North Uist Spaceport Facility Planning Application

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Aviation Casework type: Construction Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SAC Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
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Overview

A new application has been submitted for a vertical launch spaceport.

In June 2019 Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local council, submitted a planning application (Reference 19/00311/PPD) for a spaceport on North Uist to launch 'sounding' or research rockets. The proposal includes a launch pad, tracking radar pads, vehicle access and parking. RSPB Scotland objected to this application in 2019 due to a lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and lack of consideration of impacts on protected wildlife sites, habitats and species.

In February 2022 this application was withdraw and a new application (reference 21/00646PPD) was submitted for the construction of sub-orbital vertical launch spaceport and associated work.

The new application was accompanied by an EIA, including an assessment of impacts on birds. Survey work has been carried out by the applicant to inform their understanding of birds in the area.

RSPB Scotland has not objected to this application as we do not think the proposal is likely to have significant adverse impacts on birds and protected areas. However, we have made comments on the proposal and offered further advice and recommendations for conditions that we think should be attached to any permission given.

Map

Machair habitat and northern Marsh orchid at RSPB Balranald nature reserve, North Uist

Why is it worth fighting for?

The area proposed for the spaceport is extremely important for wildlife and hosts several protected species that are sensitive to human disturbance and are listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive which means they are be given particular legal protection.

The area includes machair which is a rare habitat largely restricted to the west coast of the Outer Hebrides and is listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. The development is close to a number of sites which are designated due to their international and national importance for wildlife. These include the West Coast of the Outer Hebrides proposed Special Protection Area (pSPA), the North Uist Machair and Islands Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site, North Uist Machair Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Vallay Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Part of the Balranald RSPB Scotland nature reserve is also within 2 km of the site.

Given the importance of the area for key bird species, including corncrake, Greenland barnacle goose and ringed plover, we were particularly concerned about potential noise and disturbance impacts. However, we are satisfied by the information submitted that the proposal would not be likely to result in significant adverse impacts on protected sites and species, provided the mitigation proposed is carried out. The impacts could be reduced further if launches were prevented from being carried out during the most sensitive part of the bird breeding season and this is one of the conditions we have asked for in our response.

Our position

We have carefully considered the proposal and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted to accompany it. We are satisfied that the applicant has carried out enough surveys and done them properly. The application is much more detailed than the previous one.

There is potential that the proposal could disturb breeding birds due to noise from rocket launches, increased activity in the area and from noise and activity during construction. However, the applicant has proposed some measures to reduce disturbance and manage habitat nearby for corncrake, so they have suitable habitat further away from the rocket launches to breed.

Based on the information provided, we are satisfied that there would not be significant adverse effects on important birdlife and protected sites, and we have not objected to the proposal. We have requested that, should the application be approved, conditions are attached to limit construction and future launch activities to avoid the most sensitive part of the bird breeding season (May and June).

Conditions also need to be attached to ensure that the applicant does the things they have committed to, including the implementation of the habitat management plan.

RSPB Scotland believe that all development should leave nature in a better state than before it took place. Wording in the draft text for the latest National Planning Framework from the Scottish Government states developments should only be supported where the proposal will conserve and enhance biodiversity. This should be taken into account when the application is decided and we would welcome additional enhancement, should the application be approved.

How you can help

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A view of the loch at Abernethy
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Timeline

  • March 2022
    RSPB Scotland submitted comment on the new application

  • February 2022
    Application 19/00311/PPD is withdrawn and a new application 21/00646/PPD, is submitted.

  • July 2019
    We objected to the planning application due to insufficient information on the likely impacts on wildlife and designated sites.

  • June 2019
    A planning application was submitted by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for a spaceport (Reference 19/00311/PPD)

  • July 2018
    We responded to an EIA scoping consultation.
Corncrake, Crex crex at Oronsay RSPB reserve, Argyll, Scotland.

Further reading

Reserves affected:

Useful links:

Key species affected: