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MSP seeks assurances on golf course proposal

By SPP Reporter

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John Finnie - lodged three questions.
John Finnie - lodged three questions.

GREEN party Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has lodged three questions with the Scottish Government in connection with the proposed 18-hole championship golf course at Coul Links near Embo.

He submitted them last Friday in the same week the developers met with the public to explain their plans.

Mr Finnie asks whether Scottish Ministers will call in any future planning application for a golf course at Coul Links for their determination, and what its position is on this matter. Also whether the Government considers that Scottish Ministers’ decision to call-in for determination, consideration of, and their subsequent decision to grant, planning consent for the Trump International Golf Links Scotland development in Aberdeenshire, sets a precedent for the consideration of any future planning application at Coul Links and what the reasons are for its position on this matter.

Finally he asks what discussions the Government has had, or plans to have, with the developers of the proposed golf course and what its position is on this matter.

Answers are expected on September 29.

Last week, people were invited to meet the developers Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock, as well as Bill Coore, course designer, at meetings in Dornoch and Embo, in the latest of a series of public consultation events.

Key areas of focus included ecology, transportation, economic impact, and the ongoing environmental studies and approach to a forthcoming planning application.

Both well attended events ensured the Highland communities were provided with a factual basis on these issues, the current status of the proposals, and clarity on a number of what they call inaccurate statements circulating in the public domain.

The two gatherings attracted more than 250 members of the public, with the vast majority of attendees expressing support for the proposals – 73 per cent who filled in response forms were in favour with 80 per cent of those living in the Embo area replying positively.

The developers explained that the proposals will provide opportunities to collaborate with the East Sutherland tourism network and will seek to attract and retain golf tourists to the area.

The proposals, they say, are being sensitively developed in the context of the environmental designations in the area.

Detailed studies are ongoing, the results of which will be reported in the Environmental Statement that will accompany the planning application.

They emphasised that:

n The developers do not, and never will be, proposing or building a hotel associated with the course.

n There are no proposals nor intention for associated residential development.

n The site can only accommodate one 18-hole course, and there is no aspiration to bring forward additional proposals at Coul Links.

n The approach is to deliver a natural links course that will stand the test of time with minimal intervention into the landscape and environment, and capitalising on the natural features of the site.

n The Coul Links land ownership (within which the course is proposed) encompasses 400 acres within the SSSI designation.

n The course proposals currently envisage approximately 75 acres of turfed ground to be required to deliver the layout.

n Of this 75 acres, less than 55 acres are within the boundary of the SSSI.

n The course can be constructed from materials on the site and do not require any imported soil or sand.

n Within the site, and within the SSSI, there are significant habitat remediation and restoration proposals including 17 acres of former timber plantation within the SSSI, and site-wide additional invasive species remediation and marram grass replanting.

The proposals still remain in development and the developers say they are committed to working closely with the Highland Council, statutory consultees and the local community as the detail emerges. There will be further opportunities for them to continue the dialogue and view the finalised plans prior to submission of the detailed planning application.

Mr Keiser, developer and owner of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon, said: “Our golf course developments aim for minimal intrusion on the landscape and the utmost care and respect for the environment. Our team of environmental advisors is ensuring complete sensitivity to the land, and its location.”

Mr Keiser’s developments in Bandon and Inverness, Nova Scotia, have transformed local communities in terms of restoring the local economy.

This week, the developers also spoke of their hopes to negotiate to purchase another tranche of land adjacent to the course to be used as a public park and community area; and to transform a current Coul Farm building into a bothy for walkers, with tourist information available – another bothy mirroring it will be created nearer Dornoch.

All three developers said they genuinely believed that they could deliver economic growth and satisfy those concerned about the effects on conservation and ecology.

Mr Coore has said that in the 30 years of course development, Coul Links is the most impressive he has ever considered.

To find out details relating to the proposals visit www.coullinks.com

n As reported in the NT last week, a group of four conservation groups – Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Buglife and Plantlife – said they had written to the developers urging them to think again about the whole project. But yesterday the developers said: “We confirm that we have not received any correspondence nor had any other contact from ‘the partnership’.”

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