In February 2020 a planning application was submitted by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to The Highland Council for a vertical launch space port on a remote part of Sutherland. The proposal is to build a facility to launch satellites into orbit and includes a new road across the peatland, a launch operations control centre building, a launch pad and other infrastructure.
RSPB Scotland objected to the application as we believe the applicant did not demonstrate that the development would not adversely affect the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area (which is a protected area for internationally important populations of birds) and Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Area of Conservation (which is protected for its amazing peatland habitat).
We are especially concerned that there are a number of unknown impacts from the proposal and much of the mitigation the applicant has said they will carry out to offset the negative impacts of the development has not been detailed or secured. As well as the actual launch activities, a large number of visitors are expected to be attracted to the area to view launches. This increase in people, and the measures needed to make sure they stay a safe distance from the launch site, are likely to be very damaging to this sensitive area and its wildlife.
RSPB Scotland is very aware that this is a novel development for Scotland, and indeed the UK. We recognise that it would have the potential to create jobs in this remote part of Sutherland and we did not object without very careful consideration of the application and Environmental Impact Assessment. However, we believe that our most precious areas and at-risk birds must be protected for future generations and the application did not assess all the risks fully or properly demonstrate how they would ensure these impacts will be mitigated.
On 26 June 2020 the North Planning Applications Committee (NPAC) of The Highland Council unanimously decided to grant permission for the development, subject to a number of conditions. Scottish Ministers were notified of the decision, as was required, and have decided not to call in the application. The permission was issued on 5 August 2020.