Plans for a world class golf course at Coul Links in Sutherland have gone on display to the public.
A bid by a previous group to develop a golf course at Coul Links was first revealed in 2015, but was rejected by Scottish Ministers in 2020.
Communities for Coul (C4C) revived the plans in 2021 and lodged a pre-Planning Application Notice (PAN) with Highland Council in June this year.
The group hopes to submit a full planning application by the early autumn.
Exhibition picketed by opposition group
C4C opened the exhibition of plans in Embo Community Centre but an opposition group Not Coul picketed the event and handed out leaflets to people as they went in.
C4C says it has responded to concerns raised previously in developing the new plans.
This includes a comprehensive proposal to restore and protect the Coul Links Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the shores of the Dornoch Firth.
It says the amount of land used for tees, greens, fairways and walkways in the SSSI has been reduced by over 40%.
This, it argues, will perpetually protect the coastal environment and help transform the area economically and create 175-250 jobs
Nicola Drummond, a planning consultant for C4C, said the exhibition is part of the planning process which requires community consultation.
She said invasive plants are taking over the SSSI: “We see this as symbiotic relationship in terms of the development, bringing forward a quality golf course but also enabling the SSSI to benefit from long-term appropriate management.
“By reducing the footprint of the golf course….we feel we have gone a long way to addressing the concerns Scottish Ministers raised.”
One of those handing out leaflets was Tom Dargie, ecologist for Not Coul.
Opponents say they will fight the plans
He said: “I had a careful look at the exhibition and its much as I expected. But we are pretty sure on three grounds we will be fighting hard against this development.”
Mr Dargie said he doesn’t accept the economic case with the workforce not available. He said last month there were 30 vacancies in hospitality businesses and the care sector in Dornoch.
Not Coul also has doubts over the quality of the planned golf course and concerns about environmental damage.
Lynn Redfern, who runs a local caravan site in Dornoch with husband Darren, said: “I am completely against it and haven’t seen anything that has changed my mind.
“Are they are saying the jobs will be good enough to encourage people into the area?
“Even if they do come to the area, they can’t afford housing now. If you create a golf course that’s going to become more popular for second homes and put the prices up again.
“We are in that cycle already and its going to get worse.
“And this whole thing about managing the area. That’s been there well before we have and it’s taking care of itself. People should leave it alone.”
Retired banker Brian Munro from Dornoch is in favour: “I was very disappointed when it was turned down. The council approved it, the community council was supportive and the community was supportive.
“It then got called in and coincidentally the week it was turned down was the week they were trying to get their budget through with the Green Party, it stinks.
‘I think it would be good for the area’
“To me it’s a natural area for a golf course. The people who are shouting about protecting the plants are not dong a thing to protect them at the moment.”
James McGillivray, from Dornoch, said: “I am in favour of the course. I think it would be good for the area. The site is run down and needs to be done up.”
Another visitor, who gave his name only as John, said he is “ambivalent” to the plans.
“I can see both sides of the argument. You can see the job opportunities but you can also see the environmentalists’ concerns as well.
“But the biggest problem will be getting planning permission.”
Earlier this month an alliance of seven environmental organisations raised concerns over the new plans for the golf course.
The Conservation Coalition’s fears remain that a development of the type and scale planned would impact on national and international protected areas.
The group, that includes the Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland, encouraged “anyone concerned about saving nature” to contact their local MSP.
Esme Clelland, from RSPB Scotland, who attended the exhibition, said it is hoped to have meaningful discussions with the applicants and consultants on the plans
“We still have concerns about the fact it still overlaps the designated site but it’s been good to chat to people and we will take that away and have a think about it.”
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