CONTROVERSIAL plans for a golf course on Highland sand dunes “grossly underestimate” potential environmental damage, it is claimed.

A group fighting the development of Coul Links by claims US businessmen behind the project have also exaggerated the probable job gain.

In yesterday’s edition of The National, developer Todd Warnock said the proposals for an 18-hole course north of Dornoch on an area including a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) would bring 250 jobs and £60 million to the economy in ten years.

READ MORE: Todd Warnock: It’s not fair to bring Trump into Coul Links debate

Warnock also claimed the scheme would “help protect Coul Links environmentally, forever” through the creation of a comprehensive management plan for the entire 800 hectare site and the remediation of a felled tree plantation at its centre.

But in a 150-page submission to Highland Council, the Not Coul group alleges that the area surveys carried out by Warnock’s team are “of such poor quality that they are not fit for purpose and cannot be used to make an accurate assessment” of the scheme’s probable impact.

The group, made up of Dornoch and Embo residents, says its work found the golf course would be “extremely damaging” and that estimates of job creation are inflated.

The organisation is chaired by Dr Tom Dargie of Boreas Ecology, who advised Donald Trump that his Menie Estate plans could ruin the ecological balance at an Aberdeenshire SSSI.

Last month it was confirmed that Holyrood agency Scottish Natural Heritage is reviewing the Foveran Links dunes, which are partly covered by the Trump International Golf Links, to determine whether or not it still qualifies for the conservation status.

Dargie warned the Trump organisation to create the course further inland and avoid the dunes.

On the Coul Links objection, he said: “The developers have grossly underestimated the level of likely environmental damage, while seriously overestimating any economic benefits.

“The most frustrating thing in all of this is that a better solution is staring the developers in the face.

“An environmentally sensitive golf course could be constructed at Coul, away from the protected areas and the beachfront, about 450m back from the dunes and beaches.

“The land there is owned by one of the developers and is part of the planning application. The views would be better, with construction much easier and less contentious.

“Such a course could be built in the same way as Castle Stuart, which did not require the destruction of natural links and, as is well known, is now a very successful championship-standard course.”

RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have also publicly opposed the plan for Coul, which also includes the construction of a clubhouse and private access.

READ MORE: Letters: Warnock was not serious about discussing Coul Links, says Finnie

However, several local golf clubs have given it their backing, as has Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Gail Ross, who said constituents’ concerns have been addressed by developers.

The politician said the proposal “has the potential to be one of the most exciting opportunities” for the area in both economic and environmental terms.

Highland Council’s consultation on the matter closes today. More than 1400 submissions have been made online.

The site is currently home to plant life including orchids and coastal juniper trees and is used by migrant geese, waders and ducks.

Highland Council says each planning application is “considered on its merits and all views expressed” are taken into account.

Writing in The National, Warnock said his other Highland projects had created jobs and attractions and distanced himself from Trump, adding: “Our team is humbled by the prospect of building a golf course in the Home of Golf.

“We firmly believe at Coul Links, that environmental stewardship and economic development can work hand-in-hand in harmony for everyone.”

However, responding to Warnock’s piece in today’s paper, Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie repeated his criticism of the proposals.

The Highlands and Islands member stated: “I am familiar with the area and believe the proposed course will be ruinous to the unique dune land environment, a position shared by environmental and wildlife organisations as well as government regulatory bodies.”