If you value the natural world and oppose the continued industrialisation and replacement of precious wilderness with concrete and buildings, read on.....
The local Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) have already purchased the land (funded by Prudential Borrowing) and essentially applied to themselves for planning permission to develop a commercial space rocket launch facility at Scolpaig, Isle of North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. If the Council get their own way, a 5km section of pristine wild Atlantic North Uist coastline, previously openly accessible and enjoyed by walkers every day of the year will be lost to concrete and other rocket launching infrastructure forever.
The planning application was made public on 26th June 2019. The original deadline for objections was 18th July 2019, when many Islanders were still unaware of the planning application. A statement was released by the Council on 17th July to say that the deadline had been extended. No date was given although the Council has suggested the deadline might be extended until early September but this is yet to be confirmed!
Incredibly, there will be no legal right of appeal against the Council's decision and if they approve their own planning application the bulldozers could move in as early as October 2019. This would be consistent with the Press reports which state that the Council hope to be launching rockets from Scolpaig before the end of 2019.
There has been no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The Councils scoping report (Atkins 2018) confirmed that the spaceport as a whole represented a major development requiring an EIA to be completed and submitted with any planning application. However, because the Council are implementing the spaceport in four progressive stages, they claim that an EIA is not required because "phase one" alone is not a major development. Scotlands Environmental Regulator (SEPA) criticised the Council on 8/7/19 and highlighted a contradiction of Scottish Government Regulations (1/2017) which state "where a larger scheme requires an EIA, smaller component developments should not be progressed in the absence of an EIA." The take home message is that the Council could start building the spaceport without properly assessing the environmental impact unless the Government enforces the Directive and there is sufficient objection.
You can read SEPA's damning report here LATEST as of 17/7/19 our link to the SEPA report was redirected to an error message (!) so here are instructions:
There has been no proper public consultation to date.
The general public and Islanders have not been given enough information in order for them to be able make an informed decision about the Planning Application. The Council have agreed to hold public consultation meetings in mid August, one month after their original closing deadline for objections. Without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to inform public opinion these meetings can only be of limited value. The EIA would include the results of many studies and mitigation including water quality, air quality, pollution from rocket emissions, noise and vibration, archeology, biodiversity including impact on protected species and the nearby statutory sites of conservation importance. An extended Phase 1 habitat survey would also be required as part of the EIA and none of this has been done.
The Council purchased the land at Scolpaig on the 6th June 2019 which is in the north west of the island of North Uist and is the nearest land point to the world famous UNESCO world heritage Island of St.Kilda, in readiness for their development.
What's wrong with building a commercial space rocket launch facility here?
Scolpaig is a unique and special place with magnificent coastal walking, views of spectacular offshore islands including St. Kilda, a white sand beach, precious endangered North Uist Machair (an official special area of conservation SAC) with it's dependant rare and already endangered wildlife species. The beautiful scenic Loch Scolpaig (which has a scheduled ancient monument on a small island within it) which, together with Beinn Scolpaig hill form part of the South Lewis, Harris and North Uist National Scenic Areas (NSA) of which there are only 40 throughout the whole of Scotland. The link to the map of the NSA is here.The proposed commercial space rocket development will result in the permanent loss of this visually stunning vista as seen directly from the public road, the newly created and increasingly popular Hebridean Way cycle route and several well used walking tracks, which is currently available to be enjoyed by everyone.
Scolpaig also has class 1 nationally important peat resources which form part of the proposed development site and are an important part of the UK's carbon sink (map here) Removal of peat has implications for Scotland's planning policy, environmental policy and the carbon targets set by the Scottish Government.
The Outer Hebrides including the Isle of North Uist has recently received much television and media exposure promoting the tranquility and natural beauty of the Islands. The wild unspoilt beauty of North Uist is treasured by local residents and increasing numbers of visitors alike, the vast majority of whom come to enjoy and experience the wildlife, birdwatching and the stunning unspoilt natural landscapes. The benefits of eco-tourism to the local economy are enormous and to develop a commercial space rocket launch facility at the expense of an area of pristine wilderness clearly undermines the eco-tourism economy and could lead to job losses for local people. Such job losses within the local tourism industry could easily more than offset those promised by the developers, the numbers of which have already varied widely in estimation.
This following extract from the diary of a hiker describing a coastal walk at Scolpaig in October 2016 says it all.
"A brisk coastal walk on a fair North Uist day is guaranteed to rejuvenate mind, body and soul. To sit and stare at the wild Atlantic ocean, in remote place on the very edge of northern Europe where there is nothing but sea between you and Canada is quite something. Here, its easy to still the mind, relax and contemplate those things in life that really matter.
Bay Scolpaig is a magnificent walk in the north western corner of North Uist and is one of our favourites. This raw coastline is exposed to the full Atlantic swell which has eroded the rocks into spectacular features including arches and steep sided inlets.
Today was quite blustery. Just seabirds for company as we picnicked on a small promontory overlooking a small beach and watched the waves curl and crash. We were level with the forming waves on both sides and could actually see through the curling water. Amazing. And a Surfers paradise!
About 1 km inland from Bay Scolpaig is a ruined tower, sitting on an island in the middle of a freshwater loch. Known locally as McLeod's Folly, which was built and named after the local factor about 200 years ago, the Folly is reputed to have been constructed over the site of an Iron Age fort. It's a quite beautiful and photogenic location."
How frequently will the rockets be launched?
According to the official planning documents and scoping report by Atkins (2018), the proposed target is for rockets to be launched approximately every two weeks. Whilst the Councils design and operation statement (June 2019) expects the first "sounding rocket" launches to take 4 days, the Atkins report states that two weeks are required for the intended larger rockets which are capable of firing a 500kg payload into space. During launches it will be necessary to restrict public access to the area. Before and after launches much heavy equipment will need to be brought to and from the site along a single track public road which is part of the Hebridean Way cycle route. The effects of vibration from the rocket launches on the scheduled ancient monument and it's foundation are unknown. Concerns have already been expressed about many different forms of associated and inevitable pollution, including noise pollution from sonic booms every two weeks!