Meeting date: Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 26 October 2016
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, European Union Referendum (Update), Enterprise and Skills Support, “Report on the Memorandum of Understanding of Ofcom” , Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Campbeltown Airport (Spaceport Bid)
- Portfolio Question Time
- European Union Referendum (Update)
- Enterprise and Skills Support
- “Report on the Memorandum of Understanding of Ofcom”
- Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Campbeltown Airport (Spaceport Bid)
Campbeltown Airport (Spaceport Bid)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01615, in the name of David Stewart, on support for Campbeltown airport as spaceport. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
I am really intrigued about the debate—I call David Stewart to open it.
That the Parliament notes the potential economic benefit to communities around the site that will be selected as the UK's spaceport; understands that Campbeltown Airport is a shortlisted site that fulfils many of the technical and safety requirements; notes that these include having a 3,000 metre runway, excellent storage facilities for large quantities of fuel and hazardous materials, room to expand over a 1,000 acre site, being situated in an area away from congested airspace, the runway being a safe distance from conurbations, excellent air, road and sea transport links and with close proximity to areas of engineering expertise; believes that this would help to boost tourism in the area and would show clear intent that Scotland is embracing industries of the future that would help to boost Scottish-led innovations in science, technology and the rural economy, and acknowledges what it sees as the strong case being put forward by Discover Space UK for it to be selected as the site for the spaceport.17:07
Thank you for that vote of confidence, Presiding Officer. I am delighted to speak.
On 9 July 1962, a Thor-Delta rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral. On board was the United Kingdom’s Ariel 1 satellite, which not only made the UK the third country, after the USA and the Soviet Union, to operate a satellite but launched the UK’s space industry. That industry has developed to the point at which in 2014 it contributed £11.8 billion to the British economy and supported 35,000 jobs, according to the UK Government’s figures.
Just as it was a satellite that began the UK space industry, so it is satellites that will allow the UK Government to secure its ambition of a space industry that is worth £40 billion by 2030, which will represent a 10 per cent share of the global space industry market.
A first step towards that goal was the UK Government’s announcement that it intends to develop a single site as the UK’s spaceport. In July 2014, a shortlist of potential sites was announced with a view that the chosen site would be up and running by 2018. The original shortlist of eight was reduced to five, which included three sites in Scotland: Prestwick, Campbeltown and Stornoway. Currently Machrihanish is the only runway that has the required runway length for horizontal launch. In May, the Department for Transport wrote to the spaceport bidders to inform them of their decision to end the bidding process and to move towards a licensing model.
In previous debates, I supported the case for the selection of Campbeltown airport and I am still of the opinion that it is the best site for a spaceport. It should be remembered—many members will be aware of this—that Campbeltown airport was developed as a military airport and was a major part of NATO’s network up until the end of the cold war. For example, in the second world war it had the longest runway in Europe. Consequently, many millions of pounds were spent on building and maintaining infrastructure facilities of a high standard, including three jet-fuel storage installations and a pipeline to Campbeltown harbour to ensure safe delivery of highly volatile fuel. The facilities remain in excellent working condition today and will be able to meet the needs of not just the permanent staff but the visiting technicians who will be needed at various times during each stage of the project.
When we move from satellite launching to space tourism, those good-quality on-site accommodation and training facilities will be essential. It is worth mentioning that Campbeltown airport is the only UK site that has been approved for use as a spaceport by Virgin Galactic and NASA.
Safety will be an important factor in the granting of a licence—the last thing we want is the possibility of a mid-air collision with an aircraft. Spacecraft will take off horizontally, just as conventional aircraft do, and a runway of 3,000m is required for a launch. Campbeltown is the only shortlisted site to meet that requirement. In addition, the runway launches away from land or habitation, straight over the Atlantic Ocean, which is an important safety factor.
The lack of population around the spaceport is important. Take-off not only creates excessive noise—it is much louder than normal aircraft take-off—but is the most dangerous part of a space mission, with the possibility of an explosion involving many tonnes of rocket fuel. We all hope that an accident will never happen, but the relative isolation of Campbeltown airport would be a significant safety factor in the unlikely event of an accident.
