Scottish ministers have been urged to intervene to prevent one of the last coastal dune habitats being “irreparably damaged” after Highland Council approved plans for an 18-hole golf course.
Councillors on the local authority’s north planning applications committee voted in favour of the plans at Coul Links in Sutherland.
NatureScot had advised against the development at the coastal site, near Embo, due to the potential environmental impact.
The decision now falls to the Scottish Government, with environmental campaigners urging ministers to “save” the site from development.
Planning officers for Highland Council recommended councillors refuse permission, citing the 746 objections, but it was passed on Wednesday by eight votes to six.
Plans for a similar luxury golf course development were rejected by ministers three years ago after local councillors approved them despite significant opposition.
Developers Communities for Coul Limited (C4C) said the course will create up to 400 new jobs and generate around £11 million per year.
But a coalition of conservation charities, which includes National Trust for Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, have expressed “extreme disappointment” at the decision due to the “wide-ranging” impacts of the protected site and the nature within it.
Kenna Chisholm, area manager for the north Highlands and Hebrides at RSPB Scotland, said: “Due to the decision by Highland Council to grant permission for the golf course, contrary to its own officials’ advice and disregarding nearly 750 objections including from NatureScot, we are once again asking Scottish ministers to save Coul Links.
“It’s really regrettable the proposals are now at this stage given how clearly it’s been shown that Coul Links is not the place for this kind of development.
“We’re urging ministers to call in the development to ensure that Coul Links is safeguarded for nature and people into the future rather than being irreparably harmed.
“Scottish Government has made impressive commitments to nature and the environment, and this is an opportunity for ministers to show that there is substance and meaning to their positive words and targets.”
Scottish Green Highlands MSP Ariane Burgess said: “This is the second time a plan for a totally inappropriate golf development on this land has been brought forward; the second time local communities and environmental groups have had to fight against multi-millionaire developers, and the second time that the application will need to be reconsidered by Government ministers.
“Local residents value and cherish this special and unique landscape, and it’s deeply disappointing that councillors on the panel opted to ignore those concerns as well as those raised by environmental groups on behalf of the voiceless wildlife that depends on this rare and precious habitat.
“I will be calling on the minister to reconsider this decision and to uphold Scotland’s planning policies and the wishes of the local community.”
But Gordon Sutherland, director of C4C, said: “Our plans, which have had the backing of local people from the outset, offer a genuine chance to create much-needed new employment opportunities in an area where the working age population is falling, threatening the future viability of fragile communities.
“They also provide a guaranteed future for the wonderful wild coastal environment of Coul Links, which is currently sadly neglected and at risk.
“Local democracy has been at the heart of today’s decision, and we trust that will continue to be the case when Scottish ministers come to consider our application.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is aware of this decision and will give it careful consideration. In the meantime it would not be appropriate to comment.”
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