Controversial proposals to create Britain’s first vertical launch spaceport have gone back to the drawing board.

Part of the scheme – which has split the community in Sutherland where it is planned – is to be re-designed after feedback from concerned locals and statutory consultees.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is heading up the Space Hub Sutherland project and had been holding a series of consultation meetings with local communities , which ended last month in Melness, the closest area to the site.

The £17.3 million spaceport would be built on an “extensive” site in a relatively “untouched landscape,” according to a recent planning report.

HIE has now confirmed that a planning application will not now be submitted to Highland Council by the end of the year as first envisaged.

“We had been aiming to put in a planning application by the end of December. However, after listening to points raised at public meetings and feedback from statutory consultees, we’ve decided to make some design changes,” said a spokeswoman for HIE.

“These mainly affect the visual impact of the launch site and the internal road layout. We’re now aiming to submit an application early in the new year.”

HIE has also commissioned a range of studies into the environmental aspects of the development that will need to be taken into account as part of the project.

On its Space Hub Sutherland website, HIE says that “key factors” that led it to choose Sutherland as the optimal vertical launch site include a flight trajectory that does not overfly populated areas, appropriate weather for scheduled launches and access to key orbits.

“Both polar and sun-synchronous orbits can be achieved from north Scotland, which currently accounts for 95 per cent of future orbital requirements,” it says.

There will be a 2km exclusion zone around the site at launches, as well as those for air and sea users.

“The space hub is being developed for small, commercial satellites. These are generally used for earth observation, including vegetation, weather, cloud cover, ice cover and so on. Much of the science supporting and tracking global warming is enabled by such satellite data,” says HIE.

“Most of these satellites will be developed by commercial companies, including some in Scotland. Launchers will fly north towards the pole and over the Atlantic.

“The site is being designed as a commercial spaceport. It is not a military facility.

“Initial expectations were that around six launches a year would be made from Sutherland, although the latest information from launch companies indicates that around 12 may be possible. Ultimately it depends on a number of factors, including the growth of the sector and the success of launch companies in winning contracts.

“To scope environmental impact, we have proposed a figure of 40 launches annually. This is to make sure that environmental assessments are as robust as possible. The actual figure is expected to be much lower.”

Recently there were warnings that costs for the launch facility are rising, said Audit Scotland, “and it is not yet clear how these will be funded”.

The proposal has divided the local community. John Williams, chairman of the Protect the Mhoine campaign group, said some locals were shocked at what was being proposed.

“The factual case against this spaceport is overwhelming on so many levels,” he said.

“But politics and money may win out. I don’t think there is any hope HIE will change its mind – but we hope Highland Council sees sense on this damaging proposal.”

Scottish Natural Heritage previously said “that the proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the environment” and has warned that, unless some of its concerns are addressed, it is “likely to result in an SNH objection and the possibility that the application will be refused, or referred to ministers”.