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About Us

7 April 2021

The Shetland Space Centre, Unst

We support the principle of a Space Centre and recognise the important benefits it could bring to Unst and Scotland. We want to explore solutions where the surviving legacy of Unst’s wartime role can exist alongside the proposed Space Centre.

Part of our role at Historic Environment Scotland is to ensure that the historic environment is looked after, protected and managed for the generations to come. It is our responsibility to promote the best outcomes for Scotland’s important sites and places and sometimes that means taking the difficult decision to object to a development proposal.

If we do object this is based on the information which has been submitted to us. We would like to work with the applicant and Shetland Islands Council to explore ways in which our concerns can be addressed.

For the Space Centre we are involved in two ways:

  • Part of the Space Centre is proposed to be built within the former Skaw Radar Station. The Radar Station is a scheduled monument which means that it is a nationally important part of Scotland’s heritage. Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating scheduled monuments and deciding if developments can go ahead on scheduled sites. Applications are made through a process called scheduled monument consent.
  • We are also consulted by planning authorities on planning applications which may affect scheduled monuments and their settings. This process is managed by local authorities and HES responds when asked to do so by local authorities. Scheduled monuments are a material consideration in the planning process and for developments, like this one, which require an Environmental Impact Assessment.

This is why we have made two responses to the proposal to build the Space Centre.

Our decision on the scheduled monument consent application can be found on our portal.

Our response to the planning application can be found on the Shetland Islands Council planning portal.

Our refusal of scheduled monument consent and our objection to the planning application are based on the information which has been submitted to us. We use our Scheduled Monument Consents Policy to assess applications for scheduled monument consent and because the current proposal would involve loss and harm to the scheduled monument without sufficient reasons we haven’t been able to support it at this stage.

There are two main issues for us:

  • Does the Space Centre have to be located within the scheduled monument? Are there other locations on Unst which are suitable?
  • If the Space Centre cannot be located elsewhere can more be done to preserve the archaeological features on the site?

What does our objection mean?

The applicant can appeal our decision about scheduled monument consent. Appeals are made to Scottish Ministers through the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division.

Scottish Ministers would then decide if the importance of the development outweighs the national importance of the scheduled monument or if the Space Centre’s benefits could be achieved by relocation away from the scheduled area or through redesign to mitigate its impact (a revised application for scheduled monument consent would need to be submitted to us). If Scottish Ministers take the former view they could choose to allow the appeal and grant consent for this application.

In relation to the planning application, Shetland Islands Council will make a decision on whether or not to grant planning permission for the development, taking our advice into account. Scottish Government has issued a notification direction which means that if the Council is minded to grant planning permission, Scottish Ministers will be notified and Shetland Council must delay granting planning permission for 28 days. The reason for the notification is to “assist in providing an overview of spaceport development in the planning system”.

The condition of the former Radar Station

Skaw Radar Station became a scheduled monument in 2012. The level of preservation was taken into account in this decision. Whilst time and the weather has continued to affect the monument we are not aware of any significant deterioration to it since then.

When a site becomes a scheduled monument this does not change who owns it or the responsibility for maintaining the site. It is up to the owner to decide how to maintain their asset.

We believe that the former Radar Station is a valuable heritage resource for Unst, now and for future generations, and we would like to discuss the potential for consolidation and interpretation with the owners and the community.

We regularly monitor the condition of scheduled monuments and welcome and encourage efforts to conserve them and maintain or enhance their cultural significance. Along with other bodies, HES has grants designed to support owners and community groups to do this.

Our next steps

While we have not been able to support this application for scheduled monument consent we hope to be able to support a revised application if our concerns can be addressed. This would mean devising a new scheme and submitting a new application for scheduled monument consent to us.

Further information

Skaw Radar Station
The radar station at Skaw is an important part of Scotland’s 20th century heritage. It is exceptionally well preserved and has a very interesting story to tell. You can find out more about why it is a scheduled monument by reading the designation record.

Scheduled Monument Consents Policy
This document sets out our policy for making decisions about developments at scheduled monuments and supports the Historic Environment Policy for Scotland.

Our responses

Our response to the scheduled monument consent application can be found on our portal. A summary is given below:

  • the application has not demonstrated that there are no suitable alternative locations for the proposed development
  • the application has not demonstrated that the development of this specific site (rather than the space programme as a whole) would generate public benefits of national importance which outweigh the impact on the nationally important cultural significance of the monument.
  • the application has not demonstrated that the design of the development mitigates the impacts on the cultural significance of the monument
  • the main element of the mitigation proposed (the strip, map and record exercise) is not appropriate to mitigate the impacts on a nationally important monument
  • the proposals would result in the loss of over 200 archaeological features associated with the scheduled radar station, resulting in a significant loss of cultural significance
  • the proposals would remove the intactness and coherence of the radar station which is currently a key characteristic of the site’s cultural significance
  • the new large-scale buildings and infrastructure throughout the monument would interrupt and adversely affect important visual and contextual relationships within the site, reducing the cultural significance of the monument
  • the new large-scale buildings would become the dominant focal features on the site, overwhelming the remaining radar features and reducing the cultural significance of the monument
  • access to the monument will be restricted by fences and launch exclusion zones, reducing the ability for visitors to experience and appreciate the monument
  • the construction of the development would reduce the cultural significance of the monument to such a degree that the site would no longer meet the criteria for national importance

Our response to the planning application can be found on the Shetland Islands Council planning portal.

Other satellite launch site applications

We have been consulted about planning applications for satellite launch pads at Dunbuie, Tongue, Sutherland, and Scolpaig, North Uist. We have not objected to the Dunbuie application as the development would not directly affect any designated heritage assets and we concluded that the proposals would have only a minimal impact on the nearby designated heritage assets.

We have asked for further information about the Scolpaig application to confirm that these proposals would be unlikely to have a significant impact on designated heritage assets and their settings.