30 September 2022
On 26 September, via its website, Communities for Coul reported that its funding target has been reached. C4C is observing a duty of confidentiality to its generous individual and corporate donors.
Although Communities for Coul claims that the questions asked at the Coul Links Consultative Webinar have now been answered, (see https://www.communities4coul.scot/planning-latest/ ), those questions that do not fit their narrative appear to have been ignored. Perhaps questionable whether this policy fulfils the public consultation requirement of the planning process.
3 September 2022
Communities for Coul invited questions that would be addressed during the public consultation Zoom session on 30th August. Amongst the submitted questions that they chose not to answer during the session was the following:
"The Communities for Coul website page titled Environmental Stewardship https://www.communities4coul.scot/environmental-stewardship/ states that 'the area of tees, greens, fairways and walkways within the SSSI in the new proposal ... is now less than 1% of the Loch Fleet SSSI'. This claim is repeated on the New Course Design page.
The NatureScot site link to the Loch Fleet SSSI https://sitelink.nature.scot/site/984 gives the Documented Area of the SSSI as 1,231.77 hectares. 'Less than 1% of the Loch Fleet SSSI' would be a maximum of 12.31 hectares.
The American Society of Golf Course Architects website https://asgca.org/faq-how-much-land-do-i-need-to-build-a-golf-course/ suggests that a typical par 4 hole of 400 yards will take up to 10.4 acres - the equivalent of 4.2 hectares. Therefore 1% of the SSSI would accommodate three 400 yard par 4 holes, perhaps four if fairways are 'broken up into two or more pieces' as stated on the C4C New Course Design page.
Why do you persist with the 18-hole-golf-course-on-1%-of-the-Loch-Fleet-SSSI claim when it is so clearly misleading that it risks undermining the credibility of any other conceivably valid data you might present? And what is the real percentage of the Loch Fleet SSSI Documented Area that would be taken up by the area in play and connecting walkways of the proposed golf course?"
No doubt answers to this and all the questions submitted in advance of the Zoom public consultation session will be published in a timely manner.
14 August 2022
The Zoom session that is scheduled to be the second part of Communities for Coul's public consultation is now set for 6pm on 30th August. Details for how to register in advance of the session are available at https://www.communities4coul.scot/planning-latest/
26 July 2022
Campaign group NotCoul has relaunched its website in advance of tomorrow's public consultation event in Embo. https://notcoul.org
18 July 2022
On its facebook page, Communities for Coul has published the view that its chosen developer's plans for newly-acquired Castle Stuart (now Cabot Highlands) golf course will have "a significant negative economic impact on the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth". Therefore, Coul Links, to be built by the same developer, is needed as a counterbalance to prevent "very bad news". https://www.facebook.com/Communities4Coul/
8 July 2022
A coalition of environmental charities (Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, The National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and The Scottish Wildlife Trust) has issued a release declaring opposition to revived Coul Links golf course plans https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/coullinks2022/ The story has been picked up by national media outlets (see links lower on this page).
8 July 2022
The Press and Journal reports an interview with Coul links landowner Edward Abel Smith who "has plans for a £20 million eco hotel overlooking the proposed development". Mr Abel Smith positions the golf course as a locally-led project but explains that the planning system "favours the wealthy". If this is the case, he and billionaire would-be Coul Links developer Mike Keiser have reason to be confident that their golf course and hotel will be built.
27 June 2022
The Press and Journal reports that Castle Stuart golf course has been acquired by a Canadian company, Cabot, associated with would-be Coul Links developer Mike Keiser. A second course is planned along with luxury accommodation for visiting guests. Tom Doak is reported to be lined up to design the new course. Perhaps Castle Stuart will serve as the ready-made first piece of a Highland golf coast destination, with courses at NIgg and Coul Links in prospect.
24 June 2022
On 19 June, Communities for Coul Ltd through its agent Ness Planning submitted a Proposal of Planning Application Notice (22/02800/PAN) to The Highland Council. Public consultation on the revived golf course proposal in the form of a "drop-in session" is scheduled for 27 July at the Community Centre in Embo. See https://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=RDVK6QIH0HZ00
6 April 2022
On 5 April, Scotland's nature agency NatureScot published its plan for the next four years, the priorities being to protect, restore and value nature. Available at https://www.nature.scot/doc/corporate-plan-2022-2026-nature-rich-future-all
The NatureScot website reports Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater as saying, "The Scottish Government has been working closely with NatureScot to develop this plan, which presents a sharp focus on restoring and protecting Scotland's natural environment to deliver 'a nature rich future for all'".
The published plan states that the first priority over the next four years is "Protecting Nature by expanding protected areas, regulating species management, and delivering effective planning advice on land and at sea".
How this plan might allow NatureScot and the Scottish Government to accommodate a golf course on a Site of Special Scientific Interest adjoining a National Nature Reserve remains to be seen.
