IT was set up by Prince Charles with the aim of promoting the most remote parts of the Scottish mainland and attracting visitors to savour its beauty.

The North Coast 500 project, which uses 516 miles of existing roads to create a circular tour of the coast, is five years old and has been hailed for boosting tourism.

But now the country’s largest private landowner, Danish fashion tycoon Anders Hoch Povlsen, has taken control of the route from Prince Charles’ North Highland Initiative and saw it make a loss in the first year.

North Coast 500 Ltd has promoted the north Highlands tourist route as a “global phenomenon” attracting thousands of visitors.

READ MORE: 15 things to see on the North Coast 500

It was launched by the North Highland Initiative to breathe new life into some of the remotest and most economically fragile areas of the Highlands.

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It amounted to a rebranding of a road system that had existed for decades, starting at Inverness, heading west to Applecross, Gairloch and Ullapool before heading along the north coast through Durness and Wick and back to Inverness.

It incorporates many narrow, twisting roads, including the steepest single-track stretch in the British Isles, at Bealach na Bà.

The NC500 passport, which visitors can have stamped at participating attractions along the way, recommends stops at “windswept beaches and fairytale castles”, as well as distilleries, smokehouses and farm shops.

North Coast 500 Ltd, a privately funded company whose aim was to grow the route’s brand, had been controlled by the Initiative.

It has now emerged the company is controlled by Wildland Ventures Limited, established in 2007 by Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen as a vehicle for taking forward the conservation, protection and sustainable development of some of Scotland’s most rugged, precious and beautiful landscapes.

READ MORE: Scottish firms cut investment as Brexit weighs

According to Wildland’s latest accounts, the ultimate parent company is Mr Povlsen’s Denmark-based investment firm Heartland A/S after taking a majority stake from NHI. 

In the year to March, 2018, North Coast 500 Ltd made a £170,105 deficit following a £77,699 loss from the year before, when the Initiative had control.

Following its creation and development, North Coast 500 Ltd received private investment, although NHI had remained a significant investor.

HeraldScotland: Tourism bosses in the Borders hope to bring the success of North Coast 500 to the region

Stirling University researcher Gary Woodcock, who found people living along the scenic North Coast 500 tourist route wanted to move house because of disruption caused by visitors, said the change in control could be of benefit to the locals.

Mr Woodcock, an expert in sustainable tourism, added: “It has the potential to change the dynamic between the promoters of the route and the communities along its course, but only if the future plans have residents at their heart and, thus, are in communication with and listening to communities.

“I imagine the residents of the north-west Highlands will be looking on with intrigue to find out Mr Povlson’s intentions, but also to the results of the recent survey carried out by the local authority regarding people’s opinions on, and feasibility of, introducing a tourist tax to the region.”

In August it was estimated that a Highland tourist tax could raise up to £10 million pounds a year, according to council officials. The estimate was released as Highland Council began a public consultation on the controversial plan.

The North Highland Initiative did not respond to questions surrounding the reasons for NHI relinquishing control of the NC500 company and what it meant for its operation.

But a spokesman accentuated the positives of the operation and how it had benefited the region.

He said: “The aim was to create a self-funding, self-sustaining commercial company that could continue to promote the North Highlands through the North Coast 500 brand.

“North Coast 500 Ltd was founded in January 2017 to do just that and to deliver enhanced opportunities for businesses and communities throughout the area.

“Potential investors expressed an interested in supporting the aims and objectives of the initial concept and subsequently converted that interest into a shareholding.

“The loss for the year demonstrates the need for the company to invest in people and resources if we are to continue to drive the socio-economic benefits to the North Highlands.

“There is clear evidence why we should continue to do this as the investment to date has created outstanding impacts for many businesses in the North Highlands and has put the region on a global platform.

“The Board are aware of the challenges of being the creators of a new model of tourism development and the associated monetisation of the brand and will continue to be innovative in developing income streams and cost efficiency.”

The NHI has previously said that its use of tourism “as a vehicle for creating sustainable communities” resulted in the creation of NC500, “widely regarded by the media and experts as the number one touring route in the world”.

It said that the 516-mile route around the north coast has attracted an audience of 3.3 billion people around the globe in 2018 and is credited with creating an additional 200 jobs in its first year of operation.

Further to that, it said an economic impact survey revealed that the creation of the route added an additional £9m to the North Highland economy in 2016.

The Danish billionaire, who is also the chief executive and sole owner of the international clothes retailer chain Bestseller, like hundreds of thousands of other tourists who visit the Highlands every year, was captivated by its rugged beauty when he visited for an angling holiday with his parents in the 1980s.

Two decades later, the second-largest individual private landowner in the UK, the biggest in Scotland, returned to the country he had fallen in love with – but this time with the aim of buying up parts of the country

Mr Povlson, who is reportedly worth £4.5billion bought the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie estate in the Cairngorms for £8m in 2006.

The estate’s Glenfeshie Lodge, which was built in about 1880, continues to serve as Mr Povlsen’s private Highland home, and has featured in films and TV series including The Crown and The Queen.

He was struck by tragedy earlier this year when three of his four children, Alma, Agnes, and Alfred were killed at the Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo during the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings while they were on holiday there.

Mr Povlson is the single shareholder in the Asos online retailer, and his wife have continued to snap up huge swathes of the Scottish countryside.

They are said to now own about 220,000 acres across 12 estates which he hopes to join together and rewild.

In Tongue, Sutherland, the couple have renovated two properties with a third, Lundies House manse,in the process of being refurbished.

The Povlsons have also bought a shop to keep the community thriving.

Wildlands have also advertised jobs to assist them in running high-end guest houses in the north to meet the needs of the growing tourist market drawn to the area by the North Coast 500.