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Ramblers Scotland gears up for fresh fight against Coul Links golf course plan with launch of petition

By Caroline McMorran

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Ramblers Scotland is calling on the outdoors community to unite in a bid to block the renewed plan to build a championship golf course in East Sutherland.

A planning application was recently lodged to develop an 18-hole course on Coul Links, a coastal site near Embo and north of Dornoch.

And planning consent was recently granted for a £20 million Coul Links eco-hotel, which will be built only if the golf course plan goes ahead.

Coul Links.
Coul Links.

The walking charity says it is “shocked and extremely concerned” that developers Communities for Coul (C4C) have proceeded with the plan just three years after the Scottish Government blocked a similar application from private individuals on environmental grounds.

Ramblers Scotland has now launched a petition at www.ramblers.org.uk/CoulLinks against the controversial new bid.

Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said: “We are shocked and extremely concerned that Coul Links is again under threat, just three years after a very similar application was rejected at a public inquiry.

Brendan Paddy.
Brendan Paddy.

"In fact, it’s so similar that some documents have simply been re-submitted, including some dating back to 2017.

“I’m proud that thousands of people within Scotland’s conservation and outdoors communities united with many locals to save Coul Links last time around. Sadly we must once again send out a clear signal that the nation’s finest beauty spots aren’t up for sale to the highest bidder.

“Please sign our petition to fight this appalling plan and stand up for memorable, quiet places like Coul Links, before they’re lost forever.”

The organisation claims the latest plans would permanently transform Coul Links, harming the natural landscape, access and the experience for people trying to enjoy its tranquil dunes.

In its objection to planners, the charity will point out that the development would considerably reduce the amount of land the public can access.

It will highlight how the plan conflicts with many Scottish Government priorities and policies, including the new National Planning Framework 4, which aims to tackle the climate and nature crises.

A walking path at Coul Links.
A walking path at Coul Links.

Mr Paddy continued: "The previous application was condemned by concerned residents, visitors, conservation charities and outdoor recreation groups. A public inquiry in 2020 found that the harmful environmental impacts of that development outweighed the claimed socio-economic benefits."

Coul Links’ dunes run alongside the Loch Fleet basin. The site is a Special Protection Area for birds and designated under the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Part of the proposed course lies within Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest.

However C4C has said that the findings of the public inquiry had "enabled and guided" development of their fresh plans.

The organisation said environmental concerns raised at the public inquiry had been the key consideration in developing the new application.

C4C maintain 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.

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.

The group added that their plans amounted to a “major dune system restoration project, funded by a low-impact, world class golf course".

C4C spokesman Gordon Sutherland has previously said: "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."

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