1 April 2022
Website communities4coul.scot gives an optimistic timeline for the Coul Links project. "With internationally renowned course developer and environmentalist, Mike Keiser and the acclaimed architecture of Coore & Crenshaw, Communities for Coul aims to file a planning application in 2022 and start work on the project in 2023." However, billionaire involvement seems to be back seat at this stage as Communities for Coul is appealing for crowdfunding to raise £150,000, "To help meet the costs of the various detailed environmental and economic studies and other expert support we need". If an incentive is needed, for a donation of £100 an "exciting" golf hat is on offer. At a future date it may be possible that hats will be on offer from local charity shops for a more modest though worthwhile donation.
25 March 2022
Prospective developer Communities For Coul has submitted a scoping application to The Highland Council for a golf course at Coul Links. In a Facebook announcement they declare that "this is now an environmental project with a golf course at its heart".
16 October 2021
As COP26, The UN Climiate Change Conference, approaches, a timely reminder from Business Insider of the impact of a golf course development on an environmentally sensitive (and protected) Scottish dune system. https://www.businessinsider.com/photos-trump-luxury-golf-course-wrecked-scotland-sand-dune-system-2021-10?amp
As Donald Trump said of Foveran Links in Aberdeenshire, "This will be environmentally better after it is built than it is before". The section of Foveran Links that hosts the golf course has lost its Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status as it has been irreparably damaged. Trump's Scottish golf courses have never reported a profit. Extravagant promises of local jobs have never materialised.
4 September 2021
As part of the Scottish Governments's Dynamic Coast project, funded by the Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW), the University of Glasgow has developed new maps to serve as a coastal change adaptation planning tool for government agencies, local authorities as well as communities and businesses.
Phase 2 of the project adds a climate change layer to projections of national coastal change producing a more realistic picture of Scotland's future coastline.
Net Zero Secretary MIchael Matheson said, "I welcome the publication of Dynamic Coast 2 which shows us that at least £20 billion of assets, road, rail and residential property lie within 50 metres of our coast. With nature protecting some £14.5 billion of these assets, maintaining our natural coastal defences must be a key part of our resilience and adaptation strategies.
"We are already locked into future sea level rise and therefore we must plan for the worst case scenario on the coast. Modelling suggests however that we will see erosion influencing the majority of shores this decade."
On 27th August 2021, the Dynamic Coast project published a report on one of its key study areas, the coast between Golspie and Embo that includes Coul Links. The projections map extensive areas of coastal flooding in the dune interior where the Coore & Crenshaw golf course layout was routed. Even more catastrophic for golf course assets is the forecast that this century will see the dune edge retreat inland by up to 93 metres.
Paragraph 5 of the report's Executive Summary concludes that:
"The present high and quickening rates of erosion at Golspie and Coul, illustrate the present and near-future coastal and land management issues increasingly being grappled with around the world. The high rates of erosion mean that terrestrial land-use planning must avoid additional development in areas of future risk and safeguard the accommodation space (i.e. the area where the beach system is expected to move inland), maximising future adaptation options for coastal community and planners, to maintain societal resilience as coastal climate change impacts intensify."
16 June 2021
Having long claimed overwhelming local support for their plans to build a golf course at Coul Links, Communities for Coul announce that their ballot of East Sutherland registered voters produced a "resounding YES!'. 69.2% of the votes cast were in favour and Communities for Coul has declared this to be the mandate for a new planning application.
The ballot attracted a 44.4% turnout and is described in the C4C Facebook page as "an unequivocal result in favour". Opponents might take heart from the fact that overwhelming local support consisted of 73% of the Brora electorate opposed or indifferent; 71% of the Golspie electorate opposed or indifferent; 63% of the Dornoch electorate opposed or indifferent and 57% of the Embo electorate opposed or declined to vote. Any opposing views were excluded from ballot literature.
9 June 2021
Two days remain to vote in the Communities for Coul ballot. A sample ballot paper and accompanying letter explaining the reason for the ballot can be viewed in pdf format lower on this page (Home page). It is unclear how the letter could meet any standards of impartiality that would normally be expected to give a ballot credibility.
2 June 2021
Communities for Coul has published answers to questions submitted during their 'Town Hall' Zoom meetings. Why more of the questions were not answered during the meetings and some questions were edited is not explained. See list of questions and answers at
27 May 2021
The fourth and final Communities for Coul 'Town Hall' Zoom meeting continued in the same vein as editions one to three. A meeting fronted by a highly partisam Chairperson. Questions from attendees edited to avoid the issue raised. A meeting closing early as no further questions acknowledged.
The commitment that any questions that there was not time to answer live would be followed up directly by email has not been honoured. Answers are still due to questions asked a week earlier. Communities for Coul appears intent on avoiding any questioning that tests its narrative. How can the public make an informed yes or no decision in the imminent ballot that Communities for Coul has declared will provide it with a mandate?
25 May 2021
The third Communities for Coul 'Town Hall' meeting, on the 24th with the focus on Embo, appeared to be another exercise in avoiding scrutiny. Some questions from the public were edited. The meeting was closed early due to no further questions being asked by the public when in reality several questions from attendees were awaiting answers.
