Plans to build a championship golf course on rare sand dunes in the north-east of Scotland are looking uncertain after Highland councillors were advised to refuse permission to develop the site because of the risks to wildlife.
The proposals are spearheaded by US billionaires Mike Keiser – described as US president Donald Trump’s biggest rival in the golf business – and business partner Todd Warnock.
The plans would see part of the 18-hole course built on a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Coul Links, near Embo in Sutherland.
The site hosts a dune ecosystem of international significance and is protected by multiple conservation designations.
The official report by planning officers recommends the scheme is turned down due to the “significant and permanent loss of sand dune habitat” it would cause. It also states “residual losses are extensive and likely to be permanent”.
The developers have said the Coul Links course would be amongst the best in the world, providing economic opportunity and ecological integrity.
They also vowed not to building a hotel or other accommodation on the site.
The project is estimated to deliver 250 jobs and £60 million to the region over the first ten years.
Some local people and businesses have welcomed the plans, but environmentalists say the resort would permanently destroy unique habitat and threaten important wildlife such as the osprey, curlew and fonseca’s seed fly.
Campaigners are now urging Highland Council’s planning committee to take heed of the recommendation for refusal.
Aedán Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, said: “Coul Links is a truly fantastic place for wildlife. The permanent destruction of these rare and irreplaceable dune habitats is unthinkable. ”
Stuart Brooks, head of natural heritage policy for the National Trust for Scotland, added: “There are many places in Scotland that you could build a golf course without harming the environment but one of the last intact sand dune systems is definitely not one of them.
“There are local and national policies in place to protect the environment and we urge the councillors to respect these and the benefits they afford everyone.”
The recommendation comes just a day after the developers announced that Scottish Natural Heritage, one of the statutory consultees in the planning process, had removed all but one objection.
The planning application has already received a total of 1,594 objections.