Space Hub Sutherland

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

Overview

A planning application has been 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 has objected to the application as the it has not demonstrated 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 still a number of unknown impacts from the proposal and the mitigation the applicant has said they will carry out to balance the negative impacts 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, would 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, and a substantial amount of work has gone into preparing the application and consulting the public and interested organisations. We recognise that it would have the potential to create jobs in this remote part of Sutherland and we have not objected without very careful consideration of the application and EIA.

However, we believe that our most precious areas and at risk birds must be protected for future generation and the current application does not assess all the risks fully or properly demonstrate how they ensure these impacts will be mitigated.

The Highland Council is now consideration the application. We will review our comments in light of any new details submitted by the applicant.

Map

 Golden eagle at nest

Why is it worth fighting for?

The area proposed for the Sutherland Space Hub is extremely important for wildlife and hosts several protected species that are sensitive to human disturbance and are listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive and Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This means they are given special legal protection.

The development is very close to and would affect a number of sites which are designated for their international and national importance for wildlife. The Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands SPA, SAC and Ramsar site, Ben Hutig Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and A’ Mhòine SSSI.

Given the importance of the area for key bird species we are very concerned about the potential disturbance impacts from the proposal.

The Flow Country is a vast expanse of blanket bog in the North of Scotland. Blanket bog is a rare type of peatland which forms only in cool places with plenty of rain and covers the landscape like a blanket. It is listed on Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive. The Flow Country’s blanket bogs store more than three times the amount of carbon in all British Woodlands and therefore its essential to keep it intact to help regulate climate change.

Our Position

This is an unusual proposal for Scotland, and the UK, and it has been challenging to understand all the potential impacts. RSPB Scotland is also aware this development could bring a number of jobs to a remote part of Sutherland financial support to fragile communities in the area. However, it is essential that potential impacts on the internationally important wildlife sites are properly assessed. If they cannot be sufficiently mitigated and there could be an adverse effect on the integrity of these sites, then it is unlikely that THC would be able to grant consent in accordance with the Habitats Regulations requirements.

This is an extremely sensitive area for wildlife and the launches and all the new people and activity in the area would have negatively affect breeding birds and protected areas. We are particularly concerned about the number of visitors that are likely to be attracted to the area to view launches and how the operator of the site will try and manage this. All the details haven’t been provided with the application so we all the impacts cannot be fully considered.

There is an urgent need to tackle to climate change. Since the site is primarily situated on internationally important blanket bog, the carbon impacts of this proposal are also of concern. The applicant has proposed to restore an area of blanket bog within the site, which would help nature and carbon storage. However, more is needed if the long term effects of such a development were to be balanced.

How you can help

You can view and comment on the current planning application on the Highland Council’s planning portal. The application reference is 20/00616/FUL. 

If you live in the Highland Council area you could raise concerns with your local Councillor.

Timeline

  • 20 March 2020
    RSPB Scotland submit an objection to the application.

  • 7 February 2020
    Highland and Islands Council Enterprise submit a planning application to Highland Council for the construction of a vertical launch space port with launch operations control centre, site integration facility, launch pad complex, antenna park, access road, fencing, services and associated infrastructure.

  • October/November 2019
    Applicant carries out pre-application public consultation.

  • September 2019
    The applicant submits a Proposal of Application Notice to let the Council know they are going to submit an application and consult publicly.

  • 23 July 2019
    Highland Council issue their scoping opinion.

  • 11 July 2019
    We respond to an EIA scoping consultation.