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Spaceport backer and neighbouring landowner sign memorandum of understanding

Published: 05/04/2022

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Wildland Limited have signed a memorandum of understanding relating to the development agency’s plans to establish a satellite launch site in Sutherland.

Visualisation by NORR of satellites being launched into orbit from Space Hub Sutherland.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Wildland Limited have signed a memorandum of understanding relating to the development agency’s plans to establish a satellite launch site in Sutherland.

Space Hub Sutherland will be sited on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, within the community-owned Melness Crofters Estate and next to land owned by Wildland.  

In the memorandum, both parties confirm their commitment to work constructively on opportunities for sustainable economic and community development in and around Tongue, Melness and Skerray. 

Each will also continue separately to support their own initiatives that they consider appropriate for the local area and for the sustainable development of the space sector in the Highlands and Islands.

A third signatory to the memorandum is Braesgill Ltd, a sister company to Wildland, which holds a sporting lease with Melness Crofters Estate. 

Plans for up to 12 launches a year from a single launch pad were approved by the Highland Council in August 2020, subject to HIE addressing 34 conditions that cover issues including environmental protection, roads and safety. 

Scottish Land Court approval, which was also required as the proposed development is on crofting land, was granted the following year.

In the memorandum, HIE agrees that, until at least 2029, it will operate the site using a single launch pad and restrict launches to 12 per year as provided for by its planning permission. Wildland also agrees not to object to planning applications or variations submitted by HIE in relation to the site as long as these are for minor adjustments and there is no increase of infrastructure or launch activity planned as a result of any application.

David Oxley, HIE director of strategic projects, said: “We’re very pleased to be entering into this agreement with Wildland and Braesgill. 

“We have lots of ambition to make Space Hub Sutherland a key driver of the local economy, boosting the community by creating jobs, attracting investment and supporting research opportunities. 

“At the same time, we are determined to be a committed custodian of the natural environment around the launch site and a good neighbour within the community. 

“The support of Melness Crofters Estate and input from a range of local people and organisations, including those in the Space Hub Sutherland Community Liaison Group, have been vital in helping us develop the project and prepare for construction getting under way later this year.

“This memorandum of understanding sets out a framework for HIE, Wildland and Braesgill to pursue our individual initiatives, while building a relationship that recognises we have common goals too. That’s a positive step forward for the local area.”  

Tim Kirkwood, CEO of Wildland Limited said:

“Wildland has for many years been supportive of local investment and development, creating both jobs and opportunities for families in its growing conservation and tourism business in the area.

“We owe it to future generations that the wider unspoiled landscape and the nature that thrives on it, has every opportunity to be protected. So, we’re glad to have had the matter of the planning consent thoroughly reviewed and the requirements for any further consents that may be necessary to operate the development clarified.

“There is recognition of the environmental protection such an important and fragile area deserves and through this voluntary agreement, the development may proceed as consented by Highland Council and at a pace that reflects a sensible degree of environmental caution. It  creates  the breathing space necessary to get as much right as possible both for the future of the area and for all who depend on it.

“Through this memorandum of understanding, the parties have also opened a pathway towards working collaboratively to further pursue local economic and community development initiatives that will benefit everyone.”

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