I write on behalf of Not Coul in response to the letters from Mr Campbell and Mr Madeley (24th November) and the somewhat bizarre announcement of the Coul developer that he welcomes SNH’s objection.
The letters to the editor followed one by Andrew Weston and myself sent on 17th November which concentrated on the Castle Stuart and Menie golf courses. We discussed which was the most relevant in planning history and evidence to compare with the golf application at Coul Links. The Campbell and Madeley letters do not address the content of the Weston & Dargie letter at all. But your correspondents have launched a diatribe, including various accusations at the Not Coul opposition group and members as individuals. Not cricket.
The Coul Links Golf proposal is stated as the biggest inward capital investment to Sutherland for 100 years. This is an attempt to rewrite local economic history. Surely forestry, hydro-electricity, the Dornoch Bridge and the Carnegie Club at Skibo have been of greater importance in terms of investment scale, subsequent economic growth in the local economy and sustainable job totals for Sutherland.
Weston and myself are accused of rejecting capital investment to Sutherland, preventing reversal of economic decline and forcing children from their homeland to seek employment. There is nothing on those matters in that letter, or elsewhere for that matter. More irrelevance.
Not Coul is still studying the socio-economic case for the golf development and has not come to a view on its significance or its credibility, national or otherwise. Properly sited inward investment should always be welcomed. However, in this case, any development must be outside the SSSI/SPA/Ramsar land. A golf course outside the designated land would be something special, if modelled on the lines of Castle Stuart. This perhaps is what was meant by Scottish Natural Heritage in its objection last week, that development outside the SSSI was possible.
Mr Madeley’s request for a sensible and fair debate is well-meaning. So far Not Coul has seen mainly developer greenwash presented at public meetings, wrongly described as “consultations”. Mr Madeley would have seen that Mr Warnock refused questions from the floor in Dornoch in October. We think Not Coul’s analysis so far has been sharp enough to stimulate what is now a fair public debate, that is one with two sides.
There are errors and some falsehoods sprinkled throughout Mr Madeley’s letter. The most incredible is his assertion that wild fowl are shot in the key winter breeding season. Really, should we need to go on, after that? Not Coul rejects the Madeley assertion that there is overwhelming local opinion in favour of the Coul development. Lodged comments show objections running at a 3:1 advantage against supporters. The objections contain many local names.
Please note that all Not Coul members completely refute Mr Madeley’s claim that an invitation from the developers was declined, to walk the site and exchange views. No such invitation was ever made. Askernish Golf Course is stated as being in an SSSI but it is not. Mr Madeley states blithely that there will be no destruction, but the application makes clear that 14 ha of dune SSSI habitat will be lost to fairway, green or tee. Habitat loss is destruction and the SNH objection states that the consultants got their sum wrong on that loss, which SNH records as notably higher than the figure in application documents. We are unsurprised. Exaggeration and underestimation are the hallmarks of this application and Environmental Statement.
On a brighter note, in answer to Mr Campbell on job opportunities, I would be happy to go into schools in Sutherland to tell school children why nature conservation areas are important and how many jobs, in green tourism and conservation, depend upon keeping the habitats intact within those designated boundaries. Green tourism has been important for decades. It is now increasing strongly throughout Scotland, much more so than golf, as the nation realises the potential of its geo- and bio-diversity. Coul Links is an essential part of that diversity.
If Embo and the other towns listed by Mr Campbell worked together on the value of green tourism within their settlements and hinterland plus coast, they would realise how important they are already. It is not a big step from there to achieve sustainable expansion. One outcome will be diverse jobs for our young people. Sustainability and jobs through the environment is the rule Sutherland needs to follow, not some jobs at the irretrievable expense of habitats and wildlife.
Not Coul is run and supported by talented and experienced people. It will conduct this debate calmly, and with respect, without rancour or name-calling. It will rest on the quality of its arguments.
Dr Tom Dargie
Chairman, Not Coul
Loch Fleet View