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Investigative journalism platform uncovers direct link between Communities for Coul and US golf developers

By Caroline McMorran

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Links have been unearthed between the community group behind plans for a championship golf course at Coul Links in Sutherland and the US developers who previously made an attempt to gain planning consent for the development.

Communities for Coul (C4C) lodged a planning application for the 18-hole course on land near Embo in February this year, but the group has always said it is an entirely separate application to that put forward by Americans Todd Warnock and Mike Keiser.

Coul Links and Embo beach.
Coul Links and Embo beach.

The original planning application was given the go-ahead by Highland Council but overturned by the Scottish Government in 2020.

Opponents to the course, who are objecting mainly on environmental grounds, have always maintained that C4C is mainly a front for the US developers and have labelled it a “sham” and a “stalking horse”.

They say that C4C’s stated intent to “disband” if it wins planning permission, is further evidence of the Americans’ involvement.

Award winning investigative journalism platform the Ferret are now reporting that C4C share a postal address with Coul Links Ltd, the development company set up by Mr Warnock and Mr Keiser.

In its article entitled 'Group labelled 'astroturfing front' for US golf developers', the Ferret states that it has seen an email released under freedom of information law that proves links between the two.

The email, sent to SEPA with the subject heading 'Car Licence and bore holes Coul Links', and dated January 26 this year, asks that correspondence for the Americans' firm Coul Links Ltd be sent to Coul Farm.

The article states that C4C’s meeting place and postal address is Coul Links Farm, which is owned by Edward Abel Smith who has planning consent for a £20 million eco-hotel development there, dependent on the golf course going ahead.

C4C told the Ferret that it was a “convenient spot” for C4C members to collect correspondence about the SEPA licences for golf course irrigation.

A C4C spokesman is quoted as saying: “If successful, C4C has always made clear they would then ask a world-class golf developer to build the course, and were pleased to announce in 2021 that Mike Keiser had agreed to return to do this, if planning permission was achieved.

“Coul Links Limited kindly allowed C4C use of all documents, licences etc. from the first application, for the second. This has been extremely helpful for a community group who have had to raise all their funds from donations.

“Edward Abel Smith has allowed C4C to use Coul Farm as a meeting place, since it is centrally located for members of their group. It therefore seemed a good place to use as the address on their Facebook page. It is also a convenient spot for C4C members to collect any correspondence."

The spokesman added: “If the golf course receives planning approval, there is no need to be “for Coul” any longer. There will however, be a requirement for a community body to safeguard the interests of our communities and to fairly distribute the funds which will accrue from the five per cent equity share in the golf course we are being gifted.

“Although it will be a few years before profits are generated, giving ample time to determine the right vehicle and structure, current thinking is that this body will be called Coul for Communities.”

The Coul Links planning application was due to be discussed at the North Planning Applications Meeting on September 12 but it is understood that it has now been put back to the following meeting on November 1

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