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Crofters vote in favour of working with HIE on plans for UK's first Spaceport

Plans to establish the UK’s first spaceport in north-west Sutherland have taken a major step forward.

Melness Crofters Estate (MCE), who own the prospective launch site for small satellites, on the Moine near Tongue, have confirmed their intention to work with development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) towards agreeing heads of terms.

In a ballot of crofters held by MCE this week, 59% of votes cast were in favour of working with HIE on the spaceport project (27 votes), and 39% were against (18 votes).  There was one spoiled ballot paper.

This outcome means that the £17.3m project can now move on to the next phase which will focus on safety and environmental issues, and community engagement.  A planning application is expected to be submitted to The Highland Council by the end of 2019.

Roy Kirk, HIE’s Project Director said: “The creation of a satellite launch centre in Scotland is a unique and exciting project.  We are very grateful to the Melness crofters for agreeing to work with us as we progress plans to make our vision a reality in Sutherland.

“We firmly believe that the spaceport will open up a host of new opportunities for businesses that want to become involved in the growing space sector.

“As part of our next steps, we’ll be stepping up our communications and making sure local people know what the spaceport is likely to mean for them.

“It’s understandable that people have concerns as well as hopes for such an innovative venture, and we will be making sure there are opportunities to meet and discuss all the issues, from jobs and other economic benefits, to safety and the environment.”

Dorothy Pritchard, Chair of MCE said: “MCE held a ballot that resulted in support for progressing discussions to reach a Heads of Terms.  This simply means we are happy to continue discussions with HIE, work towards a conclusion on the heads of terms and ultimately the land lease.

“The onus will be on HIE to demonstrate a sensitivity towards safety and the environment.  While those who voted in favour see many local advantages with potential jobs to the area, STEM activities and the opportunity for our young people to get involves in this exciting industry, like those opposed to the develop we will want to see this done in a way that the environmental impact is kept to a minimum and that all safety considerations have been adequately addressed.”

The UKVL Sutherland project got the go ahead from the UK Space Agency when it announced in July 2018 that grant funding had been approved, together with awards to industry partners Orbex and Lockheed Martin who both plan initial launches in the early 2020s.

Work on planning and environmental issues have been ongoing since the project began.

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