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Business / Key milestone reached for space centre as full plans are submitted

The site of proposed Shetland Space Centre at Lamba Ness in Unst. Photo: SSCThe site of proposed Shetland Space Centre launch facilities at Lamba Ness in Unst. Photo: SSC

FULL plans for Shetland Space Centre’s (SSC) satellite launch facility and associated infrastructure have now been submitted to the council in what is a major milestone for the project.

The team behind SSC say the creation of a space launch facility in Unst will “result in hundreds of new jobs and significantly boost the local economy”.

The plans, submitted to Shetland Islands Council, 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 incorporating a satellite tracking facility, hangarage and integration facilities and the creation of a range control centre at the former RAF Saxa Vord complex.

The use of the fuel storage facility at Ordale Airport at Baltasound and significant improvements to the launch site’s approach roads also feature in the submissions.

The proposals also include the building of a wildlife hide at Lamba Ness to help facilitate enhanced public access for bird and orca watching.

The space centre team say the plans are supported by a “thorough and extremely comprehensive” environmental impact assessment report (EIAR).

The report says the launch facility will have no or negligible impact on all local bird species except for one confidential Schedule 1 breeding species which may be subject to minor disturbance.

SSC said “carefully considered” mitigation measures have been identified to ensure there is as little disturbance as possible.

The team also said that the EIAR states that due to the intermittent nature and short duration of the rocket launches and engine tests, “the effects of noise associated with these activities will be much less than initial concerns voiced by local residents anticipated”.

The noise effects will be less than that historically associated with Baltasound Airport when it was active and when the RAF was operational at Saxa Vord.

The report acknowledges there will be an obvious effect on the degraded infrastructure at the former RAF Skaw and on the setting of Inner Skaw scheduled monuments.

A programme of measures is proposed to refurbish and enhance the dilapidated assets to encourage more visitor footfall to the site and provide greater understanding and appreciation of its significance.

SSC say that the launch facility will ultimately create around 140 jobs in Unst and “inject at least £4.9 million per annum into the island’s economy”.

It will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, they say, adding a further £2.9 million in gross value per annum to the economy.

Project director Scott Hammond said: “The economic decline of Unst since the closures of Baltasound Airport and RAF Saxa Vord has been well documented.

“We believe our proposals will help regenerate the island by providing skilled jobs and helping with repopulation that can only benefit the social fabric, including the school, health centre and small businesses.

“The space industry attracts young people and the island needs a healthy population of young families to maintain economic viability.”

Shetland Space Centre CEO Frank Strang added: “In many ways the UK is in very new territory and while there are other spaceports situated elsewhere in the world, we are just starting out on the journey and it is very important that we get it right.

“We are trying to portray all the positive aspects of the new space economy and hopefully light a small beacon of hope in these dark times, not just for the Shetland economy but Scotland and the UK in general.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021