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Would-be golf course developer backs Coul Links plan

Robert Mackenzie's comments are among hundreds for and against the controversial proposal.

Robert Mackenzie on the site of his  proposed golf course at Nigg. Image Sandy  McCook/DC Thomson
Robert Mackenzie on the site of his proposed golf course at Nigg. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

A farmer whose own plan to build a world class golf course found the rough says it would be a “travesty” if a similar venture at Coul Links is stopped.

Robert Mackenzie unveiled his plans to develop 300 acres of land at Pitcalzean Mains farm at Nigg in 2021.

The site had previously been used as an 18-hole golf course between 1890 and 1960.

But the proposal fell through after it was decided the land should be retained for industrial use.

Mr Mackenzie is now supporting the revived plans to build a championship course at Coul Links in Sutherland.

Economic benefit v environmental protection

His is among 230 comments so far received by Highland Council in support of the course application.

The council has also been sent almost 440 objections to the contentious project.

Those for the development highlight the jobs and economic benefit it would bring.

Opponents say it would harm environmental designations on site.

Communities For Coul (C4C) revived the project in 2021 after a bid by a previous group was rejected by Scottish Ministers in 2020 following a public inquiry.

The plans, outlined to the public last July, are forecast to bring in over £50 million of private investment and create 175-250 jobs.

C4C argues the revived plan differs from the previous unsuccessful bid in many ways, including a 90% reduction in the area of the Loch Fleet SSSI that would be developed.

The Coul Links site is earmarked for a championship golf course Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

But a coalition of conservation groups says it is concerned about the damage a golf course would do.

Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust argue the new proposals differ very little in scale from a previous application.

The groups have appealed to the public to try to stop the course being built.

Mr Mackenzie wrote a letter to Highland Council supporting the application. He said: “It would be a travesty, an immense lost opportunity, if this planning application is rejected.

“Coul Links and Pitcalzean are the only two sites in East Sutherland and Easter Ross with world class golfing potential.

“With Pitcalzean Farm now reserved for industrial development, Coul is the only place this incredible opportunity can be realised.”

Area could develop a golfing cluster

He said a very small percentage of the SSSI will be affected by the development.

“I fully support this small sacrifice in return for improved biodiversity through enhanced environmental management of the greater portion of the SSSI.

“There must be a balance between environmental considerations and the need for economic development and the prosperity of the human population.”

The board of the Dornoch Area Community Interest Company (DACIC) are supportive.

It says the economic argument has strengthened in the four years since the public enquiry.

DACIC says creating a second championship course next to Royal Dornoch will encourage visitors to stay locally longer.

With other courses at Brora, Golspie, Tain and Bonar Bridge the area would become a ‘golfing cluster’.

A view from the 18th hole on the planned golf course at Coul Links

It says Sutherland is projected to face drastic population decline in future.

“To have a privately financed development on the scale of Coul Links is a unique opportunity to reverse this downturn and secure the future of East Sutherland.”

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has not objected, but says planning conditions should be attached to any consent.

These cover environmental management, wastewater drainage, groundwater disruption and water abstraction.

Those opposed include campaign group Not Coul which questions the economic benefits and number of jobs the developers say the course will bring.

It claims there are “dozens” of vacancies locally for similar jobs.

First test for new planning policy

Not Coul also says the renewed application represents the first major test of Scotland’s new NPF4 national planning policies.

It says it will determine whether the new policies uphold or weaken environmental protection in Scotland.

The National Trust for Scotland objects due to the “likely irreparable impact” on nationally significant habitats, species and landscapes in protected areas.

Green MSP Ariane Burgess said the development does not have social, environmental or economic benefits of national importance.

She said it would compromise the objectives of environmental designations and impact natural environment and habitats.

Sea rocket, Coul Links SSSI beach. Image: Andrew Weston

One objector, Pip Talbot , said: “At a time of recognised nature crisis, it would be madness to approve something as facile as a golf course on a site of recognised importance for nature.”

Lesley Cranna, a golfer and ecologist from Golspie, said: “If someone proposed to cut a hole in the middle of the Mona Lisa saying it is only a small percentage of the painting, would this be considered in any way acceptable?

“Of course not. Please apply the same logic to Could Links. It needs our protection, not a golf course.”

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