23 May 2021
May 18th and 19th saw Coul Links golf course proponents Communities for Coul conduct the first two of four 'Town Hall' meetings on Zoom. The first meeting focused on the projected financial benefits for Golspie; the second on the benefits for Brora. C4C has not published the number of attendees.
Presentations by directors of C4C were followed by question and answer sessions. The Golspie meeting drew few questions from attendees. The Brora meeting was rather different. There was no time available for at least 2 genuine questions that Zoom registered from those attending. The Q&A session was competely taken up by 8 unattributed questions that were very sympathetic and drew well rehearsed answers. Presumably the host merely relayed material she was fed by the C4C director controlling the Zoom meeting. Answers to the genuine and unchallenging questions posted by attendees are still awaited.
23 May 2021
Communities for Coul has commissioned Civica Electoral Services to run a ballot from 28th May to 11th June asking the residents of IV25, KW9 and KW10 for their support for a golf course at Coul Links. A yes vote is to be used as C4C's mandate to make a planning application on behalf of the community. Whether a referendum has any validity when any dissenting voices have been given no forum or opportunity to present their views is open to question.
29 April 2021
It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the directors of Communities For Coul have announced that MIke Keiser, the developer behind the initial Coul Links application, has been "selected" to build the golf course. The Northern Times reports that Mr Keiser has agreed to fund and build the course should planning consent be granted. In return the "community" will be given a seat on the board. What the community might be and who would perhaps self-select to represent it is not made clear. The source of funding and the designer "selected" for the proposed Calzean Dunes course at NIgg are yet to be announced.
25 April 2021
STRI (agent for the failed first attempt to build a golf course on Coul Links) has submitted a scoping application on behalf of the proposed NIgg golf course development. The project is titled Calzean Dunes. Alba Ecology, also involved in the first Coul Links proposal, is providing natural heritage input.
Given the previous involvement of the agent, STRI, in the Coul Links project and the use of the word "Dunes" in the course name being something of a MIke Keiser signifier, is it too fanciful to imagine that Calzean Dunes is perhaps a revised first piece in the jigsaw of a Mike Keiser devised golf coast? Nigg is very likely to be a less contentious piece than Coul Links proved; an achievable project while Coul Links continues to be quietly pursued by proxy as the second piece in the jigsaw. Perhaps the course layout shown in the submitted masterplan is not simply indicative. Perhaps it is a fully mapped naturalistic layout in the style of, say, Tom Doak. Time will tell but if Mr Keiser and a designer of the calibre of Mr Doak were to be involved the already persuasive marketing story of a lost golf course revived becomes a certain success.
25 March 2021
The Press & Journal reports that a scoping request to The Highland Council is imminent for a golf course on the site of the historic Castlecraig Golf Club at Nigg. Though it is a rare Scottish example of a 'climbing dune' system, the site has no major environmental designations so the hurdle to overcome will be the current zoning of some of the land for industrial/storage use rather than the extreme sensitivity to environmental damage present at Coul Links.
24 March 2021
On 22nd March, the eve of the anniversary of a fire on Coul Links and the day that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service announced it was escalating its wildfire warning from "very high risk" to "extreme risk", Invergordon Fire Station tweeted that one of its tenders had been called to a wildfire at the north end of Coul Links. The Fire and Rescue Service reported that "an area of grass approximately 1,000 square metres was burnt by the fire which is an area of special scientific interest".
18 February 2021
In its weekly email, From the Manager's Office, circulated on 12 February, Brora Golf Club, through the club President, declared that it will be supporting the Coul Links development. This decision was reached "after a discussion amongst committee" (presumably minuted given that they are advocating the creation of what could well be a direct competitor rather than the "catalyst" touted by the previous developers). Club President Andy Stewart is also a director of Communities for Coul Limited. He brushes aside the high potential for a conflict of interests by simply stating that "everyone is aware of my dual role".
On 17 February, Brora Golf Club added a news page titled "Brora support for new Coul Links plans" to its website. (see link lower on page)
17 February 2021
By special resolution dated 20 January 2021, Communities for Coul Limited deleted its original articles of association and replaced them with a revised version. The new articles state that the company is not for profit and that the objects of the company are to carry on activities which benefit "the community". Specifcally, but not exclusively, this benefit will be the creation of local jobs through the construction of a golf course at Coul Links.
5 February 2021
The Press & Journal reports that Communities for Coul has reached an agreement with the owner of Coul Farm for the land to be leased to the community long-term, for a peppercorn rent, should (planning) permission be granted. It is unclear what is referred to by "the community". Communities for Coul is a private limited company.
2 February 2021
On 30 January, golf course within Coul Links opposition group Not Coul released a statement via Facebook concerning the groundless complaint to CIEEM (see news 23 January) designed to discredit Not Coul Chair Dr Tom Dargie. https://www.facebook.com/groups/266150027087512/
The complainant has responded via Twitter claiming that "my opinion was NOT judged as wrong" and that CIEEM operated a "very one sided process" (he also suggests that "Dr Dargie should respect the process").
