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Business / SaxaVord spaceport overcomes major hurdle

The SaxaVord space port is expected to host the first vertical satellite launching the UK late in 2022. Image: Rory Gillies for SaxaVord (UK) Spaceport

HISTORIC Environment Scotland has withdrawn its objections to the proposed SaxaVord Spaceport in Unst following months of discussions and the submission of a revised proposal.

The removal of HES’ objection is a major breakthrough for the project, which is seeking to obtain planning permission from Shetland Islands Council.

SaxaVord chief executive Frank Strang said: “We are obviously delighted that after many months of investigation and diligence, HES has withdrawn its objection and we look forward to councillors making a determination on this nationally and internationally significant project.

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“Shetland has a huge opportunity to lead the way in small satellite launch in Europe and we must move quickly to maintain that advantage for Scotland and the UK.”

Strang said he hoped that the planning application would be discussed by committee within the next two to three weeks.

Eyebrows were raised in spring last year when the agency looking after Scotland’s historic environment refused what is called a ‘Scheduled Monument Consent’ because of the impact the project would have on the nationally important historic Skaw radar station at Lamba Ness.

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The space centre plans to build a rocket launch pad and associated infrastructure on the peninsula, which is home to the remains of the Second World war radar station.

At the time HES said the plans for the launch facility would result in nine buildings/structures of RAF Skaw being removed entirely, including air raid shelters, stores/offices, guard huts and three brick buildings.

A HES spokesperson said: “After assessing the additional information we have received we have now concluded that the development will bring public benefits of national importance that outweigh the impacts on the nationally important cultural significance of the monument, and we have therefore decided to recommend that Scheduled Monument Consent is granted and to remove our objection to the planning application.

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“We welcome the changes that the applicant has made to lessen the impacts of the proposed development, and the commitment to improving the information available to visitors to the site as part of the development.

“We recognise the benefits that this development will bring to the community in Unst.”

Scottish ministers will now be notified of HES’ recommendation and have 28 days to consider it.

The team behind the SaxaVord space centre still hopes to be able to host the first commercial satellite launch from UK soil this year.

The US defence company Lockheed Martin, a partner in the project, is required to deliver the UK government’s Pathfinder project in 2022, and the company is committed to doing so from the space centre in Unst.

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