SCOTLAND'S first commercial gold mine got the go-ahead yesterday after opportunities for jobs and economic growth were deemed to outweigh environmental concerns.

For the second time in just over a year the Australian mining company, Scotgold Resources, had applied to the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority for permission to mine gold and silver from a hillside at Cononish, near Tyndrum.

After making amendments to the original plan, permission was finally granted by the authority despite criticisms it could ruin one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes.

Scotgold believes there is up to £200 million of precious metals in the hills above Strathfillan and plans to extract 72,000 tonnes of ore from which 21,000 ounces of gold and 83,000 ounces of silver would be recovered annually for at least 10 years.

It is projected to bring 52 jobs to the area and more than £80m in direct or indirect economic benefits to Scotland’s economy.

Some £325,000 will go towards enhancing conservation and the visitor experience in the national park over the next seven years.

Scotgold will also give £30,000 a year for five years to Strathfillan Development Trust and an additional £200,000 to contribute to the development of a mining heritage visitor facility.

However, opponents said it was a betrayal of the national park’s founding principles, which requires greatest weight to be given to conservation of natural and cultural heritage.

Bill McDermott, chairman of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, which opposed the development, said he was saddened by the decision.

“The whole thing will have to be monitored, but for 10 years you are effectively talking about that area no longer being a wild, remote Highland glen,” he said.

“Our position was one of principle -- that national parks are designated for their environment and heritage. If you want large industrial processes, they should be somewhere else.”

Friends Of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs objected to the scheme because of damage to the area and the Mountaineering Council Of Scotland is concerned about the impact in the upper parts of a relatively wild glen such as Cononish.

Scottish Natural Heritage had also objected because of the impact on the Ben Lui Special Area of Conservation, but withdrew its objection after an agreement to tighten up conditions.

The park authority made clear yesterday this would not open the flood gates to development in the park.

Speaking after the meeting in Crianlarich, Linda McKay, park convener, said it had been the largest and most complicated planning application the authority had ever had to consider.

She said: “As guardians of some of the most stunning scenery in Scotland, it would have been easy to refuse the second application if we were considering the short-term impact on the landscape. But this National Park plans for long-term conservation management and that includes having the vision to see beyond the temporary life of the gold mine.

“We also have to take into consideration the support from Strathfillan Community Council which backs the proposals.”

Ms McKay said Scotgold’s first application was refused last year, because of the size and shape of the tailings (waste) management facility (TMF) and poor restoration proposals. She added: “With the second application, the applicant halved the size of the TMF and redesigned its shape to fit in the landscape.

“We have a 30-year commitment to improve the wider Glen Cononish. The Greater Cononish Glen Management Plan includes extending the native Caledonian pine forest and improving habitats and access tracks.”

She said Scotgold would have to comply with almost 50 conditions and legal agreements.

Scotgold chief executive Chris Sangster said: “The project provides a significant commercial opportunity in the interests of all stakeholders, in particular the local community, which has been a keen supporter for a development that promises increased local employment and economic activity.”