CONSERVATION body the National Trust for Scotland has demanded an overhaul of the planning system to block “disastrous” developments at important heritage sites.

The NTS cites controversial plans to develop a golf course at Coul Links at Embo near Dornoch in Sutherland and a series of applications for sites near Culloden battlefield site as the reason for its intervention.

It says the Scottish Government should amend its Planning Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament, to “save Scotland’s heritage”, which it claims is too often being cast aside for short-term economic gain”. The NTS describes the legislation as “the point of no return for Scotland’s heritage” which could either be its saviour or lead to its irrecoverable loss”.

Highland councillors voted last month to approve a golf course at Coul Links, which lies within the Loch Fleet site of scientific special interest (SSSI) and is home to rare coastal habitats. Meanwhile, several new planning applications have been submitted to the local authority to develop sites at Culloden including one proposing 13 holiday lodges and a restaurant.

Culloden, the site of one of the most significant battles in Scotland’s history, between Jacobite and government forces in April 1746, has been designated as a conservation area.

READ: Coul Links golf development close to being given the green light 

The National Trust for Scotland said developments at both Coul Links and Culloden could be “disastrous” and questioned whether either designation would still have any meaning if they were going to be “run roughshod over by the current planning process”.

The Government’s bill, aimed at reforming the current planning system and giving local people more of a say, is due to enter its second stage at Holyrood in September.

The NTS says that means it is the ideal time to revise the current process and “build a system that protects Scotland’s heritage for future generations”.

The National:

Simon Skinner, chief executive of the NTS, said: “Culloden and the Coul Links are just two examples of a worrying trend. Scotland’s heritage is too often being cast aside for short-term economic gain. Four years ago, we argued for a planning framework which has the long-term wellbeing of our heritage sites built into it. That can only be achieved by overhauling the current diffuse focus on individual planning applications in isolation.

“Now is the time to make that change. The forthcoming Planning (Scotland) Bill is the point of no return for Scotland’s heritage: it could either prove to be the saviour of some of our most special places or the prelude to their irrecoverable loss. We only need to look to Bannockburn and Foveran Links as examples of development trumping reasonable conservation measures.

“Of course, property developers will always play the jobs and economic growth cards – but we need to think long-term. Scotland’s economy sees huge benefits from tourism, which accounts for around 5% of our GDP. It can largely be attributed to our outstanding landscapes, sites of historic interest and places of beauty.

“We need to start reflecting that in the decisions we make with the land on which this country has been built.”