A satellite launch facility is a long-term project, which involves much more than the provision of a long runway. To get the most out of the project, room will be needed for the facility to develop and grow. The site at Campbeltown stretches to more than 1,000 acres, so there is more than ample room to develop not just a launching site but associated industries, research and development and education. Indeed, given the dark skies that are associated with Kintyre because of its lack of light pollution, Campbeltown would be a great place for an astronomy tourism centre. The airport is sited in the beautiful Kintyre peninsula and benefits from a reasonably good road system and a harbour whose ferry links could, and probably should, be developed, in keeping with the wishes of the local community.
Although the airport is only a short fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter flight from Glasgow international airport, it is perfectly capable of handling its own international air traffic. After all, NASA was satisfied to have it as an emergency landing location for its space shuttle, which of course would have been transported home on the back of a Boeing 747. I do not think that there is a bigger vote of confidence in Campbeltown airport than that.
Campbeltown harbour has recently undergone extensive improvements, which make it ideal for the delivery of materials before transfer to road vehicles for the short journey to the airport.
The spaceport model has changed, as I said. The UK Government is no longer looking for just one site; it is looking for a more competitive and commercial model. The shortlisted sites have already passed the first sifting process and might well be in pole position when it comes to securing a launch licence.
It is not known whether the UK Government will make money available for site development, but competing sites cannot afford to sit back and wait. The change to a licensing system is not, for Campbeltown, the drawback that it might be to other sites, because the site requires much less work to make it ready for safe and efficient launches.
I am convinced that Campbeltown airport is the best location for a spaceport and is best placed to deliver a service in the UK Government’s desired timescale. As the decision on the UK spaceport is not the Scottish Government’s to take, it is understandable that the Scottish Government has not publicly backed Prestwick, Stornoway or Campbeltown. Now that things have changed, the Scottish Government can choose to let the market decide or to play a proactive role in helping Scotland to secure a launch licence. For example, it could create enterprise area status for spaceport activities at Machrihanish. Perhaps the minister will comment on that.
The site that wins the licence has the potential to bring substantial employment and economic benefits to the community for a long time to come. Scottish Government co-operation is now essential—not just to assist with site development, but to ensure that the potential spaceport makes the best commercial and technical partnerships. I thank Charlotte Wright and her colleagues at Highlands and Islands Enterprise for their support in the development of the project.
Throughout history, Scottish scientists have been in the vanguard of innovation and discovery, from James Watt, the godfather of the industrial revolution, to Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of radar. That fine tradition continues as the issues that I have been talking about develop. We owe it not just to people today but to future generations to get behind the project. We can build on that great legacy and grasp the opportunity to be at the forefront of space technology, or we can choose to be left behind. Surely there can be no greater transport aspiration for the Scottish Parliament than to link Scotland with the moon.
Some people think that there are individuals in here who are already tethered to the moon.17:14
I thank David Stewart for securing valuable debating time in the chamber on this important matter. I recognise that this is a topic about which we both feel strongly, but I disagree that Campbeltown airport would be the best choice for Scotland: the site at Glasgow Prestwick airport is clearly the better option. Therefore, for the first time since I was elected in 1999, I must speak against the motion in a members’ business debate.
With the space industry set for rapid growth, we have a tremendous opportunity for Scotland to be home to the first-ever spaceport on European soil and a hub for commercial space flights. It would be ideal to showcase our skills in engineering and science and to propel ourselves into developing the next generation of space-related industries. That is why it is of the utmost importance that the right site be chosen.
Here is an opportunity that is far too good to be lost, so we should unite behind a campaign for one site in order to secure a win for all of Scotland. I strongly believe that that site should be Prestwick, where some of the largest global aerospace companies are already based, including BAE Systems, Spirit AeroSystems, GE Caledonian, UTC Aerospace Systems and Woodward International Inc. Spirit AeroSystems alone employs about 900 people at Prestwick.
