Lingering hopes that Moray might still be in the running to host the UK’s first spaceport are dwindling further this week with moves at the Scottish Parliament to back Prestwick Airport.
The troubled Ayrshire site was rescued from closure after being taken over by the Scottish Government in 2013 with ministers since struggling to find a way of returning it to profitability.
Both RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks were hotly tipped as sites for UK Government plans to launch satellites from the UK – both were shortlisted but were amongst the first to be dismissed from consideration with the Ministry of Defence insisting their future importance as defences bases took priority.
The Moray Economic Partnership (MEP), who led the bid for Lossiemouth or Kinloss, had always accepted that the RAF base was an increasingly unlikely candidate given its new role as a home for the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) aircraft.
However, the MEP Chairman, Councillor John Cowe, recently sought a re-think for the decision over Kinloss with no signs of any increase to the existing and relatively small military footprint on the base.
It has emerged, however, that a bid to promote Prestwick as the preferred bidder for the spaceport is likely to receive cross-party support at Holyrood this week. A motion put forward by Tory MSP John Scott has received sufficient support to force a debate which will be held on Tuesday.
Mr Scott said: “I am very grateful for the cross-party support this has achieved – Prestwick is the location of choice not just for Scotland but for the whole of the UK given the attributes it has.
“It is well connected by road and rail from central Scotland and England and has one of the longest runways in Scotland as well as a tremendous cloud-free weather profile, which is why [the airport] was located there in the first place.
“This is a multi-million pound industry and I believe this would be a shot in the arm at Prestwick and would save it.”
Earlier this month Councillor Cowe insisted the fight for Kinloss to host the spaceport was not over. He had written to UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon in March seeking clarification on the decision to exclude Kinloss but no reply had been received.
He said: “The fact that my letter has not been replied to by Michael Fallon does leave the door open – I would certainly propose that the Moray Economic Partnership continues to fight the cause for Moray for a spaceport.”
Still in the running for the spaceport project are Campbeltown and Stornoway in Scotland, Newquay in Cornwall and Llanbedr in Wales.
A Scottish Government spokesman has insisted that despite the move on Tuesday their main focus remained trying to ensure the spaceport was based in Scotland, adding: “While Glasgow Prestwick Airport would appear to be in a strong position, we stand ready to support and offer advice to any Scottish bid and not just Prestwick.”