Councillors will finally decide next week on plans for the controversial Coul Links golf course in east Sutherland – with officials continuing to recommend refusal.
Earlier this month, members of the north planning committee deferred a decision after campaigners unveiled new details at the 11th hour which needed scrutiny by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa).
The committee voiced unanimous support for the proposals at the meeting on June 5, despite their officials recommending the plans be refused.
Sepa has not altered its advice as a result of the further information submitted by local opposition group, Not Coul.
Part of the 18-hole championship course near Embo in Sutherland would be on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Planner Gillian Webster has concluded that the development would have a “significantly detrimental impact” on the SSSI and protected wetland site, with permanent loss of sand dune habitat and habitat fragmentation, based on an outstanding objection by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
However Ms Webster also acknowledged that the golf course would bring economic benefits to the area.
US businessman Todd Warnock, who is spearheading the development with renowned golf course developer Mike Keiser, said previously that, were it not for a “narrow” objection from SNH, the council would be supportive.
After the committee meeting on June 5, Mr Warnock said it was a “highly significant milestone” for the project, that there had been a fair and thorough assessment of the plans, and that they were thankful for all who have engaged in discussions.
Members of the North Planning Committee will meet again on Wednesday to make a decision on the proposals.
Days before the previous committee meeting, Not Coul submitted a further objection to the proposals which suggested wetlands may be more impacted by the development than concluded in the applicant’s environmental statement.
An updated report from the council planner says that the further information has “no bearing” on the recommendation of refusal by the planning authority.
Ecologist Tom Dargie, Not Coul chairman, said: “The proposal will result in significant permanent loss of sand dune habitat, especially dune heath and dune slacks and impacts to other species which depend on it. Coul Links support some of the best quality SSSI dune slack habitats in Scotland.”
He also highlighted that the water table and water chemistry at Coul are important because they influence sand dune vegetation communities, and that fertiliser, herbicide or pesticide could be washed towards or into a dune slack, causing damage.
Mr Dargie said previously that the final decision on Coul Links would “set a precedent” and determine whether Scotland’s designated conservation areas are “for sale at any price”.