Location is key. Prestwick’s close proximity to Glasgow—which is home to some of our nation’s finest university graduates and scholars, research teams and innovative companies—cannot be underestimated. Clyde Space is a great example of such a company. It produces and sells small satellite systems, which makes it a front runner in its field. Nearby Glasgow is an ever-growing hub of activity, and Prestwick, which is just half an hour from the largest community of space industry employees outside London and the south-east, has an advantage that cannot be understated. Prestwick is therefore the superior location, which is invaluable with a project of this nature. There are 8,000 engineering undergraduates within 50 miles of Prestwick and 4 million people living within two hours’ travel time.
The excellent road and rail links to and from Prestwick airport mean that it is easily accessible, with little chance of one being stuck behind a timber lorry, as can often happen in Argyll: it happened to me three times on the 26th of last month. At Prestwick, vehicles will easily be able to transport materials and goods that need to be delivered on site. Central road and rail services make it simple for equipment to be moved and also to attract specialist staff.
Of course, in order to be considered as a spaceport, a site must meet the appropriate requirements. Prestwick is more than ready for that, with a runway that is over 2,980m long that frequently handles the largest aircraft. It also has three air traffic control towers and experience of space flight technology. I am not alone in believing that Prestwick is the right place for the spaceport.
The bid is being led by Stuart McIntyre—a Scottish entrepreneur who has great experience with British Aerospace, Scottish Aviation and Prestwick airport. The experience that he has brought to the team is invaluable in helping to create an exciting proposal for Prestwick spaceport. A huge part of that will be the new and exciting employment opportunities in sectors including science, technology, engineering and construction. Scotland is already known for being innovative in developing those sectors; the spaceport will take that even further.
Other industries will benefit, with more spending power in the Ayrshire economy from both spaceport workers and increased tourism. The existing Ayrshire and Arran tourism market is worth over £340 million a year. Ayrshire has a huge appeal across the world because of its beautiful coastlines, golf courses and rich heritage. The spaceport would simply expand on that.
The Scottish Government needs to stop pussyfooting about. Scotland having three potential spaceports is unrealistic: hedging one’s bets is more likely to see the spaceport going to Wales or England, each of which has only one proposal. Sometimes you need to put your eggs in one basket, and this is just such an occasion, so I say, “Please, minister—back Prestwick”, which has shown itself to be the front runner in the competition for the first spaceport in the UK. It is an incredible opportunity and Prestwick is clearly the ideal location to secure that important development for Scotland.17:18
I want to agree with David Stewart, and I do not believe that he is wired to the moon for having made his suggestion. I support his proposal.
I was rather speaking of some others in here—including myself—not, indeed, Mr Stewart.
In my opinion, only one site in Scotland really stands out—and that is the site at Machrihanish. The reasons are those that have already been partly given.
It is secluded and accessible. It has pedigree, being a former RAF base and having played a very important role during the Cold War. It is regarded as an international airfield, having already been used by the US Navy and NATO. It also has form. As has been mentioned, NASA has identified it as an emergency landing site for space shuttle launches. Therefore it has been recognised.
When the announcement was made that a spaceport would be selected, it was stated that that would be done by competition. However, the Department for Transport has decided that it will be done by way of licensing, to ensure that the regulatory conditions are met. The head of international aviation at the UK Space Agency welcomed that change and advised that it would create viable business models and a range of locations—and it has.
The good news is that that also makes Machrihanish airport probably the most attractive site, because the following basic requirements are sought: an existing runway that extends over 3,000m; the ability to have an airfield that has no conflicting airspace demands; a site that is reasonably located away from densely populated areas; suitable meteorological and environmental conditions—which Machrihanish has; and a location that is accessible to staff and visitors. Machrihanish ticks all those boxes, and, in April 2015, Discover Space UK launched its bid for Campbeltown, declaring
“We are confident that our site offers the best possible option, especially under a licensing arrangement. We are the only one of the bidders to have a suitable runway, we’ve got the best launch direction and 1,000 acres of opportunity on site.”
