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Judicial review into Sutherland Space Hub told that Highland Council followed correct procedures when considering views of Wildland and RSPB

By Ali Morrison

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Lord Docherty will consider the evidence before issuing his decision on the Sutherland Space Hub.
Lord Docherty will consider the evidence before issuing his decision on the Sutherland Space Hub.

Highland Council was entitled to grant permission for Scotland's first spaceport in Sutherland, a lawyer has told a judicial review of the decision.

James Findlay QC told judge Lord Doherty on Thursday that the local authority followed correct procedures in granting approval last August to the construction of the Sutherland Space Hub.

Billionaire landowner Anders Holch Povlsen is challenging the awarding of permission through his Wildland company.

Lawyers acting on his behalf claim the proposed facility should have been rejected and have gone to the Court of Session in Edinburgh to argue their case.

Highland Council are contesting the action and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish Ministers are “interested parties” in the action.

On the final day of a three-day hearing on Thursday, Mr Findlay – who is acting for HIE – said the evidence available to the court showed that the local authority followed correct procedures.

He said that before granting planning permission, Highland Council had considered submissions made to it by Mr Povlsen’s company and wildlife charity RSPB.

He said the organisations had made their views clear about the proposal and that planning staff were entitled not to adopt their views in their final consideration. He said the evidence which the council had before it entitled it to grant planning permission.

The RSPB was concerned that developers hadn’t done enough to consider the local wildlife population.

Mr Findlay said: “The important point of surveys was picked up in the responses of both Wildland and RSPB and the officer is entitled to take the view that he did.”

Mr Povlsen, Scotland's largest private landowner, objected to the development on environmental grounds and later announced that he had invested more than £1.4 million in a rival spaceport on Shetland.

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) project at A' Mhòine, near Tongue, is expected to create more than 200 jobs, with satellites being launched from the station.

Highland council received 457 objections and 118 representations in support of HIE's planning application.

The company has concerns over the spaceport's impact on "environmentally vulnerable protected areas”.

On a statement published on the RSPB’s website, the charity states that the spaceport is “an unusual proposal for Scotland, and the UK.”

It adds: “RSPB Scotland is also aware this development could bring a number of jobs to a remote part of Sutherland and financial support to fragile communities in the area. However, it is essential that potential impacts on the internationally important wildlife sites are properly assessed.

"SNH and Highland Council have decided that the developer will be able to put in place sufficient mitigation to ensure there will be no adverse effect on the integrity of these sites. It is essential that this mitigation and monitoring of effects is secured and delivered if the development goes ahead.”

On Tuesday, Wildland’s advocate Malcolm Thomson QC, told judge Lord Doherty that the council appears not to have properly considered the impact that people visiting the site could have on the local environment.

Mr Thomson said the proposed space site is located close to an “area of environmental protection” but the council hasn’t properly considered how to mitigate the damage that visitors could cause to the area.

He added: “There’s nothing about visitor viewing facilities, car parking, nothing of that nature.

“There are the obvious difficulties about keeping people out of the LEZ (Launch Exclusion Zone) – there’s no physical demarcation of it."

At the end of proceedings on Thursday, Lord Doherty thanked the lawyers in the case and said he needed time to consider his decision.

He added: “I’m grateful to counsel for their submissions and for giving me quite a lot to think about and I shall issue a judgement as soon as I can.”

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