Highlands & Islands

Controversial Coul Links golf project called in

Coul Links Image copyright Craig Allardyce
Image caption Part of the course has been planned for an area of dune habitat

Scottish ministers are to scrutinise plans for an 18-hole championship course in the Highlands.

About 32 acres (13 ha) of the planned course would be built on dunes at Coul Links, near Dornoch.

Councillors voted to give the go-ahead to the development despite officials recommending that it be rejected. Conservation groups oppose the plans.

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart said it was the "right decision" to call-in the planning application.

He said: "I have called in the application as the proposal raises issues of national importance in relation to natural heritage issues and its compliance with Scottish planning policy and requires further scrutiny.

"It is right that the decision is taken at the national level."

'Specific merits'

Mr Stewart added: "As this is a live application, ministers cannot comment on the specific merits of the proposal.

"An independent reporter will now consider all the evidence relating to this case and provide a recommendation to ministers who will make the final decision."

The proposal also includes a clubhouse, the renovation of existing buildings to form a maintenance facility, along with a pro shop, caddy hut, workshop, administration building and information booth.

Scottish Natural Heritage had an objection to the project.

Scottish ministers only intervene in the planning process in "very exceptional circumstances and where issues of genuine national importance arise".

The developers behind the project argue that the golf course would improve and protect the area of land involved, and bring much-needed jobs to the area.

Delays project

A group of conservation charities opposed to the project, including RSPB Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, has welcomed the ministers' decision.

Aedán Smith, of RSPB Scotland, said: "Planning decisions should be made at the most appropriate level for the issues raised.

"That will normally be through consideration by a local planning authority.

"However, given the damage that would be caused by this proposal, not only to internationally important wildlife and habitats but also to Scotland's international reputation for environmental stewardship, it is only right that this decision be decided at a national level."

Coul Links developer Todd Warnock said that while the decision delayed "bringing significant economic and environmental benefits" to east Sutherland, he welcomed the opportunity to set out again the "compelling case" to create a world-class golf course.

He said: "Highland Council's north planning applications committee, as the competent planning authority, took an emphatic decision in June and, apart from a single narrow objection from Scottish Natural Heritage, the statutory bodies involved are not opposed to the plans after a comprehensive assessment.

"The project also has overwhelming support from local people."

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