The site has also, as we have heard, received support from Virgin Galactic, which has listed it in its top three preferred sites. Argyll and Bute Council welcomes the Discover Space UK bid and Highlands and Islands Enterprise has backed the campaign. They believe that it will encourage people to live and work in Campbeltown—which, as we know, is vitally important—and that it will help to boost tourism.
I believe that the minister should campaign for Campbeltown airport to be chosen as the spaceport because it is the only candidate that meets the requirements, it is approved by NASA, it has a real operator—Virgin Galactic—that wants to use it and its coastal location and quasi-remoteness make it perfect for a spaceport. Machrihanish air base is also owned by a community-based company that purchased the site for £1 with the intention of reinvigorating the economy. The minister can make that happen.
Let us join in the journey together and turn a flight of fancy into reality by helping to make Machrihanish air base the first British spaceport.17:22
I join members in welcoming the motion and congratulate Dave Stewart on securing the debate. It is clear, from the speeches that we have heard so far, that aerospace is recognised as a key growth area for the UK economy. As the motion outlines, we should be making every effort to embrace the industries of the future, and aerospace is widely regarded as an emerging market. The creation of new spaceports in the UK presents significant economic opportunities that we must take advantage of.
As members have outlined, Scotland is well positioned to take advantage of the potential benefits of the expected emergence of new low-cost rocket planes that can launch fare-paying passengers into space and put satellites into orbit. Although most of those vehicles are quite some time away from being operational, there is a belief that, if the UK gets its act together now, we will be in a position to take advantage of the first wave when they arrive and steal a march on our competitors.
As has been mentioned, the UK Government recently announced its intention to
“create the regulatory conditions for any suitable location that wishes to become a spaceport, to take the opportunity to develop and attract commercial space business.”
That means that there is the potential to set up a network of spaceports around the UK rather than a single site, as was originally planned. The fact that we have three potential locations across Scotland, which were all shortlisted in the original competition, should be welcomed. All three of the locations have their individual strengths.
Dave Stewart rightly made reference—as have other members—to the strengths of Campbeltown airport as a potential location that includes a 3,000m runway, excellent storage facilities for hazardous materials and transport links. Many members will also—as Kenny Gibson did—point to the strengths that Prestwick airport has to offer, including the fact that almost £250,000 is being invested to develop Prestwick’s aerospace sector. That investment will go towards a comprehensive development programme that will include infrastructure, business development, energy reduction and supply chain development.
The potential benefits of having a spaceport are clear. It would not only create skilled jobs and opportunities for high-tech supplies and services, but provide a boost for the tourism industry.
We have an impressive track record when it comes to space technology. The UK is a world leader in satellite business, with a particular strength in small satellites. Scottish companies are playing a leading role in providing components and systems for those satellites. As Kenny Gibson mentioned, the Glasgow-based company Clyde Space is widely regarded as one of the most innovative young companies in the UK, and it has become the largest indigenous space company in Scotland.
Clyde Space produces high quality, high-performance systems for small spacecraft. It was one of the first commercial companies in the world to recognise the potential of the new technology, and it has a 40 per cent share of the global market in power components for so-called CubeSats.
We have much to be proud of. Spaceports would provide us with the opportunity to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the next generation of space travel. There are wide-ranging potential benefits not only to the areas where any spaceport would be located, but to the wider Scottish economy.
I join Dave Stewart and other members in urging the Scottish Government to do everything that it can to ensure that we grasp the opportunity to be at the forefront of space technology.17:26
I thank my colleague David Stewart for bringing the motion to the chamber. He outlined that Argyll and Bute Council, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise lend their support to the proposal for Campbeltown airport to be a spaceport. I certainly lend my personal support for that. I will not pussyfoot about the issue at all; I am clear on where my support lies.
