Sutherland Spaceport: A bridge too far

26th Jun 2020
Invernaver Bridge

The Highlands and Islands Planning Committee met today (26th June 2020) to decide whether to grant planning permission for the Sutherland Spaceport. The committee voted in favour of awarding planning permission with 33 conditions attached.

The meeting was broadcast online and started with a number of questions, followed by a brief debate and was then paused while members took part in the vote.

Despite the massive public opposition to the project (particularly around its location and vicinity to peatlands and local wildlife) the councillors voted unanimously to grant permission.

Two major issues that were brought up during the Q&A and debate will lead to a significant delay, likely taking the project until 2025 before it can be made active.

The Invernaver bridge (pictured below) is on the access route to the launch site. Some councillors suggested an alternative route existed, but the Transport expert confirmed that the only viable route to the site had to pass over the bridge. And, as we have reported previously (https://orbitaltoday.com/2019/09/18/uk-space-ambitions-100-year-wait-until-sutherland-spaceport-see-a-return/), this bridge will be unsuitable for the type of vehicles that will transport the construction materials and all relevant hardware to the site.

Highlands and Islands have refused to fund the building of a new bridge and access roads to and from the bridge. So, at this point we still don’t know who is going to pay for this. No single entity has come forward with any offer of funding.

Secondly, the roads in general and any relevant car parking is not currently in place to accommodate a high number of “space tourists” likely to want to view the launches. The council has also ruled out any funding for this additional transport infrastructure.

Invernaver Bridge

The planning meeting was frequently littered with mentions of job creation, which seemed to be the motivating factor behind almost every vote in favour. The promise of jobs for the area seems to have been the backbone of the support for this project, with the Space Consortium quoting up to 40 local jobs being created. The reality is that there will be two security guards at the site most of the time, and on launch days likely to be up to 40 people onsite (mostly brought from elsewhere). So it is very surprising that the councillors were swayed by this.

We will watch with interest to see if the Space Consortium turn up at Holyrood with their begging bowl to get the bridge and infrastructure built. We suspect the public will take a dim view of that.

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