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Council approves a £12m spend for Spaceport Cornwall

Council approves a £12m spend for Spaceport Cornwall

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 3:59pm 18th September 2019. (Updated at 8:06am 19th September 2019)

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Richard Whitehouse

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet showed a split in views on the plans for Spaceport Cornwall but did approve spending £12million on the project.

The Cabinet was being asked to approve funding which would be part of an overall £20m package to prepare Newquay Airport for use to launch small satellites into orbit.

But there was not unanimous support with the Cabinet voting six in favour and four against.

Ahead of the debate there were a number of questions from members of the public who were concerned about the impact that the spaceport could have on the environment.

They claimed that by supporting the spaceport the council was contradicting its declaration of a climate emergency earlier this year and the launch of its climate change action plan.

However Cabinet member for transport Geoff Brown said that a report by the University of Exeter showed that launches from the spaceport would result in a 0.1% increase in carbon emissions and said that there were plans to offset this.

But critics said that the carbon emissions was too narrow in what it assessed and that the idea of offsetting those emissions was inadequate.

Virgin Orbit spaceport satellites

In presenting the report which recommended the funding for the spaceport Cllr Brown said that it was an opportunity for Cornwall to be at the forefront of technology and to get a share of an industry which is currently worth £14.8billion in the UK.

He said that the spaceport would create 150 direct jobs and inject £200m into the Cornwall economy and would grow from there. He said that the jobs would be “high quality, well paid and challenging”.

Cllr Brown said that the spaceport could inspire young people to study STEM subjects and have the opportunity to pursue a career in the space industry in Cornwall.

The Cabinet member said that the spaceport project had been assessed more closely with regards to environmental impact and carbon emissions than any other which had ever come before the council.

Cllr Brown said: “This will make our young people’s lives better. This is a big part as to why we should make this investment in the future of Cornwall and the future of our young people".

He added: “Give our young people the future they deserve".

Edwina Hannaford, Cabinet member for climate change and neighbourhoods, said that she was unable to support the proposals.

She said that while she wanted to inspire young people in Cornwall she also wanted to inspire them about climate change.

And she added: “Why is Cornwall Council, one of the poorest regions in the UK, disproprtionately funding this, why isn’t the Government doing it?”

Virgin Orbit spaceport satellites

Cllr Hannaford said that she also wanted to see a comprehensive impact assessment of the spaceport before any funding decision is made.

After she indicated that she would not be able to support it she was followed by fellow Cabinet member Sally Hawken who said she could not support it.

Cabinet member Bob Egerton also said he could not vote in support and was highly critical of the information provided.

He also said he was “somewhat sceptical that watching a 747 take off will inspire our children”.

Cllr Egerton also wanted to see the business case for the spaceport and said that essentially Virgin was asking for £20m from the taxpayer for the project.

He said that there was uncertainty about Virgin Orbit’s satellite launch programme and said that the company had not yet launched any satellites.

The Cabinet member for the economy said that the money could be better invested in Cornwall and suggested it could be used to help revitalise high streets or be used for school maintenance for which there is a backlog.

Cornwall councillor Paul Wills, who represents people living near the airport, was also highly critical of the project and said that an all member briefing on the project had ended up being “the big sell”.

He also asked where the business case was for the project and why councillors had not be able to see it.

Cllr Wills also claimed that Virgin had stated that if the UK leaves the EU then it would no longer invest in the UK. He also said that the assessment by Exeter University had been rushed out and said a more comprehensive assessment was required.

He said: “A prudent council and prudent cabinet would wait until this assessment has been carried out, will wait until the outcome of Brexit before commiting any money".

Council leader Julian German said he was in favour of the project and said he was encouraged by the supportive comments from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership.

He added: “I have no doubt that if this does not happen in Cornwall it will happen elsewhere".

Newquay Spaceport Conceptual image

The Cabinet supported the funding with six votes in favour and four against.

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