Councillors could perform a dramatic U-turn – and pull the plug on an £80million golf resort plan backed by sports legend Jack Nicklaus.
The Ury Estate development – which would include an 18-hole course and 90 homes – could be bunkered because of a landmark court ruling.
Earlier this year the Duke of Fife – whose company is behind the Chapelton of Elsick scheme – successfully challenged an £8million developer contribution demand.
His firm the Elsick Development Company had been asked to hand over the money to the Strategic Transport Fund as part of its planning consent – but Court of Session judges reduced the bill to just £287,000.
Their ruling is being appealed by the Aberdeen City and Shire Strategic Development Authority.
But it could have massive implications for the Jack Nicklaus golf scheme.
It was backed by Aberdeenshire councillors by 40 votes to 20 in April despite concerns about the loss of the historic Slicewells Woods.
But members are now being advised to “consider whether they still wish to support a delegated grant” of planning permission as developer the FM group would not be forced to contribute to the transport fund.
In a report, the local authority’s director of infrastructure services, Stephen Archer, said: “This report follows the successful challenge to the Strategic Transport Fund which inhibits the council’s ability to seek contributions to the Strategic Transport Fund.
“This report is therefore highlighting the material change in circumstance and asks whether members still wish to support the application in light of this change.”
The development divided opinion across the council because of proposals to build homes at Slicewells Woods, which is at least 140 years old.
Despite planning officials advising the development should not go ahead, councillors decided the “economic and social benefit outweighed the loss of part of the ancient woodland”.
Last night, Woodland Trust spokesman George Anderson welcomed the prospect of the project being blown off course.
He said: “Ancient woodland is irreplaceable. It is not just a question of the trees. We can put a new golf course lots of places, but lose ancient woodland and it’s gone forever. It was short-sighted in the extreme to ignore objections to this proposal.”
The FM Group had agreed to contribute towards the STF, with the money going towards addressing cumulative impacts on the strategic roads network.
Vice-chairman of Stonehaven Community Council, Phil Mills-Bishop, said he would be disappointed if the court ruling halted the plans.
He said: “In every discussion the community has had with the FM group, they have always been supportive to the community, and so we would be disappointed for two reasons.
“If because of a legal technicality FM group felt that they did not have to contribute anything to the fund to a reasonable level this would be disappointing.
“But two, we would be equally annoyed if Aberdeenshire Council took a very stringent view that it had to force a developer to meet obligations that it didn’t have to by threatening to withdraw the planning decision, as this would affect the community, so we hope there will be a sensible and amicable solution.”
The Ury Estate is also about to become home to a new supermarket, 50-bedroom hotel and a restaurant, proposed by the FM group and approved in July.
The developer also already has permission to build 230 homes on the estate, and earlier this year work started to restore the B-listed Ury House to its former glory and turn it into a hotel.
The FM Group declined to comment last night.
The Elsick Development Company has planning permission for 4,045 homes as part of the £2billion North Kincardine scheme, but has a long-term vision for 8,000 properties.