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Golf links planning inquiry set to begin

By Caroline McMorran

Coul Links, Coul Links Golf, Todd Warnock
Coul Links, Coul Links Golf, Todd Warnock

A PLANNING inquiry into the controversial Coul Links golf development is set to open in Sutherland on Tuesday.

The inquiry will be held at Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, and is expected to take at least four weeks.

Reporters Timothy Brian and David Liddell have been appointed by the Scottish Government to preside over it.

Developers, including American businessman Todd Warnock, are hoping to create a championship links golf course on land near Embo.

About 32 acres on the planned course would be built on dunes. The dune system has a number of designations, including that of Ramsar, a wetland site of international importance.

Highland Councillors voted to give the go-ahead to the 18-hole development in June last year, despite officials recommending that it be rejected.

But two months later, Scottish Government planning minister Kevin Stewart called the application in for scrutiny amid mounting opposition on environmental grounds.

A government spokesman said at the time that it "raised issues of national importance in relation to heritage issues and its compliance with Scottish Planning Policy which require further scrutiny at national level."

A coalition made up of conservation groups Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust is campaigning against the development.

Scottish Natural Heritage has dropped all its objections apart from one concerning its impact on the dunes.

Developers counter that the golf course would improve and protect the area of land involved and bring much-needed jobs to the area.

A pre-inquiry meeting was held at Carnegie Hall in November to discuss the arrangements and procedures.

In December it was announced that two top conservation experts, Professor Colin Galbraith and Jonny Hughes, would be giving evidence on behalf of the conservation coalition.

A spokesman for the coalition said at the time: "Together these witnesses will outline the national and international environmental importance of Coul Links."

Todd Warnock has previously said that he has "complete faith" in the inquiry process.

He said: "It's time we had a fair, transparent and accurate portrayal of this exceptional project."

The plan has support among local communities. Jim McGillivray, councillor for East Sutherland and Edderton, believes it will benefit the local economy.

Coul Links Ltd was represented at the pre-inquiry meeting by Ailsa Wilson QC while John Campbell QC represented Not Coul, a protest group headed by ecologist Dr Tom Dargie.

Also present then was John Mackay of the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society, representing The Ramblers and objecting to the development.

Solicitor Karen Lyons, planners Gillian Pearson and Dafydd Jones and councillors Maxine Smith, Richard Gale and Jim McGillivray, represented Highland Council.

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