I want the debate to be a bit more informed than it simply being about one member’s runway being longer than another member’s runway. The reality is that, of course, there are competing demands. It is estimated that the UK space industry could create up to 100,000 jobs by 2030. Argyll and Bute Council is focused on the jobs element. To supplement our excellent cohort of timber lorry drivers, we want to get the specialist jobs that would come with a spaceport.
Mr Gibson talked about the workforce and Mr Bibby mentioned the expertise that exists there. The motion highlights that when it talks about the
“close proximity to areas of engineering expertise”.
The reality is that the people who are involved in jobs at that level are part of a very mobile workforce. I am sure that they would enjoy coming to the Kintyre peninsula and that they would be made very welcome there.
I also favour Machrihanish as the site was purchased from the Ministry of Defence and the Scottish Greens are very keen to see the MOD portfolio in Scotland greatly reduced. The fact that the site was part of a community buyout in 2012 just adds to that.
The Scottish Greens have a policy on space travel. Part of the strategy is that we would want surrounding communities to benefit. As has been said on many occasions already, there are very strong community links between the Kintyre community and the Machrihanish site.
The UK Government’s £50 million investment in space will go a long way.
I, too, will mention Clyde Space, its cube satellites and its leading market role. If we had a spaceport in Scotland—wherever it might be—we could design, build and launch satellites from Scotland. For the reasons outlined, it is certainly my view that Machrihanish would be that site.
The London School of Economics identifies something called “knowledge spillovers” from increased space research and development, in which the knowledge gained can be used to create other technologies in different sectors such as aeronautics, healthcare, transport and energy. This was news to me, but examples of the spillovers from NASA research include advanced robotic surgery, efficient engines, memory foam mattresses, water purification and environmental sensors. It also fed into information about the optimal sites for wind farms. Of course, wind farms have become tourist attractions. We know from Whitelee what a significant number of tourists there can be. There is no doubt that a spaceport would become a tourist attraction, too.
A policy on space exploration was passed at the Greens’ conference in 2015. The first paragraph says:
“We recognise the benefits to society provided by satellite technology and building our scientific knowledge, particularly environmental science, and in the provision of telecommunications and navigation services.”
It would not be a Green policy if it did not make reference to recycling, and part of the policy is to
“encourage the salvaging and recycling of redundant and waste material currently in orbit.”
The most important condition that we would attach to support for the Campbeltown bid for a spaceport, which we fully endorse, is that
“We oppose the militarisation of space, and we fully endorse the UN Outer Space Treaty”,
the formal title of which is the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”.
I thank David Stewart for securing the debate.17:30
As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I am delighted to offer my support for David Stewart’s motion and the campaign by Discover Space UK, which is leading the bid for Machrihanish to gain one of the new spaceport licences from the UK Government. As other members have noted, there are a variety of reasons why Machrihanish is not only a viable but an appropriate choice. Colleagues have touched on the benefits of the proposal, but I would like to add some detail that I believe further enhances the case that is being made in this evening’s debate.
First, as many members have mentioned, the runway at Machrihanish is the longest of all the shortlisted locations. At 3,049 feet long, it is the longest civil runway in Britain and, as the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company consultation document notes, it is a runway that could easily be extended. Indeed, the company is keen to explore extension options, because although the current runway already meets suborbital criteria, with an expansion it could meet fully orbital and even vertical launch criteria. MACC has also noted that, given the relatively short distance to the North Sea, there is the opportunity to use Machrihanish as a base for a sea-launch site. That model is currently used in the Pacific on the Ocean Odyssey platform.
The site already has suitable capacity. There is on-site accommodation for around 2,000 personnel, existing hangar space, a fuel storage capacity of 6.2 million litres, fuelling facilities and low-cost space for businesses. Machrihanish is only 43 miles away from Glasgow and 50 miles from Belfast by air and, of course, has a direct road link to Glasgow.
As an existing functioning commercial airport, Machrihanish comes with the necessary initial staffing expertise. Importantly, it has a manned and operational control tower. Because it is a low-use commercial airport, there is a mostly clear airspace, which is a vital element of the Civil Aviation Authority’s spaceport criteria.