28 January 2021
The Press & Journal is chosen by Coul Farm's owner to publicise his intention to build a hotel consisting of up to 20 lodges and a reception building at the farm overlooking the links. Mr Abel Smith is quoted as saying he "will be submitting a planning application for the first phase of the project imminently. However, we will not start any form of construction until Coul Links Golf Course is approved".
Mr Abel Smith describes the lodges, (the first phase will be 4 bedroom units), as "unobtrusive". The Press & Journal decribes the project as "A £20 million eco hotel" though Mr Abel Smith uses the term "eco-style", perhaps mindful that the credentials of an "eco" hotel might be somewhat compromised by the fact that a golf course in the dunes at Coul Links, on which the hotel would depend for guests, has been recognised at Public Inquiry as likely to cause permanent damage to a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The announcement of the hotel plan might help to explain the protracted nature of discussions NatureScot has had in reaching agreement with Mr Abel Smith on a management regime to protect the SSSI land in his ownership. Presumably Mr Abel Smith has kept NatureScot informed of his plans for a hotel, as it might create issues of drainage into the SSSI, and of the fact that the hotel is contingent upon the building of a golf course at Coul Links. A golf course now coincidentally proposed by Communities for Coul. Perhaps Mr Abel Smith and NatureScot will reach a management agreement that will be implemented until literally bulldozed in favour of a golf course. How much of NatureScot's time, and therefore taxpayers' money, has been wasted?
The Chairman of Communities for Coul is reported as saying that the eco hotel plan boosts the campaign for the golf course.
23 January 2021
On 6 September 2020, The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) received a complaint leveled against its member Dr Tom Dargie, one of the co-ordinators of NotCoul and lead on the Sand Dune Vegetation Survey of Scotland 1994-2000: National Report.
The complainant, from Dornoch, accused Dr Dargie of "Lack of judgement. Lack of objectivity. Serious gaps in knowledge. Lack of expertise when claiming otherwise. Little if any reflection when proven wrong." And claimed that "The result of the Inquiry is not relevant to my complaint, I simply wish to focus on the behaviour and actions of Dr Dargie relative to the CIEEM Code during the period under review" (2016-2020). The complainant included more than 100 individual instances of alleged misconduct.
On 8 December, The Preliminary Investigation Panel of the Professional Standards Committee of CIEEM delivered the finding that the investigation had found no evidence to suggest that Dr Dargie had breached the Code of Professional Conduct "and, in particular, no evidence of a lack of professional judgement or an absence of professional integrity". Not a single claim of alleged misconduct was found to be credible.
The complainant appealed. On 11 January 2021 the Panel found the appeal to be groundless, "the Panel independently and unanimously concluded that there was no new evidence on which to base an appeal". Total exoneration.
During the debate of the original golf course proposal including at Public inquiry, Dr Dargie's professional reputation was the target of sustained sniping. This complaint to a professional body sinks lower still. Most charitably this formal complaint might be viewed as a vexatious swipe from a sore loser. In the light of recent developments, it flirts with being seen as a cynical attempt to remove Dr Dargie from the field prior to a revived campaign to site a golf course within the SSSI at Coul Links.
22 January 2021
At https://www.communities4coul.scot a group of East Sutherland and Ross-Shire individuals serving as directors of Communities for Coul Limited (a private limited company incorporated on 18 January 2021) present a case for a golf course at Coul Links very similar to that explored at Public Inquiry with an amplified call for jobs for the young and much made of the deprivations caused by Covid19. That the pandemic, like terrorism in the past, has shown in stark relief the economic vulnerability created by a reliance on golf tourism is ignored.
Possibly the original developers strongest argument, that a Keiser/Coore/Crenshaw golf course piggybacking on the reputation of neighbouring Royal Dornoch Golf Club would build a viable golf tourism destination, is now abandoned. Is an invitation to tender aimed at "developers with the skill and sensitivity to create the world class golf course this special site warrants" going to convince as a cast-iron marketing certainty?
This re-skinned plan from Communities for Coul perhaps misses the pointers delivered by The Reporters and by Scottish Ministers. In the right hands, a brilliant, environmentally sensitive and marketable golf course at Coul Farm would be an asset to the local economy. As success would depend on attracting golf visitors away from other Scottish golf tourism hubs, a golf course at Coul may be of local economic benefit but could not be considered of national economic importance so would fail to overcome the restrictions placed on development within a site with the environmental protections Coul Links enjoys.
Have Covid/Brexit convincingly shifted the weight of economic advantage to outweigh the established environmental damage inherent in a golf course at Coul Links? If not, perhaps Communities for Coul might profitably depart from the insistence of Bill Coore that the course sits in the dunes or it sits nowhere. If a creatively marketed golf course on the slopes of Coul Farm were to be positioned as an ecologically harmonious neighbour to a visitor-friendly nature reserve within the SSSI, the year round influx of visitors to the area would dillute the current seasonality, be more diverse in demographic, interests and spend and be less vulnerable to international circumstance. The cause of more, better and reliable jobs for local young people deserves far more original thought to realise the potential of Coul than "let's repackage building on the dunes" again.
