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Environment / Refusal of space centre works ‘bureaucratic nonsense’, local councillor claims

Lamba Ness. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

THE DECISION from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to turn down plans for the creation of a satellite launch site on the site of a former radar station in Unst has been criticised by a local councillor.

North Isles member Ryan Thomson, who is from Unst, said the decision is “nothing short of political, bureaucratic nonsense”.

It emerged earlier this week that HES was not happy with Shetland Space Centre’s plans to build its proposed launch facility on the site of a WW2 radar base, saying it would have a significant adverse impact on the old RAF Skaw station.

Space centre chief executive Frank Strang said the company would “vigorously contest” the decision.

HES said the site was “remarkably well preserved” and of national importance due to its scheduled monument status.

Several ruined structures and features remain on the peninsula, and HES said some would be removed if the plans went ahead.

But Thomson said to describe the site as well preserved is “insulting and sheer lunacy”.

“The current state of Lamba Ness is a structurally unsafe, hazardous eyesore which should have been demolished and made safe many decades ago.

It is, in its current state, a safety hazard.  And HES have done nothing with the site for 50 years.

“What SCC are proposing has little or no negative impact on any of the old buildings.

“This is massive for Unst, and massive for Shetland.  We cannot continue to be stuck in the past, denying a huge industry for Shetland for the sake of sentimental feelings over some old hazardous ruins.

“I trust common sense will eventually win out, SCC will quite rightly appeal, but I hope a satisfactory and reasonable decision within HES will prevail and this decision reversed.”

Beatrice Wishart, who is looking to be elected again as Shetland’s MSP in the Scottish Parliament election in May, said the decision was “extremely disappointing”.

“The proposed spaceport project will bring job opportunities for people who want to live and work in the North Isles, and will have a significant and positive impact on the supply chain throughout Shetland,” the Liberal Democrat said.

“Of course considerations must be made about what impact new projects have, but this decision by HES will be seen as one that is as baffling as it is short-sighted.”

Her main rival in the contest for the Shetland seat, the SNP’s Tom Wills, described Lamba Ness as “derelict brownfield site” rather than a historic site of national significance.

“I’m surprised and disappointed by this news and would tend to agree with Ryan Thomson: Lamba Ness is a derelict brownfield site which would be improved by the SSC proposals,” he said.

“I wish SSC well with their appeal and if the case does go to Scottish Ministers, I will be calling on them to fully consider the significant benefits this project would bring to Unst’s economy.”

Shetland Space Centre said that alternative sites had been fully explored for the launch site and that significant effects on the scheduled radar station have been minimised and the remaining assets enhanced through carefully considered design and mitigation.

A spokesperson for HES said it would welcome alternative options for the space centre which would lessen the impact on the old radar station.

“We were consulted by Shetlands Islands Council on plans for a space port at Lamba Ness, Unst, which we recognise as a significant project in terms of its ambition for Scotland to be recognised as a major player in the small satellite launch market, as well as its potential value for local economies,” they said.

“We have objected to the proposals due to their significant adverse impact on the Skaw radar station, which is protected as a scheduled monument.

“We found that the proposals would result in a significant loss of the site’s cultural significance to the extent that it would no longer meet the criteria for national importance. Impacts would include the loss of over 200 archaeological features associated with the scheduled radar station, as well as the removal of the intactness and coherence of the site which is a key characteristic of its cultural significance.

 “We would welcome the opportunity to work with the council and applicants to explore alternative options for a spaceport that would reduce the impacts on the scheduled monument.”

The scheduled monument consent process is separate to the planning process. The applicant has the right to appeal.

Should Shetland Islands Council be minded to approve the Lamba Ness planning application, the case will be referred to Scottish ministers.

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at a national level, including scheduled monuments and listed buildings.

Scheduling is the process that provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance. Consent is required to carry out certain work to scheduled monuments.