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Politicians join forces to urge Scottish Government to support Coul Links golf course development

By Ali Morrison

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A CROSS-party group of Highland politicians has backed a proposed world-class golf course at Coul Links, near Embo.

The plans, developed by the community-led group Communities for Coul (C4C) and approved by Highland Council’s North Planning Applications Committee in December, were referred to Scottish Ministers for a final decision last week.

Beautiful Embo beach lies alongside Coul Links. Picture: Adobe Stock Images
Beautiful Embo beach lies alongside Coul Links. Picture: Adobe Stock Images

Local Lib Dem MP, Jamie Stone, former SNP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Fergus Ewing MSP, Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP, and Conservative MSPs Edward Mountain and Jamie Halcro Johnston, have urged ministers to allow the project to go ahead as the only way to "save Coul Links".

In a joint letter to the Scottish Government, they highlighted the significant economic and environmental benefits of the project and the evidence of strong local support for it.


Communities for Coul 'disappointed' over decision by Scottish Government to review Coul Links planning application

Conservation Coalition welcomes Scottish Government's decision to call in Coul Links golf course application

Under C4C’s plans, which are expected to create hundreds of new jobs, more than half a million pounds of private funding would be used over the first five years to restore and protect a unique area of sand dune habitat from destruction by invasive species.

The work, to be carried out under the guidance of NatureScot, would cover an area of 317 hectares (ha), more than 21 times the 14.7ha occupied by the golf course within the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Mr Stone said: “As Highland politicians representing the four main political parties in Scotland, we have come together to send a very strong message to ministers, setting out our firm belief that this development is not only vital to the local economy but is also the only realistic proposal to save Coul Links.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Jamie Stone.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Jamie Stone.

“NatureScot’s already limited budget is under more pressure than ever before. The remarkable opportunity to combine their expertise with very significant private funding and resources to restore and protect the entire area for future generations, should be jumped at.

“This is an exciting project that will provide a much-needed, lasting boost to the fortunes of an area beset by spiralling socio-economic challenges and secure the future of a unique area of natural habitat.”

In their letter, the Highland politicians challenged conservation organisations behind a nationwide campaign against the plans, claiming the groups had “entirely misrepresented the facts and shown no interest in doing anything positive to restore Coul Links, boost the economy, or respect the interests and settled will of local people”.

Mr Ewing said: “The community-led plan will restore the dunes to their former glory. It has the support of the local council and will transform the prospects for this part of the Highlands. It’s of national economic significance.

Fergus Ewing MSP. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Fergus Ewing MSP. Picture: Callum Mackay..

“This is a totemic issue: will the Scottish Government throw its full support behind the "Highland David" against the "Goliath" of wealthy metropolitan pressure groups?

“Should it fail, the precious environment, already in an "unfavourable" condition according to NatureScot, will degrade even further. That would be to betray the Highland people; trample on local democracy, and kowtow to powerful pressure groups which, though amongst the wealthiest in Europe, invest nothing whatsoever in the local area and couldn’t care less for the Highland people.”

An economic impact study carried out by leading economist and adviser to the Scottish Government, Professor David Bell, forecast the estimated £50million private investment in the Coul Links development would lead to the creation of up to 400 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs and generate around £12million a year for the economy.

Professor David Bell.
Professor David Bell.

Ms Grant said: “This development would provide much-needed local jobs, create an unparalleled destination for golfers while restoring the SSSI and ensuring its future protection.

Rhoda Grant.
Rhoda Grant.

“This would give NatureScot a huge opportunity to guide restoration work that would protect 317ha of the SSSI, which is currently being degraded by the spread of invasive species across the site.

“This move is a game changer and provides the reassurance needed by those opposed to the development.”

Mr Mountain said: “It is clear that local people support this proposal. For the Scottish Government to get involved for a second time and to refuse this application would be a mistake.

Edward Mountain MSP.
Edward Mountain MSP.

“This proposal would protect the environment and create jobs and I don’t see what there is not to like about it.”

C4C director Gordon Sutherland welcomed the politicians' support.

He said: “Since Highland Council approved our community-led group’s plans, ministers have received thousands of letters from members of wealthy national organisations from around the UK asking them to call the application in.

“We believe that in orchestrating this campaign the so-called ‘Conservation Coalition’ has entirely misrepresented the facts of this development and ignored the proven views of the clear majority of local people. They have also shown no interest in doing anything positive to restore Coul Links.

“Five Highland politicians from different parties have very clearly and factually set out why they believe it is vital for ministers to look beyond serial misapprehensions repeatedly peddled by these bodies. We warmly welcome their support for our project, for our area and for its unique environment and hope ministers will heed the vitally important facts they have set out.”

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