As others have mentioned, the initial competition element has now been abandoned in favour of a licensing scheme. I welcome that, because there are a number of suitable sites, and I hope that Britain—and especially Scotland—can lead the way in the spaceport industry. I hope that the Scottish Government will be fully behind the Machrihanish bid, because its success will have immeasurable benefits for Kintyre, Argyll and Bute and the wider area.
Kenneth Gibson spoke as an ardent and passionate supporter of Prestwick, and I can sense John Scott, who will take a different view from me, breathing down my neck. I note that, at this morning’s meeting of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, the Minister for Transport and the Islands said that Prestwick could be handed back to the public and used as a link airport to an enlarged Heathrow. Perhaps the Scottish Government could make its position clear on that.
In my view, there is a clear case for a licence to be granted to Machrihanish. The bid has a solid business case and, importantly, it has the backing of the local community, Argyll and Bute Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. If we can all support the motion, it will be small step for this Parliament but a giant leap for Machrihanish.
All the clichés are coming home to roost. Mercifully, there is no vote in members’ business debates.17:34
I apologise to the chamber for not being here for the early part of the debate. I wish to speak in support of what Kenny Gibson said about Prestwick airport. Like him, I do not want to make the debate a contentious one, and I respect the support of David Stewart and other colleagues for Machrihanish. However, I feel that it is important for me to differ from Mr Stewart, because it is too serious an issue to let what he said stand.
Machrihanish is self-evidently not the location of choice for a spaceport in Scotland. All the things that Mr Gibson said are absolutely true. I would correct him only on one fact: Spirit AeroSystems currently employs more than 1,000 people, not more than 900. There are 3,000 people around Prestwick airport in what is genuinely a world-class hub of maintenance, repair and overhaul. Never mind Machrihanish—there is nowhere else like Prestwick in Britain, and its work is absolutely vital to the sustenance of a spaceport.
A long runway in a remote location is, of itself, not enough. Mr Gibson highlighted the issue of road access; there is a motorway from Glasgow and central Scotland and indeed from London right to the front door of Prestwick airport. Mr Gibson and I are not often on the same side of an argument, but from day 1 in this Parliament we fought and campaigned to have the A77 upgraded to motorway status—and, thank goodness, we have now succeeded.
There has been much talk of timber lorries in Argyllshire. I am sorry, but that is just a fact of life. We need good access, because having a spaceport means providing access for customers as well as objects to go into space. Plans are already well under way at Prestwick airport for human space travel; indeed, there is a timescale for that, but I am afraid that I might break confidences by talking about it.
Prestwick airport has not only the advantage of having a willing 3,000-strong workforce around the area, some of whom are already involved in the design of spacecraft, but the absolute support of the Ayrshire community—not just South Ayrshire, but the whole of Ayrshire. North, South and East Ayrshire do not, I regret to say, always agree, but this is one issue on which we are absolutely united. In addition, the issue has the absolute support of the Ayrshire councils, particularly South Ayrshire Council.
As for the length of the runway and the licensing requirements, it is important to point out that Prestwick is virtually compliant with American licensing situations. It will require very little alteration in that respect; indeed, if it were an American airport, it would probably already be sufficiently compliant to be a spaceport.
I see the Presiding Officer telling me to stop. I thank you for your indulgence in letting me speak, Presiding Officer, and I support Mr Gibson in all that he has said today.
I was just telling you that you were coming to the end of your four minutes, Mr Scott. I was not being so unkind as to tell you to stop.
I call the minister to wind up for the Government. I am intrigued to find out whether it is Campbeltown, Prestwick or somewhere that we have not talked about. You have seven minutes, minister.17:38
I, too, have been very interested in the debate, and I thank David Stewart for securing it. It is quite obvious that proponents in the chamber for Campbeltown and Prestwick have a genuine degree of passion and interest in the subject. Mr Stewart also mentioned Stornoway, which I will mention later on. I am impressed by the level of detail displayed by Mr Stewart, Kenneth Gibson, John Scott, John Finnie, Neil Bibby, Donald Cameron and Edward Mountain, and I commend all members for the detailed research that they have carried out into this subject.
