Controversial plans for a luxury golf course at an important nature site in Sutherland could be back on, after a new community group said it was looking to “develop a conversation once again”.
A bitter, three-year battle was seemingly resolved in February 2020 when the Scottish Government refused to back the creation of a luxury golf course development at Coul Links near Embo.
However, the newly-launched Communities for Coul (C4C) said they were “united in the belief that their area was dealt a grave disservice” when the Scottish Government threw the plans out, after it had been approved by 16 votes to one by Highland Council.
C4C, a group of people from the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth coast, has launched a website as part of a larger campaign to raise the possibility of a “world class” – yet “environmentally sensitive” – golf course at Coul Links.
A four-week public inquiry in 2019 heard that the site of the proposed development had one of the most complex dune systems in Scotland, with relatively low levels of human impact and was an important habitat for rare birds.
Highland Council had granted consent in 2018 against the advice of its own planning officers after developer Todd Warnock – backed by many locals – claimed it would provide a much-needed economic boost for the area.
However, after calling the issue in, the Scottish Government decided last year against the proposal, which was opposed by several nature groups.
New community-led planning application
With the support of local residents, C4C aims to put forward a new community-led planning application for a golf course to be built at Coul Links.
C4C chairman Gordon Sutherland said: “The creation of a new world class golf course at Coul Links should be viewed as a catalyst.
“Firstly for creating many, much-needed, local jobs and building the economic prosperity of the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth seaboard, some of which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
“And secondly, for providing the funds to protect almost all of the important environment at Coul Links which, currently, is being progressively lost to invasive species.”
He added that without the new golf course, “both the depopulation and the ageing demographic of our area will continue”.
The group claims that a “solid majority” of local people support the development of a golf course at Coul Links.
It cites the fact that of the 90,000 who signed the online petition against the development, less than 0.15% live within the IV25 postcode.
Mr Sutherland said: “We recognise the environmental importance of Coul Links, but believe the best way to protect the site is to obtain planning permission to sensitively create a world class golf course (using just over 1% of the Loch Fleet SSSI), and ensure that the developers implement a viable and fully funded Environmental Management Plan, as well as climate change mitigation schemes.”
‘Social and economic benefits are needed now more than ever’
Among the statements in support of a new golf course on the C4C website, Sarah MacKenzie from Tain said that, as a mother, she was worried about the future prospects for the “Covid Generation” without developments such as these.
“Having another world class golf course would be very exciting however it’s the so-much-more important part that really grips my interest,” she said.
“The social and economic benefits that the successful implementation of this project would have are needed now more than ever.”
The Communities for Coul website can be visited at www.communities4coul.scot.