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Council / Government to be notified if SIC is minded to approve space centre plans

Lamba Ness in Unst where Shetland Space Centre proposes to build a commercial satellite launch base. Photo: Shetland Space Centre
Lamba Ness in Unst where Shetland Space Centre proposes to build a commercial satellite launch base. Photo: Shetland Space Centre

THE SCOTTISH Government has requested that it be notified should Shetland Islands Council be minded to grant planning permission for the proposed space centre in Unst.

The direction from the government “does not commit Scottish ministers to calling in application, but it does reserve their right to intervene”.

The Scottish Government says its direction, made on 5 March, is to “assist in providing an overview of spaceport development in the planning system”.

It would also prohibit the council in granting planning permission for 28 days once it indicates to the government that is minded to approve it.

There are currently three applications submitted to the council for the Shetland Space Centre.

The main application is for a satellite launch facility at Lamba Ness, while there are also plans to reuse the former Valhalla Brewery building and to create a new piece of road.

Concerns, meanwhile, have been raised by Shetland’s regional archaeologist over the proposed layout of the satellite launch site.

Val Turner wrote in response to a consultation on Shetland Space Centre’s planning application for the site at Lamba Ness – a former RAF base of historical importance – that the proposals require a “major redesign”.

She believes that relocating much of the development away from sites of interest at Lamba Ness would “significantly reduce the impact on the archaeological remains, retaining the integrity of this nationally important site”.

Shetland Space Centre proposes to build three launch pads on the Lamba Ness peninsula, as well as associated infrastructure.

A report included in the space centre’s planning submission 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.

Turner stressed that she was not objecting the principle of a space port being created at the location, but a “sympathetic redesign” of the layout could reduce the impact on the site’s culture and heritage.

In a planning statement the team behind the space centre said the “proposed site layout has taken into consideration known heritage assets and features across the peninsula”.

“The proposed development has been sited to avoid impacts upon the Inner Skaw Scheduled Monument and, where possible, to minimise the impact on the remains of the former RAF Skaw buildings and infrastructure,” it added.

But the planning statement said there would be “partial or complete loss of (or burial of) a number of archaeological features”.

Unst Community Council has also formally responded to the plans, and it said it felt there are “no grounds” to object.

However, it urged the planning authority to take account of points made about roads and transport, health and safety, environment/way of life and other concerns such as air pollution, emissions, archaeology and tourism.

It concluded: “There remain concerns among councillors and others regarding what might topically be called the dangers of overpromising and under delivering, which is hardly surprising with a development which it might be said is literally reaching for the sky.

“Unst Community Council will actively monitor the progress of this planning application and of any subsequent construction operations, also addressing issues of accountability.

“We suggest that a monitoring group be set up with representatives from SSC, SIC and the community to oversee progress.”

The local bird club has also conditionally objected to the plans for Lamba Ness, but said it would be considering withdrawing this if suggested conditions were accepted.

A slew of representations – both positive and negative – have also been submitted by members of the public on the plans.

Shetland Space Centre said 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, it said, adding a further £2.9 million in gross value per annum to the economy.

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