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by Jenni Davidson
21 February 2020
Planning permission refused for controversial Coul Links golf course

Kevin Stewart - Image credit: Scottish Government

Planning permission refused for controversial Coul Links golf course

Planning permission for the controversial development of a golf course at Coul Links in the Highlands has been refused by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government reporter concluded that the golf course development would have a “significant adverse impact” on sand dune habitats, wintering and breeding birds, and butterflies and moths.

Permission had originally been granted by Highland Council for the course at Embo, near Dornoch, but it was called in for review by the Scottish Government due to the scientifically sensitive nature of the site.

Parts of the 36-acre site are on protected environmentally sensitive areas, including the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area (SPA), Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site and is adjacent to the proposed Moray Firth SPA.

It is an important area both for water birds and ospreys.

Commenting on the decision to refuse planning permission, Planning Minister Kevin Stewart said: “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.”

Scottish Labour environment, climate change and land reform spokesperson Claudia Beamish backed the decision.

She said: “Scottish Labour welcomes the decision by the Scottish Government to protect Coul Links and its incredible diversity.

“Given the climate and emergency and biodiversity crisis Scotland faces, it is right that the Scottish Government gives due regard to this special area’s international protections and its global importance as a Ramsar wetland site.

“In the Year of Coasts and Waters, I urge the Scottish Government to focus efforts on eco-tourism opportunities that support our coastal communities and conserve and enhance our precious marine environments.”

The decision was also backed by the Scottish Greens’ Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie said: “I am absolutely delighted that this ill thought out and unsuitable application has been rejected.

“It seems the Scottish Government has learned the lesson from the disastrous decision to grant permission for Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire after all.

“Coul Links is a spectacular site of environmental significance and has several important international designations.

“I welcome the fact that ministers have made clear that post-Brexit they will seek to maintain high environmental standards, they can be assured that Greens will continue to keep them under scrutiny in that regard in the long term.

“It’s important that the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise now look at how they can deliver long term, sustainable and well-paid work for the people of Sutherland, without threatening its precious environment.”

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