SNP MSP Fergus Ewing is part of a cross-party group of politicians urging the Scottish Government to give the green light to controversial plans to build a golf course on protected land in the Highlands.
Mr Ewing, a former rural affairs secretary in the Scottish Government, insisted plans for a course at Coul Links, to the north of Dornoch, Sutherland, were of “national economic significance” and would “transform” prospects for the local area.
He has now joined together with Liberal Democrat MSP Jamie Stone, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant and Conservative MSPs Edward Mountain and Jamie Halcro Johnston to urge the Scottish Government to allow the development to proceed.
The action comes in the wake of the decision by the Government to call in the planning application for the course, giving ministers the final say on whether or not it goes ahead.
The Scottish Government previously refused permission for a golf course on the land, which is part of a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in 2020.
But the Highland politicians argued the only way to “save Coul Links” is to allow the project to go ahead.
Communities for Coul, the group behind the proposed golf course, has said the area has become “so degraded that it needs the very best in 21st century conservation to restore and protect it”.
Having the golf course on “about 0.1%” of the SSSI would generate enough cash to restore and protect the whole area, it has argued.
Mr Ewing, who has previously challenged the Scottish Government over issues including marine protection areas, 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.”
While some conservation groups, including RSPB Scotland and Plantlife Scotland have opposed the project, Mr Ewing insisted it was a “totemic issue”.
Likening the bid to win permission for the course to a David versus Goliath battle, he added: “Will the Scottish Government throw its full support behind the Highland David versus the wealthy metropolitan pressure groups’ Goliath?”
Mr Ewing said that if ministers fail to back the project, “the precious environment, already in an unfavourable condition according to NatureScot, will degrade even further”.
He said: “That would be to betray the Highland people, trample on local democracy, and kowtow to powerful pressure groups which, though amongst the wealthiest in Europe, invest nothing whatsoever in the local area and couldn’t care less for the Highland people.”
Ms Grant said that the 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”.
Conservative MSP Mr Mountain stressed that “local people support this proposal” warning that “for the Scottish Government to get involved for a second time and to refuse this application would be a mistake”.
The Tory stated: “This proposal would protect the environment and create jobs and I don’t see what there is not to like about it.”
Mr Stone gave his backing to the course, stating: “As Highland politicians representing the four main political parties in Scotland, we have come together to send a very strong message to ministers setting out our firm belief that this development is not only vital to the local economy but also offers the only realistic proposal to save Coul Links.”
The MP added: “This is an exciting project that will bring a much-needed, lasting boost to the fortunes of an area beset by spiralling socio-economic challenges and secure the future of a unique area of natural habitat.”
Communities for Coul director, Gordon Sutherland, said the five politicians, all representing the Highland area, had “very clearly and factually” made the case for the golf course despite the “serial misapprehensions” from its opponent.
He said: “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.”
Confirming the decision to call in the planning application on Friday, a Scottish Government spokesperson explained that a reporter would be appointed to examine the proposals and prepare a report for Scottish ministers, who will then make the final decision on this planning application.
“It would not be appropriate to comment on the merits of the proposed >development at this stage,” the spokesperson said.