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Council / Decision on space centre launch site plan not expected any time soon

The space centre at Lamba Nessin Unst is expected to create hundreds of jobs in Shetland and further afield. Image: Shetland Space Centre

IT REMAINS unclear when a decision will be made on planning applications for the proposed Shetland Space Centre in Unst.

It comes after an agent for the project said the company would be “very disappointed” if the application for the launch site at Lamba Ness misses out on being heard at June’s Shetland Islands Council planning committee.

The space centre has three current planning applications: a couple for the launch site and the vacant Valhalla Brewery building, as well as one for new road at Northdale.

The team aims to launch rockets from the site at Lamba Ness in May 2022.

But first it needs to secure planning permission before construction can take place.

In a letter to Shetland Islands Council at the end of May, planning agent Alan Farningham questioned if the local authority would arrange an extraordinary committee to consider the proposals if the June committee could not be met – “such is their importance to Unst, Shetland, Scotland and the wider UK”.

The planning committee, which decides on significant applications as well as local appeals, is scheduled to meet next on 21 June.

Planning officer Ian O’Brien responded by saying that the council is still waiting on a number of key consultation responses for the Lamba Ness application.

This includes SEPA, which has suffered delays after a suffering a cyber attack. O’Brien, said, however, that the planning team is meeting with officers from the agency to mitigate this.

He added that there are still a number of outstanding issues and objections in place to the launch site application.

One of these is Historic Environment Scotland’s (HES) decision to refuse the development to go ahead at the site of the former RAF radar base at Lamba Ness.

O’Brien said it was “disappointing” that the council – as the planning authority – was not involved in talks on a possible solution to the matter.

A spokesperson for Shetland Space Centre said discussions with HES was an ongoing process.

O’Brien, meanwhile, confirmed that the Valhalla Brewery and road applications can be dealt with under delegated authority, meaning they do not need to go in front of councillors on the planning committee.

But there are a “number of concerns” needing to be addressed in order for the applications to be progressed.

He said the planning service recognise the importance of the applications, “however it is very difficult to confirm a date when these applications might possibly be determined considering the scale of the development, issues evidently at play, and the level of information still appearing to be needing to be submitted and required to satisfy consultees, and ultimately for the planning authority to carry out an adequate and competent assessment of the applications, without scope for possible challenge”.

He added that the applicant has a “right of appeal against non-determination” as statutory timescales for decision have passed.