New plans for a world class golf course at Coul Links in Sutherland could be submitted in a matter of weeks.
Communities for Coul (C4C) is pursuing the project after a previous attempt to build a championship course was turned down.
The group lodged a pre-Planning Application Notice (PAN) for the development with Highland Council in June.
Public exhibition for course plans
A public exhibition will be held in Embo Community Centre on July 27. An online presentation will also be held in August.
C4C then hopes to lodge a full planning application by the early autumn.
A crowdfunding campaign has seen the group raise £125,000 of its £150,000 target towards the planning process.
A bid to develop a golf course on the Coul Links site was rejected by Scottish Ministers in 2020 after objections from environmental groups.
But C4C says it has responded to concerns raised previously in developing the new plans.
This includes a comprehensive plan to restore and protect the Coul Links Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
This, it argues, will perpetually protect the wild coastal environment. At the same time, it will help to transform the area economically, creating jobs and enhancing the area as a world-class golf destination.
C4C director Gordon Sutherland said: “We know and expect we will face further obstacles along the way.
“But, as things stand, we are optimistic we will be in a position to submit a full planning application in the early autumn.
“We have already shown there is overwhelming local support for the project.”
Planning system ‘favours the wealthy’
Meanwhile, a supporter of the project says Scotland’s planning system favours the wealthy and is stacked against communities.
Edward Abel Smith, who owns the land where the course would be built, has plans for a £20 million eco hotel overlooking the proposed development.
Mr Abel Smith, the owner of Coul Farm, says local support for the project chimes with the SNP commitment that ‘the best people to decide the future of our communities are the people who live in those communities’.
But he says statutory consultee NatureScot has to balance its duties to protect the environment with the need for social and economic development.
“There is nothing to say whether one of these three factors should take precedent over another.”
He says if NatureScot objects to the course plan, even with the support of Highland Council, with whom C4C is working closely, the final decision will rest with Scottish Ministers.
They may ultimately decide to ‘call in’ the application and remove the decision-making process from the planning authority. This can lead to an expensive public inquiry.
“Therefore, for C4C to gain planning permission for a highly-desired, locally-led project in their community, they are very much reliant on NatureScot balancing the economic and social impacts with the environmental.
“Poignantly, with this planning policy, the only way that the statement ‘the best people to decide the future of our communities are the people who live in those communities’ can be a reality is if said community has enough financial backing – similar sums that major global developers have – to afford to put their ideas forward.
‘Anyone can engage in development decisions’
“The Scottish planning policy, either deliberately or inadvertently, is only truly accessible to the wealthy, and is so heavily stacked against the people its government represent – locals.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Throughout the planning system, opportunities are available for everyone to engage in the development decisions which affect them.
“Applications are determined in accordance with the development plan for the area unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
“It would not be appropriate to comment on the proposals in case it is seen as pre-empting or pre-judging any future decision that may come before Ministers.”
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