North Uist Spaceport Facility Planning Application

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Aviation Casework type: Construction Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
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Overview

In June 2019 Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local council, submitted a planning application for phase one of a spaceport on North Uist to launch ‘sounding’ or research rockets. The proposal includes a launch pad, tracking radar pads, vehicle access and parking. As well as being the developer and applicant seeking planning permission, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is also due to decide whether the project should go ahead in its role as planning authority.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Scoping is a way of a developer seeking opinion on what they should include in an EIA before they submit a planning application. In July 2018 RSPB Scotland responded to a scoping consultation for a larger development, which encompassed the current application site and included two launch pads and other infrastructure.

The current application is for a smaller site than the scoping site and states it is for phase one phase of four. However, it does not set out what the subsequent phases would involve. The applicant has not submitted an EIA or a detailed assessment of the environmental impacts.

This is a novel proposal in a UK context. It is our view that due to the nature of the proposed development and its location within a highly sensitive area, an EIA should be required at this stage.

We have objected to the application due to a lack of an EIA or sufficient consideration of impacts on protected wildlife sites, habitats and species.

It is particularly important that sufficient information is submitted to allow the impacts on nearby Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which are sites designated for their internationally important bird interest, to be properly assessed.

Map

Machair habitat and northern Marsh orchid at RSPB Balranald nature reserve, North Uist

Why is it worth fighting for?

The area proposed for the spaceport is extremely important for wildlife and hosts several protected species that are sensitive to human disturbance and are listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive. This means they are be given special legal protection.

The development area also includes areas of machair which is a rare habitat largely restricted to the west coast of the Outer Hebrides and is listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. The development is next to or close to a number of sites which are designated due to their international and national importance for wildlife. These include the West Coast of the Outer Hebrides proposed Special Protection Area (pSPA), the North Uist Machair and Islands Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site, North Uist Machair Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Vallay Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Part of the Balranald RSPB Scotland nature reserve is also within 2km of the site.

Given the importance of the area for key bird species, including corncrake, Greenland barnacle goose and ringed plover, we are particularly concerned about any potential noise and disturbance impacts.

Our position

This is an unusual proposal and it is important that the applicant properly assesses any impacts on wildlife in the area.

We are concerned that breeding birds could be disturbed by the rocket launches and any increased activity in the area. We need more information on what would happen if things went wrong. For instance, if a launch fails , whether there could be a risk of damage to habitat from fires or falling debris or pollution of ground water or the marine environment.

At this stage we don’t know what the impacts would be and need to know more. Due to the importance of the area for wildlife, we have submitted an objection requesting that further information is submitted and an Environmental Impact Assessment is undertaken.

It is essential that potential impacts on the internationally important wildlife sites are assessed under the Habitats Regulations. If the potential impacts of the proposal cannot be sufficiently mitigated and an adverse effect on the integrity of these sites is not ruled out, then it is unlikely that the Comhairle would be able to grant consent in accordance with the Habitats Regulations requirements.

Once the required information is submitted we will review our position.

How you can help

Take action for wildlife

A view of the loch at Abernethy
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Timeline

  • July 2019
    We objected to the planning application due to insufficient information on the likely impacts on wildlife and designated sites.

  • June 2019
    A planning application was submitted by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for a spaceport (Reference 19/00311/PPD)

  • July 2018
    We responded to an EIA scoping consultation.
Corncrake, Crex crex at Oronsay RSPB reserve, Argyll, Scotland.

Further reading

Reserves affected:

  • RSPB Balranald is just a few km from the site. Until more information is provided we don’t know how far the impacts from the launch site would extend.

Useful links:

Key species affected: