Press & Journal, 26 January 2021
'Controversial golf course plans could be back on as campaign group calls refusal "grave disservice" to area':
To: Highland Council & Scottish Government
Save COUL LINKS protected nature from destructive Déjà Vu Groundhog Day Golf Course
Prevent destruction of beautiful, protected & internationally important dune habitats from golf course development.
Why is this important?
On 26 July 2020 (!), a new screening request, as a preliminary hurdle to scoping and a full planning application, was submitted to The Highland Council Planning (validated 4 September) for an 18-hole golf course, largely on Coul Links sand dunes within Loch Fleet and Dornoch Firth Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar international wetland. A further small par 3 course (14 holes) is proposed for adjacent non-SSSI higher land (raised beach) immediately north of Embo. That area was extensively burnt back in March 2020, also damaging non-SSSI dune grassland which supports a nationally important colony of northern brown argus butterfly.
Details of the larger course layout are the same Bill Coore design as in the previous Coul Links Ltd Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock application, with its bogus claims about improvements to site condition repeated, ignoring landowner neglect. I described some of the damage in the earlier petition (linked at the foot of this page), that was adopted by the Not Coul local opposition group of the green armchair logo (website in preparation). That application was refused by The Scottish Government in February 2020, following a Local Public Inquiry, after it had been approved by all but one councillor (plus one abstainer) on the Highland Council Planning Committee. Government agency NatureScot (previously SNH) has expressed similar serious concerns to before.
The present applicant is a local councillor, acting ostensibly on behalf of a 'dormant' junior football club. The application Appendix reveals Covid19 and Brexit uncertainties being levered for economic opportunism and states, “Should this application be progressed, it will be submitted by a consortium of community groups local to the East Sutherland region”. There is no mention of ecocide: the extensive habitat loss from golf course construction and golf management, reduction and loss of species dependent on special habitats and each other, coastal erosion exacerbated by weakened natural sea defences, or the waste of resources repeating unnecessary Public Inquiries, should the application gain traction (money that could be spent on conservation).
The fear is that the current screening request may be a Trojan or stalking horse for the previous Coul Links Ltd consortium, which included The Embo Trust as an intended shareholder. The councillor sits on nearly all the powerful local committees and was chairman of Embo Trust until January 2020, when he resigned from the trust. Although a charity, its website seems to have become private. Concerning his lobbying of the earlier planning application: in his Coul Links article in The Crofter journal, November 2017 he described ‘those of an environmental persuasion’ as ‘Armchair Environmentalists’ and invited comments to Highland Council (providing its planning reference) from those that agreed with him; as quoted in The Press & Journal, he expressed his ignorance of habitat loss as “Cars and cats kill more birds than golfers”; and he edited (cut and pasted) and circulated misleading press letters to all Highland Council Planning Committee, removing some blatant nonsense, like a winter duck fecundity theory gaffe: "There is shooting of wild fowl in the key winter breeding period – why have RSPB and others allowed this to carry on for years?" (sic.). At hypocritical odds with minority golf ambitions were Embo Trust’s Article of Association no. 4.5 principles: "To advance environmental protection or improvement including preservation and conservation of the natural environment, the promotion of sustainable development, the maintenance, improvement or provision of environmental amenities for the community”.
The Scottish Government decision about the previous application followed recommendation by Highland Council’s Planning Officer to refuse; a total of 1864 planning objections, including from government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot); a protracted campaign (since October 2015) by many leading conservation charities (led by RSPB); an earlier Wembley Stadium capacity 38Degrees petition (now closed); and a month-long Public Inquiry, officiated by The Planning and Environmental Appeals Division of The Scottish Government, with production of a detailed DPEA Report recommending refusal.
Scotland’s Planning Minister Kevin Stewart summarised in February 2020:
“Reporters have concluded that the harmful impacts of this development to protected habitats and species would outweigh the potential socio-economic benefits. This proposal does not comply with the relevant provisions of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan and runs contrary to Scottish planning policy’s emphasis on protecting natural heritage sites and world class environmental assets. The Scottish Government has considered the reporter’s findings carefully and agree with the recommendation that planning permission should be refused”.
If you agree with Scotland's Planning Minister please sign this petition.
Joint Nature Conservation Committee information
Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site:
"The sand dune, saltmarsh and estuary habitats are of international importance for their flora and geomorphology."
Highland Council Planning Reference 20/02820/SCRE:
DPEA Coul Links Public Inquiry webcasts February & March 2019:
Informative website by golfer:
SOME SPECIAL WILDLIFE:
'Community group' website greenwash:
How it will be delivered
By email to Highland Council Planning as an objection and then, if the planning application gains traction, by email to Scottish Government.