DANISH billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen has blasted Britain's first vertical launch spaceport planned for a remote part of Scotland - warning that the project could be grounded.

His company Wildland Ltd issued its final formal objection to the £17.3m scheme, criticising government agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for submitting what it described as a "deeply damaging" application.

It also called for an extension for public comments to be allowed, Scottish ministers to intervene and warned of a battle ahead in the Land Court.

Last month Wildland issued a holding objection to The Highland Council.

At the deadline for comments, it firmed up its protest having commissioned several leading experts - such as Ian Kelly, a chartered private planning consultant with over 43 years' planning experience including in managing and assessing major civil and MOD engineering, nuclear and defence projects.

Scotland's largest private landowner, Mr Povlsen and his wife Anne - who last week celebrated the birth of twin girls having lost three children in the Sri Lankan bombings in early 2019. They own estates in the area of the proposed launch site at Melness in Sutherland.

"Wildland Limited's view is that this application contains significant errors of omission and is incomplete," the objection reads. "We believe that the deadline for initial comments should be extended to allow fuller consideration of these plans.

"Economic benefit is predicated on multiple 'Launch Service' providers. The application specifies a facility for one. If economic measure is used to justify long term adverse environmental impact, then the application can be no measure of that. The application contains contradictory information to this effect.

"We question the probity of HIE's role as the applicant, given that this application must surely land on the desk of Scottish Ministers for review. How can the Scottish Government act as judge and jury on such a contentious matter?

"The application does not protect and enhance the natural heritage or landscape. Again, we simply do not have a clear picture of the full impact this project will have on the precious habitat surrounding the site, as well as the wider land and sea scape under the flight path."

"The conclusion of the independent planning consultant is that the application stands contrary to all relevant policies of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan, and therefore the presumption in law is that the application should be refused."

Wildland CEO Tim Kirkwood said: "Quite apart from the significant technical concerns raised in our objection, we fundamentally believe this development is poorly conceived and deeply damaging. The actual environmental damage this will cause to a potential world heritage site, the seas around it, and the islands beyond it, is still unknown. 

"We simply do not have all the facts. For example, should consent be granted in the face of illegal disturbance of category one protected birds in a yet-to-be legislated 2,500 acre exclusion zone? This is serious stuff."

Raising serious concerns about the public expense of this project, Mr Kirkwood added: "We question HIE's involvement when there has been no demonstration of market failure. Our broader fear....is that if the wrong location is backed then the market will move out of Scotland. Period. We can't let that happen.

"We are also deeply concerned that so much public money has been funnelled into a project that is yet to demonstrate any private sector interest, unlike its counterpart in Shetland which is proving much more palatable to established players in the industry.

"Ultimately, we anticipate a long and protracted battle in the Land Court as the complicated crofting, fairness and compensation elements of this development are considered - further burdening the public purse and scaring off investment in the industry.

"We are certain that there is broad scope of legal challenge and ministerial review, should planning approval be granted. However, we must ask; with so much public money at risk and missing information, how can the Scottish Government fairly review an application from their own agency?

"We will continue to follow these plans closely."

The scheme has attracted over 500 responses. In total more than 400 people have objected with over 110 in favour - but the responses have seen neighbour pitted against neighbour and landowner against landowner. Many of the objections have come from outwith the area.

Among the protesters are TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham who said the project was not worth the "destruction" of part of the Flow Country's peat bog.

Also objecting is Scotland's leading young environmentalist Finlay Pringle, 12, from Ullapool in Wester Ross - who has been hailed by Mr Packham and campaigner Greta Thunberg.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has also objected, subject to a raft of conditions not being included in any permission.

However nearby Altnaharra Estate has backed the scheme - saying the benefits outweigh any negatives - and warned of the area being controlled by Wildland.
"Melness and Tongue are especially vulnerable at present due to its expanding control by one major landholding and owner now owning most of the surrounding land and is driving its management as directed by one individual, which in our view is limiting and disturbing the existing local population and its views on the development, and therefore this external proposal is a welcome change in an otherwise limited options area," wrote Peter Bakker on behalf of the estate.

The spaceport is earmarked on the Moine Peninsula. Melness Crofters Estate (MCE), who own the earmarked site, and local community councils have backed the scheme.

"We wanted to ensure that the environment was protected and safety ensured," wrote Dorothy Pritchard, chairperson of MCE.

"There is a balance to be struck between environmental issues versus employment; MCE negotiated hard to ensure that our land is protected now and in the future."

MCE, which will receive income from the spaceport, says funding will go back into the "whole community" and it intended to set-up a charitable fund to help local projects.

It said protesters who had run a "sustained, vociferous campaign" had "misrepresented" the spaceport and the intentions of MCE, whose members had been subject to abuse.

In time, up to 12 launches a year could be made from Sutherland, carrying small, commercial satellites that will typically be used for Earth observation.

If the application is approved, construction on Europe's first vertical launch site could begin later this year, with launches starting as early as 2022.