THE date has been set for an inquiry into whether controversial plans for an 18-hole golf course on a protected Scottish beach should be allowed to go ahead.

Developers backed by American billionaire Mike Keiser have put in the Coul Links planning application, which would see a new golf course built on a dune system near Embo, in Sutherland.

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.

Despite the triple-protection on the site, Highland Council’s planning committee approved the plan for the golf course in December, sparking an immediate backlash from conservationists.

READ MORE: New photos show flooding on planned site of controversial Highland golf course

Amid the controversy, Scottish Ministers decided to “call in” the application – meaning they and not the Highland Council will make the final decision on whether construction can go ahead.

As part of the decision process, the Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) is gathering evidence from both sides of the debate and has been canvassing for availability for hearings later in the year.

Currently, the date for the inquiry is set for the week commencing November 11.

There is, as a contingency, the potential for further hearings in the week commencing November 25.

The news means the final Coul Links decision is not likely to be made until 2025.

Developers Communities 4 Coul declined to comment.

The National: Coul Links

Scottish Green MSP Ariane Burgess previously sent a letter calling on the Government to reject the plans, which has now been signed by more than 4500 people.

She said: "The proposed Coul Links development would be a garish and unnecessary act of environmental vandalism.

“It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and home to rare species that depend on it. The last thing we should be doing is turning it into a golf course.

"It was right for the Scottish Government to call in this plan, which has been widely opposed by local communities as well as by council planning officers, leading conservation groups and wildlife champions.

READ MORE: Fergus Ewing joins calls for SNP to approve golf course on protected Scottish beach

"The last time that these wealthy American businessmen made a similar proposal for Coul Links the Scottish Government rightly ruled against it. I am confident that they will do the same again."

The plans are to be opposed by local campaigners with Not Coul and the "Conservation Coalition" – which includes charities such as the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Others, such as SNP MSP Fergus Ewing and the now Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes, have spoken in favour of the development.

In 2020, the Scottish Government rejected plans to develop on Coul Links, again after an inquiry.

At the time, a spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has considered the reporter’s findings carefully and agree with the recommendation that planning permission should be refused.

“The likely detriment to natural heritage is not outweighed by the socio-economic benefits of the proposal.”