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Scottish battle over rocket launch decision

April 1, 2021

Frank Strang, CEO at the Shetland Space Centre at Unst has complained about a decision from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) over a negative decision to permit development at Shetland for the launching of small rockets.

He said that HES had done nothing to preserve the remote site for the past 50 years, and in that period had also declined to grant Scheduled Monument Consent and that the region’s regional archaeologist saw “no reason to object to our plans in principle”. The original site was an old Royal Air Force radar station.

Strang says that his operation will now study the refusal in detail prior to making its next move. He said his team hoped for a constructive dialogue with HES to allow them to allow consent for the site’s development.

HES said it is a “remarkably well-preserved military complex dating back to the 1940s” which was used to warn the authorities about aircraft observed in the radar’s transmission area. The site, claims HES, is deemed to be a scheduled monument of national importance.

“No steps have been taken to minimise or avoid these impacts,” HES added.

HES said the current plans for the launch facility would result in nine buildings/structures of RAF Skaw being removed entirely, including air raid shelters, stores/offices, guard huts and three brick buildings. More than 200 individual features, such as foundations of buildings/structures, concrete blocks, tracks, gun emplacements and bomb craters, could also be affected in some form.

However, Strang stressed that Shetland would “vigorously contest” the HES decision which would affect Shetland’s plans to develop the site as a “nationally significant” rocket and space centre including repairing access roads which were in a dilapidated state, plus constructing a visitor/interpretation centre, creating local jobs and other installations.

Both Lockheed Martin and Hyimpulse Tech have given support to the site and their own activities.

Shetland Space says it would appeal the decision commenting: “It will ultimately create around 140 jobs [in Unst and] inject at least £4.9 million per annum into the island’s economy”.

It will provide a further 70 jobs throughout Shetland, it added, providing a further £2.9 million in gross value per annum to the economy.

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