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Coul Links golf course developers stunned by planning refusal and say decision was 'politically motivated'


By Alison Cameron


Coul Links
Coul Links

The developers behind the controversial Coul Links golf course proposal which was refused planning permission by the Scottish government last week, say they are “simply stunned and deeply disappointed” by the decision.

And in a joint statement given exclusively to the NT, Todd Warnock, Mike Keiser and Chris Haspell said: “We are reviewing the decision thoroughly and will respond in due course.”

They have attacked the decision as being “politically motivated”.

The Scottish Government called in the planning application for further scrutiny, after Highland councillors gave the project the go-ahead last June.

In their statement, the three developers say: “We are simply stunned and deeply disappointed by this decision. We are reviewing the decision thoroughly and will respond in due course.

“We are deeply moved by the extraordinary outpouring of support from the entire Highland community.

“However, a few things are clear from the report:

* This decision was politically motivated by an SNP party again focused on incumbency and optics rather than substance.

* The principal ecological assertions of RSPB, SWT and Not Coul were almost entirely refuted. Instead the report relied on “uncertainty” as a basis for refusal.

* Several ecological assertions by the opposition which, under thorough cross examination were entirely debunked, conveniently remained within the Government’s narrative.

* The massive economic premise of the project for Sutherland was thoroughly confirmed, but referred to as not “nationally” important. Further, the opposition’s single local witness on the economic profile of job creation was rejected by the reporters as simply inaccurate.

* And perhaps most profoundly, the will of local government as represented by Highland Council, Dornoch Community Council and the overwhelming majority of the local citizenry was disregarded as if irrelevant.

“Finally, we enthusiastically support Highland Council member Jim McGillivray’s letter to John Finnie to return north immediately and commit substantial resources toward improving the ‘ecological gem’ they had not spent one ounce of effort protecting, prior to our golf course proposal.”

A group of conservation charities opposed to the project included RSPB Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Supporters of the development have been quick to point out that the reporters accepted the economic benefits to the area, but had based their conclusion on “national interest”, stating in their findings: “The proposal is of local and regional significance in socio-economic terms, but is not nationally important in terms of jobs and expenditure, or in national policy terms.”

Reporters accepted that there is “widespread support for the project amongst the local community”.

One of the first to react to the decision was Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie, who had voiced opposition to the proposed 18-hole championship course.

He said: “I am absolutely delighted that this ill-thought out and unsuitable application has been rejected.

“It’s important that the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise now look at how they can deliver long term, sustainable and well paid work for the people of Sutherland, without threatening its precious environment.”

But East Sutherland and Edderton Highland Council representative Jim McGillivray who was a strong supporter of the development, has been quick to tell Mr Finnie to make sure he sticks to that commitment.

In a letter to the MSP, he writes: “I have lived adjacent to Coul Links for most of my life.

“If ever a place encapsulates sheer degenerative despair in a single miserable and depressing landscape it must be Coul Links.

“Briefly it seemed to have a future, now as things stand it has only a past; jobs, apprenticeships and opportunities all stillborn.

“I am clear in my mind that every effort must now be made to find some compensatory initiatives to seek to atone for this major loss, and that it now behoves those individuals and groups who opposed this development to step up to the mark and come to the table with ideas and finance.

“Organisations such as SNH, RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, Buglife, and Scottish Walkers, and the Not-Coul group, were keen to propose Ecological Tourism as a suitable alternative to the golf development.

“It is time for such groups to put their money and expertise where their mouths are and deliver on their claims. Not-Coul claim to have 90,000 online supporters.

“If their chairman Dr Tom Dargie can extract even £1 each from them to spend on environmental and tourism improvements on the links at Coul, then that would provide an initial capital budget against which to attract match-funding.

“If they can’t wholeheartedly commit to a scheme of environmental socio-economic projects on this site, then the unavoidable conclusion is that Coul Links is indeed not that important, statements made at the hearing were greatly exaggerated, and Scottish ministers should urgently review their rejection of the Coul Links golf course based on false premises accepted by the Reporters.

“I therefore propose the immediate establishment of the Coul Links Action Plan (CLAP) and invite you, in view of your deep attachment to the site, to chair the meetings of this initiative.

“You may have thought your work here was done. I feel it has only just started.”

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