Major milestone reached as community group lodges fresh planning application for championship golf course at Coul Links
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Communities for Coul (C4C), has reached a major milestone in its drive to establish a championship golf course at Coul Links, Embo.
The not-for-profit organisation has announced that it has now submitted a planning application for the development to Highland Council.
A previous, separate bid to develop a golf course on the site, north of Dornoch, was rejected by Scottish Ministers, following a public inquiry in 2020.
C4C said studying the inquiry’s findings had “enabled and guided” development of their fresh plans.
The organisation said environmental concerns raised at the public inquiry have been the key consideration in developing fresh plans for Coul Links.
And it claimed that its proposals now offered the “best chance” for the wild coastal environment at Coul Links to retain its Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designation.
C4C say not enough is currently being done to protect the unique environmental features at Coul Links, which it claims, are rapidly being destroyed by the spread of invasive species, reducing the distinctiveness and biodiversity of the dune system.
However, a coalition of seven environmental organisations is expressing concern over the new Coul Links plans, saying any development of this type and scale would have an impact on the international and national protected areas.
C4C said its plans differed from the unsuccessful bid in a number of key aspects – including a 90 per cent reduction in the area of the Loch Fleet SSSI that would be developed.
“Down from 14.7 hectares (ha) to 1.5 ha, it involves just 0.1 per cent of the designated site. This is primarily because it is now intended that the fairways will be created in a centuries-old manner – by simply mowing the vegetation already there," said a spokesman.
“Other marked differences between the former plan and the new one include an 85 per cent reduction of the use of fertiliser, which will now be limited to the tees and greens only - and the use of 80 per cent less irrigation. Developing the course will also involve almost 30 per cent less construction traffic under C4C’s plans."
The group added that their plans amounted to a “major dune system restoration project, funded by a low-impact, world class golf course.”
As well as providing for the long-term protection of the environment, C4C said the development would economically transform the area, creating many new jobs for local people and further enhancing the reputation of the region as a world-class destination for golfers.
C4C director Gordon Sutherland said: “A great deal of hard work and professional expertise has gone into preparing this planning application and we are delighted to have now submitted it to the Highland Council.
“Throughout the process we have focused on how best to address the environmental concerns that have been raised previously. With the help of our expert consultants, I believe we have met the challenge of creating a great golf course within the constraints imposed by the public inquiry’s findings.
“We firmly believe our application will restore and sustainably protect the site, while also creating lasting economic benefits and new opportunities for our area.
“We look forward to hearing from the Highland Council in due course.”
C4C has secured the commitment from the world-renowned course developer and environmentalist Mike Keiser to build the golf course, with the help of acclaimed golf designers Coore & Crenshaw, but they will only come on board after planning permission is received.
A community ballot held by C4C in June 2021 demonstrated a high level of local support for the plan, with a 44.4 per cent turn-out and a 69.2 per cent vote in favour.