Plans for the construction of Scotland’s first spaceport have passed yet another legal hurdle after receiving permission from the Scottish Land Court.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have been given the go-ahead to use land owned by crofters as part of their plans for the Sutherland Space Hub in the far north of the country.
While the majority of the crofters in the area – known as Melness Common Grazings – supported the scheme, a group of three objected to the proposal.
However, the court noted that the three crofters involved were being funded by Topshop billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, who also tried to oppose the plans previously at the Court of Session.
Mr Povlsen lost out on that case, and the Land Court has now also ruled in favour of HIE.
Lord Minginish, chair of the Scottish Land Court, said in his judgment: “It seems clear to us, given the importance which both UK and Scottish governments attach to the development of space ports and the almost (but not quite) unique suitability of this site for that purpose, that this can be described as a reasonable purpose to which to put the land in the public interest.”
The spaceport project, at A’Mhòine, near Tongue, in Sutherland, is expected to create 61 local jobs and a further 250 across the region, with 12 rocket launches each year, and the first blasting off in the “early 2020s”.
Highland Council approved planning permission for the proposal last June after a total of 457 objections and 118 representations were lodged with the authority.
Mr Povlsen, who is the largest shareholder in online fashion retailer ASOS and is described as Scotland’s richest man, objected to the development on environmental grounds but later revealed that he had invested more than £1.4m in a rival spaceport on Shetland.
His company Wildland Limited lodged a petition for judicial review against the council’s decision to approve the scheme, but the court rejected his submission.
He confirmed on Friday that he would not be appealing the decision but remained “deeply disappointed” with the decision.
Commenting on his involvement in the Land Court case, Lord Minginish said he may consider what role he played in the case when it comes to deciding expenses.
He said: “In the course of the hearing a question arose as to who was truly driving opposition to this application, the three named respondents or Mr Anders Polvsen, the Danish billionaire who is funding them.
“The question arose because there seemed to be such a disconnect or, at best, as Mr Findlay [the advocate acting on behalf of HIE] put it, such a narrow bridge between the respondents’ evidence and the case being advanced on their behalf.
“In a sense that does not matter to the Court, since we require to satisfy ourselves that the statutory tests are satisfied, opposition or no opposition, but it troubled Mr Findlay sufficiently to reserve his right to return to it in relation to expenses, so we might have to say something more about it then.”
David Oxley, director of strategic projects with HIE, said: “Space Hub Sutherland is an ambitious project that will benefit the Highlands and Islands economy and provide key infrastructure to grow and establish a strong UK space sector.
“The land court ruling marks a further step forward for our ambition to establish the world’s greenest spaceport and aligns with our view that Space Hub Sutherland will be a boon to the local crofting community.
“Care for the natural environment has always been a key element of our plans and will remain central to how we take the project forward. In economic terms, we expect the spaceport will support the creation of around 250 jobs in the Highlands and Islands, including more than 40 at the launch site itself.”
The Herald contacted the solicitors acting for the crofters but received no response.