Scotland has a small but dynamic and growing space sector that is focused on a number of high-tech, high-skill and research and development-intensive areas. According to the latest available figures, the space industry in Scotland has a turnover of around £134 million, and it is spearheaded by a cluster of 128 companies, some of which have been mentioned by Kenneth Gibson and others. They are at the cutting edge of their specialisms and are backed by strong relationships with researchers in Scottish universities and research pools.
The Scottish space sector has a very strong international standing in small satellite systems and space science research as well as related areas such as sensor systems and big data.
The aspiration is for Scotland to secure 10 per cent of the UK market by 2030, which itself is potentially worth £4 billion. John Finnie cited the economic potential at the UK level and at the Scotland level. The impact that that could have on the local economy at either Campbeltown or Prestwick is clear and is probably what is fuelling the significant interest and passion of champions of those locations.
A spaceport would act as a major catalyst for the further development of the developing space sector in Scotland and the UK. It would attract investors to Scotland to play their part in the space industry supply chain; it would act as a hub for technology providers and professional services; it would attract space tourists; and it would free up the global bottleneck at the point of small satellite launch to allow growth in the new space market.
The spaceport opportunity is not about space flight in isolation; it is about much more than launching a satellite or transporting a space tourist. The wider benefits of being a licensed spaceport are extensive and could impact on manufacturing industries, research and development, academia and tourism, to name but a few. Speaking of tourism, I note that the spaceport is not just about taking people into space; as a number of members have mentioned, it is about attracting visitors to visitor centres and to see an operational spaceport with live launches. The potential is vast in that respect.
As David Stewart and Edward Mountain said, there has been a significant change to the selection process for a UK spaceport. It was announced that the UK Government is moving to a legislative framework approach with the modern transport bill. That will be a departure from the previous bidding process to determine who would host the United Kingdom’s only spaceport. A legislative framework such as the one that is being proposed brings with it a number of benefits, some of which should help to address the concerns that members have expressed today about picking winners. There will no longer necessarily be one winner; instead, space operations will be possible from multiple sites across the country.
Does the minister agree with me that that will ultimately be driven by the market, as those who want to put objects and people into space will decide themselves which the most favourable location is? In that regard, does he agree with me that Prestwick is the most favourable location in Scotland?
That was a good try, Mr Scott.
That was a good attempt; I have to give marks out of 10 for effort. I accept the first part of what John Scott said and I will come on to the other aspect of it later. It is important that the market has a determining factor, but there might be different roles for spaceports and perhaps the solution that is needed is not one size fits all.
Space operations will be possible from multiple sites across the UK and we would be keen for that to happen in Scotland. An open licensing regime would mean that any Scottish site could proceed with its ambition to become a spaceport. That is significant, given that there are a range of space flight operators.
Will the minister give way?
I will develop the point and then bring Mr Stewart in.
There are a range of space flight operators and a range of opportunities to be pursued, including the launch of satellites and taking tourists into orbit. The revised approach could lead to a number of space flight hubs across the UK, with spaceports and spacecraft instead now being licensed.
We discussed earlier that the decision making will really be by the UK Government’s Department of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority. However, there are levers that the Scottish Government can apply. I mentioned in my speech the creation of an economic enterprise zone in the Machrihanish area. Is that being actively considered by the Scottish Government?
As I am relatively new to my post, I am not aware of anything specific in that area, but I will investigate and, if need be, I will get back to Mr Stewart on any options that are being looked at for Machrihanish. We are supporting the development of wind turbine manufacturing at CS Wind and others in Machrihanish, and there is a strong interest in developing the Campbeltown economy. However, I will look at the specific issue that he mentioned.
