the challenge via after not one of the authorities companies which may oppose it, such because the conservation company NatureScot, the Scottish Atmosphere Safety Company and the Well being and Security Government, tabled any objections.

The location is surrounded by environmental safety areas to preserve uncommon and endangered birds, together with corncrakes, dunlin, ringed plover and redshank, in addition to a number of marine safety areas.

Ecologists stated the small scale of the challenge would pose a negligible threat to native wildlife, however the Royal Society for the Safety of Birds requested for launches to be banned through the breeding season. The council stated this was “unreasonable” however added that operators would wish to justify launches at these instances.

Angus MacNab, the closest resident to the location and a number one determine within the protest group Pals of Scolpaig, stated he was devastated by the information. The group is contemplating whether or not it may well afford to enchantment towards the choice in courtroom.

Retired engineer Angus MacNab, who lives near the proposed spaceport site at Scolpaig on North Uist island
Retired engineer Angus MacNab, who lives close to the proposed spaceport web site at Scolpaig on North Uist island. {Photograph}: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

“This is likely one of the most stunning vistas in Scotland, and now they’re going to construct a bloody spaceport in the course of it,” stated MacNab.

As soon as constructed, it will likely be Scotland’s third spaceport. There are additionally privately owned launch websites being constructed at Saxa Vord within the far north of Shetland and on the coast of Sutherland, designed to ship satellites into orbit.

Scolpaig could have the closest navy hyperlinks of the three: QinetiQ, fashioned after the Ministry of Defence’s analysis arm was privatised, runs the MoD’s Hebridean missile testing vary on the neighbouring island of Benbecula.

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Some launches from Scolpaig, the largest of which will carry 100kg payloads, will be monitored using QinetiQ radar, which includes an MoD monitoring station on Hirta, the main island of St Kilda.

The council argued it would produce much-needed jobs on the remote island, and supporters of the proposal said the Benbecula range, opened in the 1950s, has given generations of islanders highly skilled jobs, making them experts in rocketry.

Its first launches could take place later next year, a spokesperson said. “Spaceport 1 will provide an opportunity for the economy of the Outer Hebrides to grow and diversify and will provide much needed local, professional jobs and training opportunities,” the spokesperson added.

Government ministers support the project, arguing it will help Scotland win a significant part of the global space industry, estimated to be worth £490bn by 2030, particularly with the growth in micro-satellites used for communications and Earth observation.

A disused farm at Scolpaig in the north-west of North Uist island, site of the proposed first phase of the spaceport
A disused farm at Scolpaig in the north-west of North Uist island, site of the proposed first phase of the spaceport Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Hector Stewart, a lobster fisher who has worked the waters off Scolpaig for 40 years, said he feared that once established, the spaceport’s operations would expand over a much larger area of sea.

“It looks very much as if the council can do what it wants,” he said. “I’m just disappointed with the council. They were gambling and they’re still gambling.”

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