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Coul Links golf course development in spotlight as public consultation period nears end

By Niall Harkiss

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Ambitious plans for an 18-hole golf course at Coul Links, Embo continue to spark debate as the public consultation period for the new development nears its end.

Communities for Coul (C4C), the not-for-profit group behind a renewed bid to push forward with a plan for a championship golf course at the site, announced in February that it had submitted a planning application for the new development to Highland Council.

Coul Links dunes
Coul Links dunes

The application follows a crowdfunding exercise, which saw the group reach their 'full funding target' of £150,000 in October last year.

C4C's new proposal follows a similar project led by a group of private individuals, which was blocked by the Scottish Government at a public enquiry on environmental grounds three years ago.

Coul Links debate

FOR: ‘Course will help to protect environment’

AGAINST: 'Harm to landscape and access to vital dunes'

The group said that studying the inquiry’s findings had “enabled and guided” development of their fresh plans, and that environmental concerns raised at the public inquiry have been the key consideration in developing fresh plans for Coul Links.

However, a coalition of seven environmental organisations is expressing concern over the new plans, saying any development of this type and scale would have an impact on the international and national protected areas.

Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust each previously campaigned against the original Coul Links application.

Planning consent has also recently been granted for a £20 million Coul Links eco-hotel, which will be built only if the golf course plan goes ahead.

In March, C4C responded to walkers' fears over access to the land.

In its objection to planners, Ramblers Scotland pointed out that the development would considerably reduce the amount of land the public can access.

The charity has stated that seven holes of the proposed new 18-hole course would cross the John O’Groats Trail – a long-distance route designated as a core path by Highland Council.

A spokesperson said: "Ramblers Scotland is concerned by many details within the application, including a lack of understanding of the way that Scottish access rights apply on golf courses.

"One document suggests that walkers will be restricted to using a single path and that work to create a public access plan will only begin after the course is completed."

But a spokesman for Communities for Coul (C4C) responded, saying: “Our plans will in no way limit access for ramblers or other visitors who want to enjoy the natural beauty of Coul Links.

"In fact, they will make the site considerably more accessible for more people to be able to walk there."

Ramblers Scotland has since launched a petition, appealing to Highland Council to reject the bid. C4C has offered to meet Ramblers Scotland to discuss its fears.

In Dornoch, the stance of the community council is to be determined following a meeting on Tuesday, May 2 as they aim to gather information after listening to 15-minute presentation from C4C and opposition group, Not Coul.

Community council treasurer Jerry Bishop said it would be a “fact finding mission” ahead of the body deciding its stance on the development.

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