Developer must prove space hub will not damage Scottish blanket bog

The developer of a first-of-a-kind vertical space launch station in the Highlands of Scotland must prove to the Scottish wildlife regulator that any damage to the area’s protected blanket bog can be “mitigated sufficiently”, or it will likely object to its construction.

The Sutherland Space Hub is being developed by economic development body Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). It would be located in Caithness & Sutherland Peatlands, which is both a special area of conservation and special protection area, protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017.

Details of the project were contained in an environmental impact assessment scoping report submitted to the Highlands Council earlier this summer, on behalf of HIE by consultants Ramboll. The proposal is to have a vertical launch site at Melness in Sutherland to launch small satellites into orbit around the earth.

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The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/1012)

In force/Current
Legislation
England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales
Published
09 Jan 2018

Commentary

02/11/2017 An explanatory memorandum was published alongside these Regulations., 20/11/2017 A correction slip was published.
10/12/2018 Amending Regulations (SI 2018/1307) published., 19/03/2019 Amending Regulations ( SI 2019/579) published.

Compliance Dates

30/11/2017 Comes into force

Characteristics

Subject

Land and development Wildlife and conservation

Source

OPSI (Office of Public Sector Information)

Affected Sectors

Cross-sector Agriculture Animal Boarding and Pest Control Fishing and aquaculture Forestry Water Electricity Gas Construction Transport Road Transport Consultancy Offices Real Estate and Public Administration Public Sector Conservation Land Management and Landscaping
ECM

The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/1012)

Document Status: In force/Current

Scope: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, UK, Wales

Commentary:

02/11/2017 An explanatory memorandum was published alongside these Regulations., 20/11/2017 A correction slip was published.
10/12/2018 Amending Regulations (SI 2018/1307) published., 19/03/2019 Amending Regulations ( SI 2019/579) published.

Compliance:

30/11/2017 Comes into force

According to the scoping report, the regulator Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is particularly concerned that the spaceport will have a significant impact on the integrity of the protected landscape, which supports one of the largest and most intact areas of blanket bog in the world.

In its concerns, SNH said that if the location of the proposal did not change, and or the impacts of the development could not be avoided or mitigated for, it will object to the spaceport. 

UK Space Agency (UKSA) announced in July 2018 that it was backing proposals by HIE to develop the vertical launch site. The board of HIE approved £17.3m to support the project, which included £2.5m in funding from UKSA and £9.8m from HIE itself. The remaining £5m is being sought from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Elsewhere in its scoping report, Ramboll has proposed to “scope out” from the environmental statement the need to assess the potential impacts of the development on reptiles, bats and aquatic ecology, due to very “low density” populations of each species, it said.  

The Highlands Council is yet to respond to HIE’s scoping report. 

In June this year, two academics from Heriot-Watt University and Glasgow Caledonian University released a report arguing that Unst in Shetland would be a better option to build the space station.

In a statement, Roy Kirk, director of Space Hub Sutherland, said: “It is absolutely vital that we gain a thorough understanding of the potential environmental impacts that a launch facility could have, and how best to minimise these and apply mitigation.

“We have been carrying out bird studies, for example, for well over a year now, so there is already a stock of robust data regarding that aspect.

“The next stage is scoping out the full range of environmental issues we need to examine and how these will be managed.

“We are also keen to explore the potential to go beyond protection measures and carry out works that would enhance the natural environment, although this is at a very early stage.

“The outcomes of these exercises will inform the development of the project as we head towards submitting a planning application to the Highland Council, which we intend to do in December.”

To view the scoping report in full visit The Highland Council website. Planning reference: 19/02703/SCOP

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