Inquiry to begin into Highland golf course development plans

A public inquiry into controversial plans for a golf course development in the north of Scotland is getting under way.

Councillors in the Highlands approved proposals for the Coul Links course and clubhouse at Embo in Dornoch in June last year, despite opposition from environmentalists and a recommendation by local authority officials that they refuse planning permission.

Project bosses say the plan will bring jobs and much-needed investment to the area.

Environmental and conservation organisations say the proposal could have a detrimental impact on wildlife (Alison Searl/RSPB Scotland/PA)

Scottish Ministers “called in” the application in August, saying it was right that a decision of national importance is taken at a national level.

An inquiry into whether the proposals should go ahead is set to begin at a hall in Clashmore, near Dornoch, on Tuesday.

It is expected to run for around four weeks and the hearings are open to members of the public.

Those behind the project, Coul Links Ltd, say the development of an 18-hole championship golf course and associated facilities has overwhelming support from local people.

But a coalition of environmental conservation organisations opposes the plans, saying the coastline involved is an important habitat for rare and endangered plants and birds and that the proposal could have a detrimental impact on its wildlife.

The environmental groups – RSPB Scotland, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) – say a number of experts will give evidence during the hearing on “why the internationally and nationally important wildlife site is completely unsuitable for a golf course”.

Aedán Smith, head of planning and development for RSPB Scotland, said: “We welcome the inquiry and the opportunity to submit expert evidence to set out exactly why Coul Links is the wrong place for these damaging proposals.

“Given the wildlife importance of the site these plans should never have been allowed to progress this far; we urge Scottish Ministers to ensure that this internationally important place for nature is saved from this inappropriate development and remains a special place for wildlife.”

The RSPB describe the area as an ‘internationally important place for nature’ (Alison Searl/RSPB Scotland/PA)

Jonny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said of Coul Links: “It’s a place that has both outstanding ecological value and a special wildness. It would be a national tragedy if it is lost to development.”

Speaking when the Scottish Government called in the application last year, developer Todd Warnock said there is a “compelling case to create a world class golf course in east Sutherland”.

He said: “The project has overwhelming support from local people. We thank them again for their help and encouragement and are sorry for them that there is a further delay in a process that has already taken more than three years.

“We have made our case consistently to anyone prepared to listen objectively and we look forward to doing so again with the independent Reporter.”