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Originally published on the The Observer , Saturday 27 September 2014 12.58 BST

View here:   http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/27/snowdonia-national-park-uk-spaceport?CMP=twt_gu

SPACEPORT NEWQUAY COMMENT: The following relates to Snowdonia but the similarities with Newquay’s issues are the same.

More than 800 families at a time can pitch their tents at Shell island, Europe's biggest campsite,  at the edge of the wild Rhinog mountains in Snowdonia. But they could soon get more than tranquillity, fresh air and massive sand dunes. The barely used Llanbedr airstrip that adjoins the camp, near Harlech, is one of eight coastal locations identified by the government as potential sites for Britain's first commercial spaceport.

Should the old RAF site be picked to launch satellites and host wealthy space tourists paying £120,000 or more for short, sub-orbital flights 65 miles above the Earth, the runway inside the national park would have to be extended through the protected dunes, narrow lanes would have to be widened, and giant fuel dumps, a terminal, hangars and dozens of other facilities would need to be built.

Welcome jobs would be provided, but local people, who mostly depend on traditional tourism, fear that the noise, pollution and disruption caused by as many as five or more launches a week could shatter the peace of one of Britain's most popular national parks.

The government's short official consultation into where Britain's spaceport should be sited ends this week, but communities and local authorities near the eight sites contacted by the Observer say they have been given little or no information about its realistic scale or social, economic and environmental impact. "We are struggling to get any information at all. We have no idea what it would mean for us, good or bad," said a spokesman for the Shell island campsite.

John Harold, director of the Snowdonia Society charity , which acts as a planning watchdog on development, said: "The government is holding its cards close. Not even the national park has been given the information. No one really knows what it might entail. We are all in the dark. We do not know what options are being considered, or whether the developments would be appropriate.

"But it takes a lot of imagination to see how a spaceport makes best use of the scenic beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the national park. Something on this scale could seriously affect the spectacular scenery."

Scotland, with six of the eight proposed spaceport sites, mainly on old RAF bases, believes it is the frontrunner because vertical rockets or experimental space planes taking off from Kinloss or Lossiemouth, over the Moray Firth, or from Stornoway or Prestwick would be able to fly due north over the ocean from large airfields with good infrastructure in remote locations.

However, backers of a site farther south argue that space tourists paying so much will not want to have to wait for days at a remote Scottish airport for the clouds to disperse or the rain to stop. "Being able to see the Earth from space is a key attraction of a space flight experience, so if cloud cover restricts that, the experience may not live up to expectations," says the government's consultation document. It adds: "Issues of noise, air quality and impact on the local area are likely to be of significant public interest."

The prospect of a spaceport at Cornwall's council-owned St Mawgan airport, near Newquay, has divided opinion, with MPs and councillors taking opposite sides. "I would welcome it. I am not worried about the noise or pollution," said Newquay councillor Lynda Cherry. "People here are quite used to jets. We desperately need jobs."

Official mock-ups of the proposed spaceport show a modest development covering a few acres with a futuristic terminal building and a couple of small hangars surrounded by trees and fields. But technical documents state that the site must be able to handle vertical lift-off space rockets and suggest it should be modelled on the Mojave spaceport in California. This covers 3,000 acres and is a hub for 60 companies, including Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

"Our vision is that the spaceport would be the centre of a cluster of industries that is expected to develop," said a spokesman for the UK Space Agency. "We want Britain to get a big slice of the estimated $40bn-a-year market. This is a consultation into the criteria to be used to choose the site. There will be a whittling down process."

Aerospace professionals favour a large site. "If Britain wants a slice of the rapidly growing space economy, it needs to be involved in all the technologies," said Phil Davies, chair of the Royal Aeronautical Society's space committee, which offered to host a debate last week on the site of the spaceport but could not attract a government speaker. "Our niche is in making small satellites. At the moment we are beholden to Russia to launch them. There's a big market opening with room for 10 or even 20 spaceports around the world. But the government has not helped with the consultation. It hasn't really wanted a debate at all."

Officially, the government wants the chosen site to be working by 2018, but it might have left it too late to be a realistic runner in the race to attract space business. Global competition for a major spaceport is steep, with four US states and 20 countries, including Sweden, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and Spain all having advanced plans and major financial backing to host the world's space tourism industry. Most have distinct geographic advantages – better weather than Britain and unlimited space to develop a site which can offer five-star space experiences for wealthy tourists.

The UK space agency offered no clues about the timing. "We cannot give a date when a final decision about where it will be sited will be made, but all the communities affected will be consulted," a spokesman promised.

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