30 October 2020
In a letter published in The Northern Times (print edition), Councillor McGillivray returns to commending his efforts to revive plans for golf on Coul Links. The "three lines of investigation" he has followed "to see if there is any give in any part of the system" have met with discouraging results.
1. He has been assured that the original plan for the golf course cannot change because the international reputation of the designers will not permit this.
2. The Highland Council cannot accept another similar application for at least two years from refusal of the last application.
3. Scottish ministers will not review their decision.
As a councillor, Mr McGillivray would have been aware that the substantially similar golf proposal outlined in the Embo Junior Football & Athletic Club screening request that he submitted would not be considered by Highland Council planners. He would have been aware of the time and consequent expenditure that would have been required of Highland Council planning, SEPA and NatureScot in responding to his request.
In his letter, Councillor McGillivray also presents his council register of interests, a register that he has neglected to officially update this year. His list makes no mention of his Chairmanship of the Embo Junior Football & Athletic Club.
Meanwhile, a revivial of the golf course proposal cannot have made a positive contribution to NatureScot's efforts to conclude a management agreement with the owner of Coul Farm to ensure that further deterioration of the Coul Links habitats within the SSSI is halted.
20 October 2020
The Northern Times reports that The Highland Council Planning Team Leader has sent an email to Councillor McGillivray alerting him to discretionary powers available to the planning authority to refuse to deal with an application when a similar application has been refused permission within the previous two years and there has been no significant change to the relevant parts of the development plan since that decision.
The Northern Times quotes the email, "Having discussed the details of the proposal as noted in the screening request with our solicitor, I must advise that the planning authority would be in a position to consider use of such discretionary powers should an application be submitted within two years of the date of the previous application being refused by Scottish Ministers in February 2020."
16 October 2020
In a self-penned article published in The Northern Times on 9th October (no link available), Councillor McGillivray confirms that he "recently revived the Embo Junior Football and Athletic Cub (EJFAC), dormant for many years" and that "It has provided an initial vehicle to open up the discussion on Coul Links". The councillor submitted the screening request to the planning office naming the applicant as EJFAC.
There appears to be no requirement for The Highland Council to verify the legal status, or the existence beyond a name on a form, of an applicant making a screening request. Having, in his declared role as Chairman, signed the request on behalf of the club it might provide some confirmation of the club's credentials if the chairmanship of Embo Junior Football & Athletic Club were to be recorded in the councillor's register of interests. This current omission shouldn't be problematic if the club were to confine itself to acquiring floodlighting for junior sporting activities in Embo but isn't ideal if the chairman involves the club in the pre-submission screening process for a multi-million pound golf development. Doubtless updating the register takes time. Councillor McGillivray's chairmanship of Embo Trust (involved in the first Coul Links golf course planning application) is still recorded in his register of interests though he resigned in January 2020. After more than twelve years as a director, his resignation went unremarked in The Embo Trust public Facebook presence.
2 October 2020
The Northern Times reports Councillor McGillivray as saying, "I have had no personal contact with the original American investors since the spring and have no idea if they are still interested in funding any part of any Coul Links development". This begs the question by whose permission did Councillor McGillivray use the design work of Coore & Crenshaw in his screening request?
The same Northern Times article https://www.northern-times.co.uk/news/coul-links-course-in-the-frame-again-213744/ also reports Councillor McGillivray saying that the Embo Junior Football and Athletic Club (EJFAC) had been dormant for a considerable time but was being used "to provide an initial vehicle to open up the discussion on Coul Links". It must be assumed that the current management committee of this long-dormant club has sanctioned the involvement of their junior football and athletic club in what has the clear potential to be a contentious, lengthy, expensive and, if the conduct of the first Coul Links golf course proposal is repeated, acrimonious planning process.
Although EJFAC has been dormant, Chairman McGillivray has been able to satisfy The Highland Council that the club is a legal entity, perhaps incorporated, eligible to make a screening request. The identity of the community groups that will later pick up the baton to submit a planning application is still to be revealed.
30 September 2020
On 25th September (published 30th September) The Highland Council Principal Planner delivered the screening opinion, in response to the screening request, that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for the development described.
As it would be risky to rely on a cut and paste from the EIA prepared for the first Coul Links golf course application, one that failed to convince at Public Inquiry, the community groups intending to submit a new application for the site face potentially considerable costs to prepare the required EIA for what inevitably will be a controversial project.
30 September 2020
A petition opposing the second golf course proposal has been launched at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-coul-links-protected-nature-from-destructive-deja-vu-golf-course-1 9,564 signatures were collected in the first 48 hours of the petition going live.
The most visible of the online petitions opposing the original golf course proposal attracted in excess of 92,000 signatures. For comparison, an online petition supporting the first golf course proposal mustered 606 signatures in total.
24 September 2020
A location plan for a 14 hole par three golf course has been added to the documents supporting the new screening request. Will yet more of the dune system laid to turf prove persuasive? In its initial EIA screening response, NatureScot summarises "We advise there will be significant effects on the environment from this development. In its current form, we are likely to object to this proposal as it will undermine the integrity of Loch Fleet SSSI".
