The Scottish Government has called-in controversial plans to build a golf course on one of Scotland’s important and last remaining undeveloped dune systems, meaning they will make the final decision on whether the development can proceed. This move has been strongly welcomed by the Conservation Coalition of seven environmental charities, that is campaigning to save Coul Links in East Sutherland from the damaging development.
In their letter to The Highland Council, the Scottish Government said the decision to call-in the application, was “in view of the proposed development’s potential impact on nationally and internationally important natural heritage assets and the need for an appropriate understanding of the scale and degree of potential economic benefits arising from the proposal.”
An e-action has been taken by over 11,000 people asking Ministers to scrutinise the plans which The Highland Council voted to approve last December, despite strong public opposition to them, a recommendation for refusal by The Highland Council planning officers and an objection from NatureScot. Highland Councillors were split over the decision with six committee members voting to refuse the proposal, and eight deciding to go against the recommendation to approve it. Today’s decision means Ministers will consider the development plans and could refuse permission for the damaging proposal.
This is the second time in recent years that Coul Links has been threatened by golf course proposals. The previous plans were also supported by Highland Council before being called in by Ministers and ultimately refused in February 2020 after a lengthy public inquiry, due to the harm they posed to nature. The Conservation Coalition is incredibly concerned that the current plans have not addressed the environmental concerns raised at that inquiry and are as potentially damaging to the internationally protected site.
Rebekah Strong, Terrestrial Policy Manager from the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Safeguarding Coul Links will demonstrate that the Scottish Government is serious about protecting the wildlife of Scotland. In the face of the nature and climate emergency, we must prioritise the protection of fragile habitats and species for future generations.”
Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland said: “This is a crucial moment for Coul Links and is only right that Scottish Government is looking at the plans given the damage they could do to this protected place. We’re in the midst of a nature and climate emergency so protected places like this must be safe from the threat of inappropriate development.
“Over 11,000 people have urged Ministers to review these plans and we are very pleased that they will now be looked at afresh. The fate of this incredible place for nature is in their hands and we urge them to refuse permission to save Coul Links.”
Alistair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland said: “In a nature and climate emergency, we should not have to fight development proposals on legally protected sites, which should be refuges for our beleaguered wildlife. We welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to call in the application, and we look forward to this application being swiftly rejected.”
The Conservation Coalition is made up of Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.