The combined development for a Jack Nicklaus-designed course plus 90 houses on the Ury Estate near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, would mean the loss of 25ha of Slicewells Wood and other small woods, which FCS has described as "ancient woodland sites of long-established plantation origin", adding that some of the threatened woods are also UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitats and home to bats, badgers and otters.
"The Scottish Government's policy is that there is a strong presumption against removing such woodland," FCS development officer Ian Cowe said in his submission. While the developers proposed 30ha of compensatory planting and soil relocation to link up remaining woodland fragments in mitigation, "these proposals are not sufficient to balance the proposed loss", he found.
A report issued by Aberdeenshire Council last month cited loss of the woodland as its primary reason for rejecting the plans. It gave a figure of 470 out of 580 trees to be lost as a result, adding: "No evidence has been supplied, based on previous experience or research, to demonstrate that the movement of soil from the woodland onto adjacent agricultural fields will be successful in reinstating woodland habitat on improved agricultural soils." It also concluded that the proposed mitigation "in no way replaces woodland habitat which has developed over hundreds of years".
But the report acknowledged: "A golf course with 'attractor' properties benefits other courses in the area as guests will want to play on them also when in the area," pointing to the success of the nearby and similarly controversial Trump International Golf Links at Menie, 38km away.
The local authority's Kincardine and area planning committee has now backed the development proposals, which will pass for full council approval later this month. Echoing the views of several members, Stonehaven councillor Peter Bellarby said: "There are significant economic and social benefits arising out of this that outweigh the partial loss of the ancient woodland."
Welcoming the news, director of site developer FM Group Jonathon Milne said: "We are thrilled that the area planning committee has seen the bigger picture and has unanimously supported our proposals for a world-class, Jack Nicklaus signature golf course."
He added: "This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a spectacular golf development, with the historic Ury House at its heart, will create jobs and revenues for Stonehaven, the wider region and indeed Scotland for years to come." Work has already begun to turn the imposing but dilapidated Ury House into a luxury hotel and clubhouse.