11 September 2020
On 26th July a screening request presaging a planning application was submitted to The Highland Council (validated on 4th September) for a golf course and attendant infrastructure at Coul Links. https://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=QE8IQ6IH0HZ00 At the core of this potential application is the same golf layout, over the same ground, wreaking the same damage as the one found unacceptable at public inquiry. Now it is proposed to add a par 3 course though a layout for this is not detailed.
The request was made in the name of Embo Junior Football & Athletic Club by its chairman Councillor Jim McGillivray. The request states that "Should this application be proposed it will be submitted by a consortium of community groups (unnamed) local to the East Sutherland region." Balancing the local involvement aspect that might play well with The Highland Council with the national interest case vital to influence Scottish Ministers will be a challenge. Is the economic case for a golf course fronted by Councillor McGillivray as convincing as the case for a golf course associated with the marketing and public relations might of Mike Keiser? A case that was outweighed by the inevitable damage to an internationally recognised site of environmental importance.
Can The Highland Council find sufficient merit in this further proposal that would cause The Scottish Government to backtrack on its view that "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"?
9 April 2020
The applicant chose not to appeal the Ministers' decision to refuse permission for a golf course by the deadline last Friday.
The local golfing infrastructure that the applicant sought to enhance is currently facing a crisis as the visitor revenue on which Brora, Tain and Golspie golf clubs depend is severed by the impact of Coronavirus-Covid-19. These historic golf courses may struggle to survive.
4 April 2020
On 23rd March a fire destroyed a significant area of vegetation on Coul Links. Not Coul reports that the burn area covered 8.5ha and that the largest part of the Coul Northern Brown Argus butterfly population has been severely affected. See https://www.facebook.com/groups/266150027087512 and final image in gallery page.
27 February 2020
The would-be developers of the golf course at Coul Links publish a statement via The Northern Times claiming that the decision to refuse to allow the project to go ahead was politically motivated.
25 February 2020
Golfweek reports Mike Keiser as saying, "I'm moving on. I have many other projects".
25 February 2020
"If ever a place encapsulates sheer degenerative despair in a single miserable and depressing landscape it must be Coul Links." Opening with an understated appreciation of the unique, species-rich dune system on his doorstep, golf course advocate Highland Councillor Jim McGillivray, (East Sutherland and Edderton), has written to John Finnie MSP to "propose the immediate establishment of the Coul Links Action Plan (CLAP)". Referring to SNH, RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust, The National Trust for Scotland, Buglife, Plantlife and Scottish Walkers, he suggests that "now is not the time for people such as these to inflict great economic damage and then slither south in exultation".
Councillor McGillivray neglects to mention whether he has sought approval for his CLAP scheme from the owner of the miserable and depressing landscape.
21 February 2020
Planning permission for the application to build a golf course on Coul Links has now been formally REFUSED by Scottish Ministers.
The decision letter can be viewed at https://www.gov.scot/publications/planning-decision-na-hld-086/
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.”
The would-be developers have withdrawn their website and social media presence.
28 November 2019
The DPEA today sumbitted its report for the consideration of Scottish Ministers. (Pdf of report can be found at the foot of this section.)
7 November 2019
The DPEA confirms that the reporters are close to completing their report and hope to be able to submit it to Ministers in the next few weeks.
5 October 2019
On 25 September the coalition of environmental organisations opposing the development wrote to the Reporters outlining concerns over the lengthy delay in the Applicant's closing submissions. This was met by an email dated 3 October from Moray Thomson for the Applicant rejecting any concerns or notion of unfairness and desribing the coalition letter as "actually a clear attempt to make representations on the terms of those submissions". Both the coalition's letter and the Applicant's email will be forwarded to Ministers along with the report. There is still no estimate of when that might be.
11 September 2019
Email correspondence with The Scottish Government DPEA reveals nothing conclusive on estimated timing for delivery of the report. The reporters "are currently working on the report but are, unfortunately, not in a position to be able to advise when it is likely to be ready for submission to Ministers".
20 August 2019
it is now more than three months since Mr Keiser stated in a No Laying Up podcast (10 May, episode 213, minutes 12.00 - 17.00) that "we are three, four, five months away from starting" to build a golf course at Coul Links. He also reported that The Highland Council "came to" Mr Warnock saying "we would love it if you built a very good golf course in the Highlands of Scotland". Whether The Highland Council envisaged the incursion into a SSSI of such environmental sensitivity is unknown. Whether Mr Keiser's confidence that the ministerial planning decision will go his way, and soon, is well founded remains to be seen. But as the months slip away, supporters of the Coul Links project may be joining opponents in wishing that Mr Coore had found the inspiration to route his legacy Scottish links course over less contentious ground.
6 August 2019
More than 15 weeks beyond the original deadline stipulated by the reporters, the applicant's closing submissions have been delivered. At paragraph 1.32 on page 22 (of 721), "It is acknowledged that the Applicant's closing submissions have taken longer to produce than anticipated at the closure of the Public Inquiry. Sincere apologies are tendered for the inconvenience that may have been caused to the Reporters as a consequence. As the other parties to the Inquiry have no right of reply then it is not considered that there has been any inconvenience caused to these parties and, in any event to the extent that the Objectors' representatives are complaining about the lateness of the submissions this has to be considered in the context that the misleading nature of the Objectors' closing submissions has been a very significant contributor". Whether the reporters care to be guided by directions as to what "has to be considered" remains to be seen.
