Community group submits new planning application for Coul Links

  • Coul Links

    Representatives from local campaign group Communities 4 Coul, from left, Andy Stewart, Jimmy Yuill, Ginny Knox and Gordon Sutherland

Adam Lawrence
By Adam Lawrence

Local campaign group Communities for Coul (C4C) has submitted a new planning application to build a golf course at Coul Links, just north of Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands.

The previous application, submitted by developers Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock, was rejected by the Scottish government after a public enquiry in 2020, despite being overwhelmingly approved by the local council. The new application addresses the concerns raised at the enquiry, which, according to C4C, have been central in drawing up the plans.

They differ from the unsuccessful bid in a number of key aspects – including a 90 per cent reduction in the area of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) that would be developed. Down from 14.7 hectares (ha) to 1.5 ha (36.3 acres to 3.7 acres), it involves just 0.1% of the designated site. This is primarily because it is now intended that the fairways will be created in a centuries-old manner, by simply mowing the vegetation already there. This method of construction was successfully used at the Machrihanish Dunes course on Scotland’s Kintyre peninsula, and is the way that all of Scotland’s ancient links were created. Only at tees and greens will the natural vegetation be disturbed.

Other marked differences between the former plan and the new one include an 85 per cent reduction of the use of fertiliser, which will now be limited to the tees and greens only, and the use of 80 per cent less irrigation. Developing the course will also involve almost 30 per cent less construction traffic under C4C’s plans.

C4C say not enough is currently being done to protect the unique environmental features at Coul Links, which are rapidly being destroyed by the spread of invasive species, reducing the distinctiveness and biodiversity of the dune system.

And they are confident a world-class golf course on the site would provide the funding, expertise, machinery, personnel and motivation required for the long-term management of biodiversity within the dunes.

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

As well as providing for the long-term protection of the environment, C4C said the development would economically transform the area, creating many new jobs for local people and further enhancing the reputation of the region as a world-class destination for golfers.

Read more: Coul Links project resurfaces with submission of scoping application (March 2022)

C4C director Gordon Sutherland said: “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. We look forward to hearing from the Highland Council in due course.”

C4C has secured the commitment from the world-renowned course developer and environmentalist Mike Keiser to build the golf course, with the help of acclaimed golf designers Coore & Crenshaw, but they will only come on board after planning permission is received.