DAVID RANKIN finds out how a Coleraine estate agency has become involved in government-backed plans to build a Space Centre on Shetland Islands

Frank Strang, Shetland Space Centre.
Frank Strang, Shetland Space Centre.

A Coleraine company has been chosen as a key advisor for the development of Shetland Space Centre off the north east coast of Scotland.

Northern Real Estate (NRE) will act as property consultants for the ambitious £40 million project with local man Richard McLaughlin, MRICS Director, the driving force behind the partnership.

Richard McLaughlin, NRE.

Richard McLaughlin, NRE.

One of the north west’s leading residential and commercial estate agents, NRE has been liaising for [months with Shetland Space Centre Ltd, the company behind plans to develop the space centre on the tiny island of Unst, one of the north isles of Shetlands.

“We will have a key role in advising Shetland Space Centre on various property matters for the site and will also act as consultants on all property related matters at the support facility in Saxavord, the UK’s most northerly island,” Mr McLaughlin confirmed.

Shetland Space Centre Ltd was formed last year by Frank Strang with his wife Debbie of the Saxa Vord Resort, formerly RAF Saxa Vord, and expert accommodation and logistics company Shetland FM, which operates the Sella Ness facility adjacent to the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal.

Five people are now employed full-time on the government-backed project and are aiming to secure planning permission for the satellite launch facility, including Mr Strang’s business colleague Scott Hammond, a former RAF fighter pilot.

Shetland Island.

Shetland Island.

A satellite tracking and communication centre is expected to be operational next year, to be followed by a commercial satellite launch facility at Lamba Ness towards the end of 2020 or early the following year.

Mr McLaughlin has just returned from a recent trip to Shetland and Norway with Shetland Space Centre Ltd to “negotiate leases associated with temporary accommodation to house labour on the site.”

He added: “We are delighted to have been asked to advise Shetland Space Centre on such an important government supported project.

“Some of the work will involve Northern Real Estate providing advice on rents and leases.

“We will also have a property development role, working closely with Shetland Islands Council (SIC) for the development of both Space Centre associated buildings and other buildings as well as development orientated towards the tourism-related aspects of a space centre and rocket launch facility.”

In July it was announced that Shetland Space Centre had joined forces with SIC and Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest aerospace companies, to create a satellite tracking and communication centre at Unst.

Space Centre project director Scott Hammond, SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison and Patrick Wood, head of Lockheed Martin Space UK, signed a memorandum of understanding at the Farnborough Airshow.

Mr Hammond said the partnership with the US aerospace giant was a huge vote of confidence “in the potential of Shetland to become a major hub for the space industry in the UK”.

Mr McLaughlin explained that NRE specialised in all aspects of residential and commercial property - including the property and commercial needs of multi-national clients.

‘’It’s wonderful that we were approached by a company as far north as the Shetland Islands to assist in such an interesting property project,” he said.

“Whilst we are Coleraine based we do from time to time get asked by clients to work in England and Scotland.

“I managed a large portfolio of commercial and residential properties in Scotland from 1996 to 2004 and it’s hugely rewarding to return there and be involved in such a seminal project for the future of the UK’s space industry.”

Shetland Space Centre Ltd’s Frank Strang hailed NRE’s involvement and said the partnership made good business sense.

“Over the last few years I have got to know Richard at NRE on a commercial basis as well as personally and found him to be both visionary and utterly professional in how he approaches his work.

“NRE have worked on Shetland in the past and as the Shetland Space Centre Project has evolved over the past 14 months it became apparent that we needed someone to advise us on the property requirements.

“It’s an innovative and hugely exciting project and it made sense to bring Richard and NRE into the team to help make the vision come true. “