THE much anticipated application for planning permission to develop a controversial 18-hole golf course at Coul Links, north of Dornoch, is being submitted today.
And it has been revealed that a local community group, the Embo Trust, will be investors and partners in Coul Links Ltd, with members serving on the board and the trust receiving a long-term income stream.
Golf course developer Mike Keiser, businessman Todd Warnock, and landowner Edward Abel Smith, the principals behind Could Links Ltd, believe they have overcome various environmental objections to the planned course and are confident that the development will “enhance” the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Coul links.
Todd Warnock, who has already invested heavily in Dornoch as owner of the Links House Hotel and the Carnegie Courthouse, said: “After two years of meticulous preparations, extensive community input, and open and thorough dialogue with a broad range of organisations and statutory bodies, we are excited to file our planning application.
“We are confident the project will result in an enhancement environmentally of the Coul Links SSSI as well as significant economic benefit to the East Sutherland and Scottish economy.”
The consortium have also brought on board Chris Haspell, previously course manager at Castle Stuart Golf Links, as project manager.
Over the past two years there has been a level of opposition to the proposals because of the perceived impact it could have on the links area at Coul, which includes an SSSI.
But the developers say that they have altered the design of the course to address these issues.
In a statement this week, they say: “The golf course will be constructed in and outside the Loch Fleet SSSI, which currently extends to 1232 hectares. After significant layout revisions as a result of public comment, the course will incorporate a total of 22.7 hectares, or 1.8 per cent of the SSSI.
“As a result of careful planning, the course will include only 14 hectares inside the SSSI and 8.7 hectares outside.”
Further, the developers have agreed to fully remediate 5.7 hectares inside the SSSI of a felled tree plantation which has been deemed environmentally compromised.
In addition, the developers commissioned a Biodiversity Net Gain Report for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) which concluded the project will deliver “clear and material biodiversity net gain”.
The developers have identified major strategies to ensure the environmental improvement of the site:
• The development and funding of a long-term site management plan.
• Comprehensive remediation and management of invasive species.
• Expansion of the Coul Links SSSI habitat.
• Expanded public access and an environmental education plan.
• Sensitive facilities and traffic/transportation plans.
The course will be closed from January to March every year to protect habitat.
Chris Haspell led the on-the-ground development of the Castle Stuart course which shares many attributes with Coul Links including SSSI, dune heath and migrating birds. The success of Castle Stuart’s integration into the natural environment has been widely praised, receiving several environmental awards.
The group believe that Coul Links will have an outstanding economic impact on East Sutherland and the area could become “a third major destination of Scottish golf”.
Consultants BiGGAR Economics were retained to produce a full economic statement. In order to ensure the integrity of the report, the developers asked Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to meet with the BiGGAR team to scrutinise their analysis.
The BiGGAR report estimates Coul Links to generate, over the first 10 years, approximately 250 new jobs – throughout East Sutherland – and add more than £60 million to the local economy, with approximately 450 new jobs and more than £85 million gross value-added to the Highlands economy.
HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright said: “The work carried out by the Coul Links team and their consultants shows that this project has the potential to deliver a significant economic impact for the town, and be an asset for Sutherland.”
The consortium are also keen to link up with other local golf clubs and in particular Brora, Golspie and Tain.
Mr Warnock said: “We are looking at various packages where golfers play Coul Links and the other courses are included, thus retaining people in the area. As the courses are so nearby, we can shuttle folk between them using our own transport. Nowhere else in Scotland are such respected courses in such close proximity. That’s a real incentive for visitors to come here.”
Many local decision makers have added their support to the development.
Gail Ross MSP for Caithness, Sutherland Easter Ross, said: “I have discussed the project with many people across my constituency, especially those in the local area and listened to their views. I feel that the concerns that have been raised by individuals and organisations have been addressed and therefore I give my support to the project. It has the potential to be one of the most exciting opportunities for my constituency both economically and environmentally.”
Dornoch Area Community Interest Company (DACIC) chairman Joan Bishop said: “The DACIC board unanimously, fully and enthusiastically support the Coul Links project. We believe the environmental issues can be constructively addressed and the project will materially strengthen the economies of Dornoch, Embo and other East Sutherland communities.”
Embo Trust chairman Jim McGillivray added: “The Embo community simply could not be more excited about the Coul Links golf course as evidenced by our willingness as a Trust to invest in it as a partner. Further, we cherish the site perhaps more than any others and believe it is the best option for its long-term environmental management. The trust directors has voted unanimously to support the project in every regard.”
Royal Dornoch, Brora, Golspie, Tain, Skibo, and Castle Stuart golf clubs have also indicated their full support.Two public consultation events, in Embo and Dornoch, will be held on October 22 and 23