A public inquiry into the proposed 18-hole championship golf course at Coul Links is likely to be held early next year.
In August, the Scottish Government announced it was calling in plans for the Sutherland course, despite councillors voting to give the project the go-ahead in June, largely due to the economic impact it would bring to the area.
“The proposal raises issues of national importance in relation to natural heritage issues and its compliance with Scottish planning policy and requires further scrutiny,” explained Scottish Planning Minister Kevin Stewart.
About 32 acres (13 ha) of the planned course would be built on dunes at Embo, near Dornoch and now, a coalition made up of conservation groups Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust are rallying against the development.
The conservation groups say that building the golf course would have a 'devastating environmental impact' in an area that is incredibly important for wildlife and heavily protected by several environmental designations.
However, project manager Chris Haspell has consistently reassured the organisations of the good intentions that the developers Mike Keiser – who owns Bandon Dunes – and Todd Warnock have.
Speaking to bunkered.co.uk last year, Haspell said: We’re a responsible developer, we’re going to do the right thing, and we’re going to secure the whole 800 hectares.
“We are going to disrupt the area during construction. That’ll be the case for 18 months. But once it’s in place, it’ll give people better access and we’re going to set aside £15-20,000 per year on maintenance – gorse management, birch management, making the land better for nesting birds."
A pre-examination meeting has been organised by the Scottish Government Planning and Environmental Appeals Division in Dornoch tomorrow (October 31).
This meeting will outline the processes that will be followed to determine whether or not the development can go ahead. The initial meeting comes ahead of the public inquiry that could last up to five weeks and is likely to start on February 25.