Developers behind the proposed Coul Links major golf course proposal have welcomed the response from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to their planning application, and now believe there is a strong platform for taking forward a multi-million pound investment in East Sutherland that will generate numerous jobs.
SNH, the national statutory body for environmental oversight, has noted that large economic benefits would arise from the Coul Links proposal, echoing the overwhelming opinion of local communities around Embo and Dornoch, where the course will be created.
Developer Todd Warnock said: “We acknowledge that SNH has raised two specific objections and we welcome their spirit of partnership and co-operation. The first objection relates to dune habitats which we have discussed with SNH at length and Is captured in our Environmental Statement. This dialogue with SNH has been principally focused on loss of dune heath. The second objection calls for a much more detailed Recreation and Access Management Plan which we will be pleased to provide and we have already begun work in this respect. The narrowness of the objections now allows us to focus on the actions required in order to move forward.”
SNH also acknowledged the “creativity and commitment” of the developers “to mitigate and offset impacts” of the development and expressed a strong willingness to continue working together toward completion of the course.
As part of the proposed golf course plans, the current shooting of Special Protected Area wintering birds would cease within the entirety of Coul Links. The Coul Links team is formally calling upon the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and others to join in supporting these plans.
Mr Warnock continued: “Our exhaustive efforts in working with SNH to protect and improve the management of this extraordinary site have resulted in a very supportive response. Now, with the SNH response and a steadfast local consensus, it is time to come together. It is because we appreciate the concerns of some NGOs that we call on them to lessen their rhetoric and engage directly with us. Our long standing invitations to these organisations to actually visit the site and engage with us remain fully open.”
The developers also highlighted SNH’s positive approach to continue working with the Coul Links team should the proposal receive planning permission, and are looking forward to completing the Recreation and Access Management Plan and addressing the dune heath issue. They also look forward to continued working in partnership with The Highland Council, other statutory bodies and the local community to bring Coul Links forward.
Gail Ross MSP for Caithness, Sutherland Easter Ross, said: “I have discussed the project with many people across my constituency, especially those in the local area and listened to their views. I feel that the concerns that have been raised by individuals and organisations have been addressed and therefore I give my support to the project. It has the potential to be one of the most exciting opportunities for my constituency both economically and environmentally. Now that the SNH response is out and their two objections are narrow and addressable, I look forward to the project being successful at Highland Council Planning Committee."
Joan Bishop, Chair of Dornoch Area Community Interest Company said: “We are pleased by the SNH response. Certainly, this level of dune heath disruption when balanced against the significant economic benefits for the area, seems resolvable. We believe the developers have been unfairly criticised by some organisations and in our view, the SNH response confirms that.”
Local Councillor Jim McGillivray, an Embo resident, said: “SNH sees what we see, and that is an extraordinarily beautiful site without any meaningful environmental conservation or existing management to tackle invasive threats. We live next door and our residents walk Coul Links daily. Without the golf course and related site management, this site will continue to degrade via expansion of invasive species. This environmental commitment, combined with the economic benefits, is why Embo is so solidly in favour of the development.”
Notes to editors
Discussions on dune habitat with SNH focused principally on dune heath habitat. The developers are committed to full transplantation of this habitat as well as the addition of dune heath restoration to mitigate the disturbance. The Coul Links team has consulted with leading experts worldwide on dune heath translocation and are confident this habitat will be strengthened and expanded. This important work will be led by the highly experienced Project Manager, Chris Haspell, who is the former site manager of Castle Stuart Golf Course. Mr Haspell has a successful track record of dune heath translocation and expansion at Castle Stuart.
Bob Taylor, chief ecologist with lead consultant STRI, said: “We acknowledge SNH’s point that some dune heath will be lost in the short term but we believe our translocation plan, supplemented by additional dune heath restoration, will result in a larger and stronger dune heath habitat over time.”
The SNH response follows the developers’ recent public meetings held in Dornoch and Embo which received overwhelming public support. Over 220 people attended the public meetings with only 7 (< 3.5%) opposed. At the Embo meeting, over 100 people attended with not one expressing opposition.
All of the local golf clubs (Brora, Fortrose & Rosemarkie, Golspie, Royal Dornoch, Skibo, Wick, Bonar Bridge and Tain), Embo Trust, Dornoch Council, Dornoch Area Community Interest Company, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, VisitScotland, the University of Highlands and Islands Golf Programme, and the overwhelming majority of local citizens who attended the Coul Links (6) public consultation events, support this project.
Just last week, the owners of the Royal Golf Hotel, beside Royal Dornoch golf course, backed the Coul Links proposals and announced plans for a £1 million hotel extension as a result.