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Coul Links golf course plans could be REFUSED on environmental grounds

The 18-hole championship golf course, north of the village of Embo, could be thrown out.

Coul Links on the banks of Embo beach
Developers want to build an 18-hole championship course

Controversial plans for an 18-hole golf course at Coul Links could be thrown out due to fears over its environmental impact.

Communities for Coul Ltd (C4C) are seeking permission to construct a championship course near Embo.

The plans were lodged with the Highland Council back in February, sparking debate among locals.

To date, 751 objections have been made against the application as 314 people submitted letters of support.

Highland Council representatives are expected to discuss the application at their upcoming north planning applications committee meeting on December 6.

However, planners have recommended that the development be refused.

The application could very well be turned down on environmental grounds; as conservation experts fear for the impact it will have on the Sutherland coastline.

Developers redesign Coul Links plans

Developers are proposing constructing the multi-million-pound course on land, north of the Sutherland village, together with a Par 3 course.

The course would be built on parts of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Existing Coul farm buildings on the site are also expected to be repurposed to house the clubhouse, a shop, maintenance shed and ancillary facilities.

The site of Coul Links golf club.
Developers propose to construct an 18-hole championship course at Coul Links. Image: Sandy McCook/ DC Thomson.

Communities for Coul Ltd– made up of local supports representing Brora, Golspie, Embo, Dornoch and Tain – say their objective is to create a “world-class course that will attract International visitors while bringing added opportunities for UK-based golfers.”

It is not the first time developers have faced backlash over the plans following an objection from Scottish Ministers in 2020.

Officials launched a public local inquiry in 2019 considering the value of the extensive project.

However, ministers voted to refuse the plans, citing concerns about the impact on wildlife and the wider area.

Three years on, developers have redesigned the course, reducing its footprint and its influence on habitats and species.

If approved, the site will also feature a practice range, an 85-space car park, welfare facilities for staff, and member facilities.

Fears over the environmental impact

Conservation organisations have strongly objected to the plans fearing for the environmental impact on the coastline.

RSPB Scotland says the developers have underestimated its adverse impact on the area, and particularly, its effect on bird populations.

NatureScot said even though they couldn’t throw their support behind the development, they could see the potential for a course in this area.

In their letter, they wrote: “We recognise the potentially large economic benefits that could arise from this proposal and their local and regional significance.

“We also recognise and acknowledge the commitment by the applicant to develop measures to reduce the footprint of the course, as well as to mitigate and offset impacts on nationally important natural heritage interests.

“However, the conclusion of our assessment is that this proposal is contrary to National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) requirements not to compromise the objectives of SSSI designation and the overall integrity of Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest.

“While we are unable to support this proposal as presented, we believe that a golf course could be progressed in this general location by using a much higher proportion of the adjacent agricultural land.”

Officials from  Communities for Coul say they remain hopeful councillors will see the benefits of their development.

In a statement, a spokesman said: “We are disappointed, but unsurprised, by the recommendation, but remain hopeful that councillors will recognise the many benefits our proposed development will bring to the area and approve our application on December 6.

“A previous, separate bid was also recommended for refusal, but approved by a majority of 16 to one by councillors.”

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