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Coul Links: More than 1000 people urge ministers to call in golf course approval

By John Davidson

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Highland councillors approved plans for a golf course at Coul Links.
Highland councillors approved plans for a golf course at Coul Links.

More than 1000 people have urged Scottish Government ministers to call in a decision by Highland Council to approve a controversial golf course at Coul Links near Embo.

A campaign, launched by Scottish Green MSP Ariane Burgess, highlights the decision made by the North Area Planning Committee of Highland Council to award planning consent for the 18-hole golf course despite a previous scheme on Coul Links being called in and overturned in 2020.

She argues that the golf course would be situated on one of the last areas of undeveloped, species-rich dune habitat in Scotland.

A previous separate application for a course at the location was refused by ministers in 2020 after a public inquiry.

Ms Burgess said: “This is the second time a plan for a totally inappropriate golf development on this land has been brought forward; the second time local communities and environmental groups have had to fight against multi-millionaire developers and the second time that the application will need to be reconsidered by government ministers.

“Local residents value and cherish this special and unique landscape and it’s deeply disappointing that councillors on the panel opted to ignore those concerns as well as those raised by environmental groups on behalf of the voiceless wildlife that depends on this rare and precious habitat.

“Low paid, low quality seasonal jobs of the type offered by these developments – particularly when there is already a shortage of workers in the hospitality sector – is not the kind of long-term, sustainable economic development the area needs.

Green MSP Arian Burgess has launched a campaign to fight the plans.
Green MSP Arian Burgess has launched a campaign to fight the plans.

“I am calling on the Scottish Government to reconsider this decision and to uphold Scotland’s planning policies and the wishes of the local community.”

Highland councillors approved a planning application for the proposed new golf course at Coul Links during a meeting earlier this month. Members of the North Planning Applications Committee voted 8:6 in favour of the controversial application.

Gordon Sutherland, director of Coul Links developer Communities for Coul, welcomed the move and said the plans “provide a guaranteed future for the wonderful, wild coastal environment of Coul Links, which is currently sadly neglected and at risk”.

The application has to be referred to the Scottish Government because NatureScot, a statutory consultee, has objected.

The Conservation Coalition says it was “extremely disappointed and very concerned” at the decision to approve the course. The decision went against the recommendation of planning officers to refuse the application and in the face of nearly 750 objections.

The coalition, 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, is also 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."

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