SNP MSP Fergus Ewing has joined with ConservativeLabour, and LibDem politicians to call on the Scottish Government to approve plans for a controversial golf course development on a protected beach.

Ewing, along with Tory MSPs Jamie Halcro Johnston and Edward Mountain, Labour’s Rhoda Grant, and LibDem MP Jamie Stone, have urged the Edinburgh government to green-light proposals for an 18-hole course at Coul Links, at Embo north of Dornoch.

The Coul Links dune system forms part of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area (SPA). It is also protected as a “Ramsar site” under the international Convention on Wetlands, which was signed in 1971.

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In December, Highland Council approved plans to build on the protected beach site.

In February, the Scottish Government “called in” the application, meaning ministers will take the final decision over whether the development is allowed to go ahead.

Now, developers Communities for Coul (C4C) have won the backing of the five Highland politicians.

The cross-party group have penned a joint letter to the Scottish Government, in which they highlight the “significant economic and environmental benefits of the development, as well as the proven strong local support for it”.

The National: File photo dated 04/06/15 of Fergus Ewing, Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, who will chair the Scottish steel taskforce which aims to rescue the country's last two major steelworks, as they meet for the first time today. PRESS ASSOCIATION

Ewing (above) said: “The community-driven plan will restore the dunes to their former glory. It has been supported by the local council and will transform the prospects for this part of the Highlands. It’s of national economic significance.

“This is a totemic issue: will the Scottish Government throw its full support behind the ‘Highland David’ versus the wealthy metropolitan pressure groups’ ‘Goliath’?"

If C4C are granted planning permission, US billionaire Mike Keiser is to build the golf course.

Keiser was behind a previous application to build on Coul Links, which was also called in by Scottish ministers and rejected in 2020.

C4C pointed to an economic impact study carried out by economist Professor David Bell, which forecast that an estimated £50 million private investment in the Coul Links development would lead to the creation of up to 400 full-time-equivalent jobs and generate around £12m annually for the economy.

C4C’s plans would also see work carried out to preserve parts of the area which are not designated for a golf course.

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Labour MSP Grant said: “This development would provide much needed local jobs, create an unparalleled destination for golfers while, at the same time, restore the SSSI and ensure its future protection.

“This would give NatureScot a huge opportunity to guide restoration work that would protect 317 [hectares] of SSSI, which is currently being degraded due to invasive species spreading on the site.

“This move is a game changer and provides the reassurance that those opposed to the development needed.”

C4C director Gordon Sutherland welcomed the support of the politicians. He said: “Since the Highland Council approved our community-led group’s plans, ministers have received thousands of letters from members of wealthy national organisations from around the UK asking them to call the application in.

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“We believe that in orchestrating this campaign the so-called ‘Conservation Coalition’ has entirely misrepresented the facts of this development and ignored the proven views of the clear majority of local people. They have also shown no interest in doing anything positive to restore Coul Links.

“Five Highland politicians from different parties have very clearly and factually set out why they believe it is vital for ministers to look beyond serial misapprehensions repeatedly peddled by these bodies. We warmly welcome their support for our project, for our area and for its unique environment and hope ministers will heed the vitally important facts they have set out.”

Scottish Green MSP for the Highlands Ariane Burgess has spoken against the plans for Coul Links, saying it is "a critically important site and should be celebrated and enhanced, not smothered with a golf course".