26 July 2019
The DPEA website still offers no indication that the applicant's closing submissions have been received 14 weeks beyond the original deadline. There is no published record of the applicant's motives and reasons for delay being interrogated. Whether there will ever be a point at which the reporters determine that the fairness of the public inquiry has been compromised to the extent that it is rendered redundant remains unexplored. However, the would-be developer would appear to be careless to the possibility that it is leaving itself increasingly open to the question of whether it is sufficiently competent and respectful of public process to be entrusted with the stewardship of Coul Links.
17 July 2019
Still no indication that the DPEA has received the applicant's closing submissions in their entirety or an explanation for the further delay. If the inquiry process was not being portrayed "in its best light" two weeks ago, the light has become ever less flattering with the passing of the days. Progress can be followed at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
15 July 2019
Nothing so far published on the DPEA website to suggest that the applicant has met their agent's "best estimate" for submission of the closing submissions's missing chapters.
4 July 2019
The applicant's agent, Moray Thomson, has communicated to the DPEA that his "best estimate" for the date of submission of the final tranche of the applicant's closing submission is Friday 12 July. In an email response, Fiona Manson for the DPEA, writes, "The reporters have asked me to convey their unease about the repeated and significant delays in the submission of your closing submissions. It does not portray the inquiry process in its best light, and it does not assist them in submitting their report in an efficient and timely manner". Ms Manson adds, "Therefore you should be aware that there may be significant further delay before they are able to complete their report".
2 July 2019
Representing the applicant, on 21st June Moray Thomson of Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP communicated that he was "confident" that the remaining chapters of the submissions would be fully drafted early last week allowing submission "no later than Friday 28th June". His confidence appears to have been misplaced as no further closing submissions have been lodged.
28 June 2019
For those who see parallels between the Coul Links development and that at the Trump International Golf Links at Menie in Aberdeenshire, Scottish National Heritage has recommended that the Trump links be removed from an existing site of special scientific interest (SSSI) as the the golf course had "destroyed" the sand dune system, causing permanent habitat loss. BBC News reports that the Trump Organisation reacted by calling the move a "stitch up".
25 June 2019
On 21st June the applicant informed the Reporters that the remaining chapters of the closing submission will be provided no later than 28th June.
QC for NotCoul finally committed frustration to paper and complained to the Chief Reporter that the applicants have taken control of the process. "We are severely prejudiced by a combination of the unexplained delay, and by the assumption that whatever is needed, whenever is needed, for whatever reason to suit the applicant, it is the applicant's for the taking." The applicant's response was not conciliatory and entirely consistent with their attitude to date. No reasons for the further delay to submission were offered.
On 25th June, Fiona Manson, for the Reporters, responded to NotCoul that the Reporters shared the frustration. No criticism or sanction of the applicant was mentioned or implied. The Chief Reporter does not agree that the applicant has taken control of the process from the Reporters.
If the applicant was in control of the process, they still are. The exchange can be found at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
17 June 2019
Another week and still no sign of the applicant's missing chapters. The submitted material places much emphasis on unpicking the opponents' evidence and credibility. To the extent that, though they have yet to finalise their own submission, the applicant declares to the Reporters that "unless it is spelt out in black and white in the Report to Scottish Ministers that there are serious shortcomings in the evidence and case presented by NC (NotCoul) at Inquiry, including serious issues of credibility and reliability, then the written evidence and NC's closing sublissions will be presented as though the evidence was accepted as not having been undermined". As the applicant continues to set their own timeframe for writing closing submissions, what might have passed as a pursuit of thoroughness runs the risk of looking rather too like arrogance when what they do commit to paper is advice to the Reporters.
10 June 2019
Chapters 1 - 7 of the applicant's closing submissions received by DPEA. Progress can be followed at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
7 June 2019
The applicant has again failed to submit closing submissions. They advise that material will be submitted next week.
29 May 2019
The applicant has advised that their closing submissions will be lodged on 5th June, more than six weeks after the original deadline.
22 May 2019
Chapter 14 of the applicant's closing submissions delivered today to the DPEA, almost nine weeks after the close of the public sessions. A date for delivery of the remainder of their closing submissions is yet to be confirmed. Should it not be a real concern to the applicant that any of the parties opposing the golf development now have understandable grounds for questioning the fairness of the inquiry process and grounds entirely of the applicant's making?
22 May 2019
On 21 May, 11 days after the extended deadline for their closing submission expired, the applicant's representative contatced the DPEA to report that they would submit a single chapter of their closing submission on 22 May. The other chapters will follow next week. "The preparation of the chapter on Socio Economic evidence also took far longer than initially anticipated as the approach to drafting was driven by the need to properly ventilate the policy related issues of relevance to the question of national significance," was offered as explanation. Whether a golf course on Coul Links is a good thing or a bad thing, the process of arriving at a decision must be fair. An applicant that would appear to hold such scant regard, with apparent impunity, for the stipulated schedule observed by other parties, runs the risk of undermining the credibility of any decision in their favour. Are the would-be developers being done any public relations favours by the authors of their closing submission? Perhaps the reporters will smile on their efforts and the contents will be worth the extraordinary wait.
