The Scottish Government has refused planning permission for the development of the Coul Links golf course, a design by Coore & Crenshaw on dunes near Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands. Ministers endorsed the findings of the appointed reporters that there would be the potential for ‘significant adverse effects’ to the local environment.
The inquiry undertaken by David Liddell and Timothy Brian, the appointed reporters for the application, found that the proposed development would be likely to damage the system of sand dune habitats at the site. This would be as a result of the losses of dune juniper and the effects from disturbance, fragmentation and uncertainty as to the effects on the water environment.
The reporters also concluded that the Coul Links course would negatively impact local wintering and breeding birds due to the subsequent disturbance and habitat loss. This differs from the findings made by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which had withdrawn a previous objection following the proposal of several mitigating measures in a Breeding Bird Protection Plan. The reporters stated that they had been able to examine extensive additional evidence which SNH had not had access to when withdrawing its complaint, and that they had made their conclusion based upon this evidence.
The report also found that there was the potential for the development to have an adverse effect on the local invertebrate population, highlighting the ‘unusually rich assemblage of butterflies and moths’ in the area.
“We are extremely relieved and delighted by this decision which demonstrates the high value that Scottish Ministers place on our fantastic and incredibly diverse wildlife in Scotland,” said Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland. “There are many more suitable places to build a golf course and we would welcome the opportunity to work with the developers to find a genuinely sustainable alternative.”
“We are delighted with the Scottish Government’s decision to save Coul Links,” said Jo Pike, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. “Ultimately, it remains surprising that plans for development in one of the most protected areas in the country were allowed to go this far. We hope this decision will act as a clear signal that protected sites should be just that, protected.”
While the inquiry acknowledged that the construction of the course was likely to create a significant economic benefit, would allow many more people to enjoy the site and had received widespread local support, it was concluded that the proposed development would not be of national economic significance. It was therefore considered that the positive economic impact of the course did not outweigh the potential for environmental damage.
While the process for planning permission does allow for an appeal to be made against the Scottish ministers’ decision at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, sources close to the project suggested that this was unlikely to be pursued.
Coul Links had previously been approved for development by the Highland Council’s planning committee, before Scottish ministers called in the application for additional scrutiny. At the time, the committee’s chairwoman Maxine Smith said: “Members came to the conclusion that the social impact and economic generation outweighed the detrimental effects that the development would have on the plant and insect life of the sand dunes. Tourism is massive in the Highlands and we need to encourage that and not turn it away.”