Conservationists have called for a “long, hard think” after an £80million Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course was backed at the expense of ancient trees.
Plans for the 18-hole course plus 90 homes at the Ury Estate near Stonehaven were approved by Aberdeenshire councillors on a 45-20 vote despite concerns about the impact on Slicewells Woods.
Elected members were urged to reject the proposals and protect the forest, which is at least 140 years old.
Forty-four of the houses will be built in the woods, resulting in the loss of about 15% of the trees.
Forestry Commission Scotland had recommended the developer, the FM Group, rethink the plans for Slicewells.
Woodland Trust spokesman, Charles Dundas, said: “There is sadly perhaps a sense of inevitability about this decision, despite both Aberdeenshire Council’s report suggesting the plans be rejected and the clear contradictions with its own local development plan.
“We can now only hope that the council think long and hard about the proposed compensation for the potential loss of 25.5 hectares (63 acres) of ancient woodland, which as we know is irreplaceable.”
The trust launched a petition against the plans to try to save the trees, gathering more than 2,000 signatures.
But Stonehaven and District councillor Graeme Clark said last night the woodlands could now be given a new lease of life.
He added: “It has been neglected for a long time and rhododendron and gorse have taken over the woodlands.
“There were no paths so obviously no one is using it for recreation at all. Yes, we can lose 15% of the woodlands, but at the end of the day we’d be left with a world class golf course and 85% of the original woodlands.
“It is a woodland that was not used by anyone, maybe in future it can be used by everyone. That was the way I saw the balance.
“People think of Dunnottar Castle, the outdoor pool and I believe now they will think of the Jack Nicklaus golf course. I think it is a huge addition to Stonehaven.”
Democratic Independent and Green Group councillor Martin Ford led a call for the plans to be revisited and the houses moved elsewhere on the site, but was outvoted.
The FM Group said it was the loss of woodland soil that was the crux of the issues, adding the firm would carry out replanting and topsoil relocation to make up for the loss.