Published: 24/11/2017 15:03 - Updated: 23/11/2017 15:05

Can we not have a sensible debate about Coul Links golf?

 

In response to the letter from Tom Dargie and Andrew Weston in the NT last week, whilst they are entitled to their view, they and their “Not Coul”campaign group do seem to be totally oblivious both to the overwhelming local opinion in favour of the proposal and the detailed, positive surveys already carried out on the SSSI site by independent experts.

Are Messrs Dargie and Weston saying that they are right and everyone else is wrong?

The survey findings and mitigation proposals for Coul Links Golf are readily available on the Coul Links Golf website and have been presented to locals at a number of public meetings.

Having attended one at Dornoch I appreciate it does not suit the “Not Coul” campaign to acknowledge a different point of view from  expert external sources but surely we can have a sensible and fair debate on this?

The Coul Links Golf team have been totally approachable and transparent throughout the process but “Not Coul” are clearly not keen on scrutiny. Having spoken to the Coul Links Golf team (which is easy to do), it seems that “Not Coul” were invited to walk the site and exchange views especially on mitigation. They declined this invitation and lost an opportunity to influence thinking.

Add to this all the misplaced lobbying mainly from south of the border and it’s no wonder that their campaign is not well received by locals.

Whereas Coul Links Golf welcome all views and publishes them on their website, criticism of the “Not Coul” campaign is not welcome. The Facebook site is a “closed” site, you can only comment if you agree that you support their views.

Of course, different ecologists will have different views, as ultimately nobody knows for sure what will happen long term should Coul Links Golf get approval and be built.

What we can do in the meantime is to use our own eyes and look at the evidence of what has actually happened with golf development on other SSSI sites like Machrihanish Dunes and Askernish or frankly look at how golf and nature have co-existed so well on the links at Dornoch, Brora, Golspie and Tain for hundreds of years! There is no issue here, no “destruction” as their scare tactics suggest, in fact nature flourishes with amazing diversity.

What is becoming apparent is that the Coul Links SSSI site has been badly managed for decades. There is substantial damage to dunes at the Embo end of the beach due to unregulated quad bikes and other SUVs. We have invasive species such as gorse, bracken and birch covering many hectares. There is shooting of wild fowl in the key winter breeding period – why have RSPB and others allowed this to carry on for years?

If Coul Links Golf does not get approved can we expect the “Not Coul” group to step in and fund a management programme to match the one that Coul Links Golf will be putting in place? I don’t think so. If they have their way, not only will the opportunity for substantial economic gain be lost but the SSSI site will continue to deteriorate.

Finally, the comparisons with the Trump development in Aberdeen made by Messrs Dargie and Weston are worthy of further scrutiny. It is noted that Mr Dargie was a consultant on this project working for Donald Trump and whilst he apparently resigned from the project and clearly would no longer like to be associated with it, it was of course approved during his “watch”.  What’s even more curious is that at the enquiry into the Menie development Tom Dargie under cross examination said: “If the development gets permission to go ahead and we are allowed to undertake mitigation, we would have habitat conditions that would be better overall than what we have at the current time.”

I know I’m not alone in finding this especially ironic, as locals were not in favour at Menie and made their feelings known – but Tom Dargie was working for Trump. Locals here are overwhelmingly in favour of Coul Links Golf going ahead but despite the impressive mitigation programme proposed, Tom Dargie will not listen and now opposes.

A real case of poacher turned gamekeeper!

Ian Madeley

Elizabeth Crescent

Dornoch

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