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Landowner Anders Povlsen accused of hypocrisy over investment in rival Shetland spaceport


By Mike Merritt

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The Sutherland Space Hub is the only Scottish spaceport to gain full planning permission so far.
The Sutherland Space Hub is the only Scottish spaceport to gain full planning permission so far.

Scotland's richest man – who has taken legal action to ground the UK's first vertical launch spaceport near land which he owns in Sutherland – has now caused fury by investing £1.43 million in a rival rocket launch facility.

The move by Anders Holch Povlsen's company to put the money into the Shetland Space Centre on Unst has been blasted by locals in the far north.

The Scottish Government decided not to call-in the controversial scheme at the A’Mhoine Peninsula near Tongue which meant it was all systems go for lift off.

Mr Povlsen's company had written to the Scottish Government asking it to intervene in the Sutherland Space Hub scheme – and to also consider it alongside Scotland's two other planned rocket sites in Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.

But Wildland Ltd – which owns estates near the planned spaceport – said recently that "following a period of review and reflection", it had lodged a petition for judicial review of the decision by Highland Council to grant planning permission.

Now it has invested through a sister company in the rival Shetland scheme.

Highland councillor Hugh Morrison, who represents the north, west and central Sutherland ward, said:"This is really disappointing. He (Povlsen) obviously does not want the spaceport on his own doorstep but is happy to fund one on somebody else's.

"It really has rubbed people up the wrong way. It is a bit of a kick in the teeth and seems to be about getting the one in Shetland up and running, thus making the Sutherland one unnecessary or unviable."

In April Dorothy Pritchard, chairwoman of Melness Crofters’ Estate (MCE) – where the spaceport would be sited – wrote to the Danish entrepreneur, asking him to reconsider his opposition and pointing out that there is overwhelming local support for the space hub.

She took to social media this week to say: "The rank hypocrisy of a company owned by Mr Povlsen who takes judicial review out against the Sutherland Space Hub on the Moine, which will be carbon neutral, to invest in Shetland which has five SSSIs, four nature conservation sites, two special protection areas, one National Nature Reserve, Viking era archaeology and a scheduled monument. What hypocrisy to call yourself an environmentalist. I think NIMBY dictator is a cap which fits better. Support Sutherland Spaceport – it's the future, not the past!"

And the locally-based SPUR – Space Port United Residents – added: "People now need to let Wildlands and Anders Povlsen know in no uncertain terms just what they think of the heavy arm tactics now happening from them. We need to stand together as a community and show him our will. Time for direct action!"

The Shetland Space Centre said that it was pleased to announce that it had secured "a significant minority investment from Wild Ventures Limited".

It follows the UK Space Agency’s announcement last month that Lockheed Martin was transferring its satellite launch initiative to Unst to deliver long-term value for the industry and help establish a sustainable, commercial launch market as part of the UK’s spaceflight programme – LaunchUK.

Anders Povlsen
Anders Povlsen

Wild Ventures Limited is a sister company to Wildland Limited, formed to facilitate direct investment into projects with potential long-term economic benefits for Scotland’s rural areas.

Welcoming the investment, Frank Strang, CEO of Shetland Space Centre, said: “They have done their diligence on the space economy and got to grips with their understanding of the industry and the commercial realities of the space sector.

"Wild Ventures Limited has looked at all the prospective Scottish spaceport sites and they believe that the Shetland location combined with its business model affords the best chance for sustainable success for Scotland and the UK."

Tim Kirkwood, for Wild Ventures Limited, said: “We have long been supportive of the idea that, if developed appropriately, the space industry can deliver great benefits for Scotland’s rural economy. What is needed is the right development in the right place.

“As a project involving an ex-RAF base, a brownfield site, a promising location, and now with backing from HIE, the UKSA and Lockheed Martin, it has become clear that Shetland Space Centre is a realistic investment prospect to be asked to be involved with.

“Even so, a planning application for a sensitive area has yet to be lodged and a high environmental bar will need to be thoroughly crossed. As a minority investor we look forward to watching its progress with interest.”

But rocket launch company Orbex, which is due to operate from the Sutherland site, said it welcomed the "reversal" of Wildland and Mr Povlsen's position on spaceports in Scotland.

"This investment by Wildland and renowned environmentalist Anders Povlsen is a massive vote of confidence in Sutherland spaceport," said a spokesperson for Orbex.

"We're absolutely delighted that Wildland and Mr Povlsen have completely reversed their position, and now fully agree that small, sustainable spaceports like Sutherland can peacefully co-exist with wildland environments, avian sanctuaries and marine mammals. We look forward to a much larger investment in the spaceport at Sutherland, which has many fewer environmental constraints, in due course."

The Sutherland spaceport is the only UK spaceport to win planning permission to date. Construction is expected to start in 2021.

Orbex, which operates factories and test sites in Scotland, has secured contracts for six launches of commercial satellites from Sutherland.

But a successful judicial review could lead to a long drawn out public inquiry.


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