AN MSP’s intervention into plans for a new championship golf course in Sutherland has sparked a backlash locally.
Community leaders in East Sutherland are angry that Green MSP John Finnie has involved himself in the Coul Links project without even seeking local views.
East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Deirdre Mackay accused Mr Finnie of attempting to “circumvent the planning process”.
She said: “I take a pretty dim view of this high-handed attempt to circumvent the planning process. The bottom line is that this application is the responsibility of Highland Council not the Scottish Parliament and should be respected as such.”
The row kicked off after Mr Finnie lodged a parliamentary motion opposing Coul Links, stating that the Scottish Government must make sure the special environmental designations on the land are protected – the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area and a Ramsar site.
The motion was also signed by Green MSPs Ross Greer, Mark Russell and Alison Johnstone.
Mr Finnie’s entry into the fray came at the same time as six conservation bodies banded together to form an alliance in opposition to the plans, which are being driven forward by Americans Todd Warnock and his business partner Mike Keiser.
But Cllr Mackay said it was disappointing that Mr Finnie had made no effort to meet with or seek the views of the community.
And she described the four signatories to the motion as “Green List MSPs located in the central belt with no locus whatsoever in our area.”
Cllr Mackay said the plans for an 18-hole championship golf course near Embo were a “once in a lifetime opportunity to turn round the fortunes of the area, retain our young people and attract new families to live and work here.”
Her ward colleague Cllr Jim McGillivary labelled the motion as a “disgraceful attempt” to subvert the democratic planning process.
He said: “Mr Finnie is showing total disrespect to the point of contempt for the democratic planning system in the Highlands, to the professional qualifications and experience of Highland Council’s planning officers and to the intelligence of the directly elected councillors, who will sit in judgement on this application.”
Among those who contacted the Northern Times this week to express support for the course was Alistair Risk of Brora, a former lecturer in golf and leisure manager, and Ian Telfer, the former economic development officer for Sutherland.
Mr Risk said: “I suspect that a huge majority of the people of East Sutherland support this development but the opposition is from a group of well meaning charities and politicians who do not appreciate the bigger picture.”
Mr Telfer said that economic considerations should override the arguments regarding environmental protections.
Some 450 representations regarding the plan have been made on Highland Council’s eplanning site both in favour and against.
The application for planning consent for Coul Links is likely to be decided at the January meeting of the North Planning Applications Committee.
Todd Warnock said this week that the course would consist of 22.4 hectares of greens, tees and fairways of which 14 hectares would be inside the SSSI and the remainder outwith.
He added that inside the SSSI was 5.7 hectares of felled tree plantation which it was intended to remediate should Coul Links get the go ahead.
He said: “Additionally there are 14.3 hectares between a burn and Embo that we are buying. That is not in the SSSI but we will contribute it to the SSSI.
“That means the SSSI will be expanded by 14.3 hectares and 5.7 hectares of it will be improved.”