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Conservation Coalition urges Scottish Government to again call in Coul Links golf course application following Highland Council's decision to approve it

By Caroline McMorran

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The Conservation Coalition says it is “extremely disappointed and very concerned” at the decision by Highland councillors to grant planning permission for a championship golf course at Coul Links, near Embo.

Members of the North Planning Applications Committee voted 8:6 in favour of the controversial application at their meeting this morning.

Their decision went against the recommendation of planning officers to refuse the application and in the face of nearly750 objections including one from statutory consultee NatureScot, the Scottish Government's nature advisers.

The Coul Links application was submitted by Communities for Coul (C4C) and follows an earlier application by private individuals for a golf course at Coul Links.

Coul Links. Picture: Ramblers Scotland
Coul Links. Picture: Ramblers Scotland

The earlier application was also supported by the North Planning Applications Committee against the advice of officers. It was called in by Scottish Government Ministers and rejected in 2020 following a public inquiry.

The developers say the golf course would breathe new life into the area, bringing jobs and encouraging young people to stay. But opponents say the dune system at Coul Links is to precious to be disturbed.

The Conservation Coalition is made up of RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society.

The coalition is now calling on Scottish ministers to call in the application and “save Coul Links from development”.

A coalition spokesperson said: “This is the second time in five years that Highland Council has decided to support a golf course at Coul Links against the advice of its own officers and despite overwhelming opposition to the plans. The last development was ultimately turned down by Scottish Ministers in 2020 due to the detrimental impact it would have had on nature."

Kenna Chisholm, area manager, North Highland and the Hebrides, RSPB Scotland said: “As a result of Highland Council's decision to grant permission for the golf course, against the advice of its own officers and ignoring nearly 750 objections including from NatureScot, we are once again asking Scottish Ministers to save Coul Links.

"It’s really regrettable the proposals are now at this stage given how clearly it’s been shown that Coul Links is not the place for this kind of development.

“We’re urging Ministers to call in the development to ensure that Coul Links is safeguarded for nature and people into the future rather than being irreparably harmed.

"The Scottish Government has made impressive commitments to nature and the environment, and this is an opportunity for Ministers to show that there is substance and meaning to their positive words and targets. We urge people to sign our e-action asking Ministers to consider the plans and save Coul Links.”

Scottish Wildlife Trust's head of policy and advocacy Bruce Wilson said: “Protected sites exist not only to help conserve extremely valuable places for nature and people, but also to signpost very clearly where development is not appropriate.

"In a time of nature and climate emergency, which the Highland Council itself has declared, this is not a sustainable decision, and we are once again calling on Scottish Ministers to call it in."

Buglife manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland Andrew Ramsey said: “This is a very disappointing decision by Highland Council. Coul Links is an internationally important site for wildlife and is vital for the protection of endemic species in Scotland.

"The site is irreplaceable and its loss would seriously discredit the Scottish Government’s recent pledges in the support of the natural world. This is a time when the whole world is shaping plans to halt and reverse the loss of biological diversity, if Scotland is going to play its part, then this development needs to be called in and nature given the priority that it deserves.”

Alistair Whyte from Plantlife Scotland said: “In a nature and climate emergency, we should not have to fight development proposals on legally protected sites, which should be refuges for our beleaguered wildlife. Scottish ministers must now call in this proposal as a matter of urgency.”

The Conservation Coalition says people can raise their voice in support of saving Coul Links and ask Ministers to reconsider the plans by signing this e-action: https://action.rspb.org.uk/coullinks

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