There are a number of potential hubs, but there are also challenges for potential sites. Although I note the points that a number of members—David Stewart, Kenneth Gibson and Donald Cameron—have made about various technical aspects of the provision that is available at Prestwick and Machrihanish, there is still a lack of clarity as to what the key infrastructure requirements will be for each of the particular roles for spaceports. Until there is detailed guidance on what minimum standards are required—runway length has been mentioned as one possible criterion—it will be difficult for any airport to establish whether the commercial benefits of pursuing a licence would achieve a reasonable return on the investment, including potentially significant infrastructure costs.
There will also potentially be an increased financial risk for any site wishing to become a spaceport. Previously, the winning bidder would have been allocated an anchor tenant and thus would have been guaranteed income for an initial period. That no longer seems possible under the newly proposed process. Therefore, there are advantages but there are also issues that run in the other direction.
Two potential Scottish spaceport sites remain: Campbeltown and Prestwick. We have focused on both and the Scottish Government is committed to supporting both. I appreciate Mr Gibson’s point about not wanting to pussyfoot around, as he delicately put it. However, under the licensing regime, we have the opportunity to support the aspirations of both airports and communities. Although there has been interest in Stornoway airport becoming a spaceport, as Mr Stewart mentioned in his opening remarks, Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, the owner of the airport, has decided not to pursue the opportunity at this time.
Will the minister take another intervention?
Please be brief, Mr Stewart, as we are running short of time.
We have been talking about horizontal take-off in this debate, but the minister might be aware that there are opportunities for vertical take-off, particularly in the missile launching base in South Uist, which I saw recently, and in Caithness. I had a very helpful brief from Highlands and Islands Enterprise on that issue. We should put on record that there are other options that involve vertical take-off.
I am happy to accept that point and I will look at those aspects in due course.
I understand that the HIAL board previously considered whether to proceed with what would then have been a spaceport bid but decided that it would concentrate at that time on its core business of providing airports that serve the people of the Highlands and Islands. Although there is no longer a bidding process, HIAL has not changed its position in light of that. However, I appreciate that, even after HIAL’s decision, Western Isles Council has indicated a desire to further explore the spaceport opportunity, so I will look into the matters that Mr Stewart has raised.
Our main focus is ensuring that a spaceport is based in Scotland, and both the Scottish Government and its agencies will commit support and offer advice to any Scottish site that wishes to pursue the spaceport opportunity. I am aware that Discover Space UK has put together a credible case as to why Campbeltown could be a commercial spaceport. As we have heard in the debate, the airfield has many attributes that make it suitable for space flight operations, including one of the longest runways in Europe. I believe that Machrihanish Airbase Community Company, as was mentioned by Mr Mountain, working with Argyll and Bute Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, could develop a viable spaceport business model. I feel that Prestwick, too, can develop its own spaceport business model. Indeed, Kenneth Gibson and Neil Bibby both stressed aspects of the infrastructure at Prestwick that mean that it has a good opportunity.
What is clear to me is that both potential Scottish sites—Campbeltown and Prestwick—have strong credentials that would make them excellent locations should they decide to apply for a licence. Those locations would benefit not only themselves but Scotland as a whole. I have been impressed during the debate by the depth of knowledge that members have shown in support of both locations. However, I highlight that it is ultimately for Campbeltown and Prestwick to decide whether they wish to proceed once the criteria are announced. The advantage of the new legislation, from my perspective, is that both airfields can become a spaceport without that being at the expense of the other.
The passion in the debate has shown that we can work together to ensure that Scotland secures a spaceport opportunity. Now that the UK Government has announced its intention to move towards a licensing framework, we encourage it to ensure that all interested parties are given a clear understanding of the infrastructure requirements involved. That would enable prospective sites to develop a viable business model and to determine whether they wished to pursue an application to be licensed.
I want to see a spaceport located in Scotland; indeed, I would like to see spaceports—plural—located in Scotland, if that is possible. There is no reason why both our potential sites cannot establish a business model to seize the many opportunities that being licensed would bring. I reiterate my belief that both sites would make excellent spaceports. The Scottish Government and its agencies will continue to provide advice and support to assist our Scottish sites and stand ready to help them realise their ambition of becoming a spaceport.Meeting closed at 17:48.