13 May 2019
The DPEA has written to the applicant's legal representative to point out that their closing submissions to the public inquiry are now overdue. It would appear that the extended deadline has been missed.
30 April 2019
On the afternoon of the day before the already extended deadline, the applicant's representative requested a further 14 day extension for submission of their closing submission. Amongst the reasons given for the request were, "Counsel was not able to dedicate herself to the drafting process for the first 2 weeks immediately after the inquiry ended" and "the drafting of the chapter on socio economic evidence has taken considerably longer than envisaged". On the 29th of April, the office of the reporters responded expressing disappointment with the delay but seeing "no alternative but to agree" to the request. Other parties, some with comparatively meagre finance and resources, produced their closing submissions to deadline and might well have benefitted from a three week extension such as that now afforded to the applicant.
22 April 2019
The deadline for the applicant's closing submission has been extended to 26th April.
4 April 2019
Closing submissions from all parties other than the applicant and The Highland Council due to be submitted to the public inquiry reporters this Friday. The applicant has a further two weeks to finalise their concluding statement.
22 March 2019
Final day of public inquiry.
17 March 2019
Moving in to the fourth, and what is scheduled to be the final, week of the inquiry, the only socio economic arguments yet heard have been those put forward by some of the individuals marshalled by councillor McGillivray's LACG.
8 March 2019
Second week of public inquiry lost a day due to illness. The reporters used this as an opportunity to visit Coul Links and walk the site of the proposed golf course. Webcasts of each daily session can be found at https://dpea.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts
26 February 2019
Public inquiry starts.
12 February 2019
The DPEA has published a provisional programme for the public inquiry.
Week 1: 26 February – 1 March 2019
Inquiry session: natural heritage
SNH (2 witnesses). Applicant (6 witnesses total).
Week 2: 5-8 March 2019
Inquiry session: natural heritage
Applicant continued (Professor Pye on Tuesday 5th). Coalition (4 witnesses). Not Coul (3 witnesses total).
Week 3: 12-15 March 2019
Inquiry session: natural heritage
Not Coul continued (Professor Hansom on Tuesday 12th).
Inquiry session: socio-economic impact
Applicant (2 witnesses). Not Coul (2 witnesses). Professor Bell (for LACG) on Friday 15th.
Week 4: 19-22 March 2019
Inquiry session: socio-economic impact
Not Coul continued (if necessary). Scotways/Ramblers (2 witnesses). Local Area Community Groups (13 witnesses).
Hearing session: conditions
23 January 2019
The Scottish Government has published an Advice and Guidance note (12 January 2019) on "Implementation of Scottish Government policy on protecting Ramsar sites". https://www.gov.scot/publications/implementation-of-scottish-government-policy-on-protecting-ramsar-sites/ The DPEA has notified all inquiry participants that they have until 12 February to make any changes to written statements on policy matters in the light of the revised SG guidance.
There is some freshly edited drone video of Coul Links at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV8sQRhWWPk The commentary is not impartial. The video also appears on an updated home page published by opposition group NotCoul.
7 December 2018
All parties, with one exception, have lodged their inquiry and policy statements within the deadline set at the pre-inquiry meeting. https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883 The applicant has failed to observe the deadline. The reporters have accepted this disregard for the agreed timetable. Away from the official process, at a time when communication from the would-be developers could be informative for everyone interested in the future of Coul Links, the applicant's blog and twitter feed have been silent since 22 October.
With all parties waiting for a Scottish Government statement of clarification on policy, on 29 November The Highland Council requested that the date (5 December) for exchange of further written submissions, inquiry statements and statements of agreed matters be delayed. The DPEA responded on 3 December requesting parties to stick to the timetable as " the reporters note they have no information as to when any Scottish Government statement or clarification is to be issued".
22 November 2018
DPEA confirms Carnegie Hall, Clashmore as venue for the inquiry for want of any alternative. Circulation list of participating parties published.
21 November 2018
Harper Macleod LLP, solicitors to SNH, has written to DPEA to report that SNH has been in dialogue with both the applicant and the Scottish Government on the issue of an appropriate assessment of the impacts on the Ramsar site. "SNH recognises that this is a matter relating to Scottish Government policy. We understand that the Scottish Government intends to provide clarification on how it expects its established policy for the protection of Ramsar sites to be implemented and SNH intends to await that clarification." It would appear that the Scottish Government is unable to formulate a protocol for Ramsar site appropriate assessments within a timescale set by its own recorders in advance of its own inquiry.
7 November 2018
A note, dated 5 November, listing the points arising at the pre-examination meeting was circulated to all parties on 7 November. The inquiry is to start on 26 February (venue to be decided) and run for a probable four weeks of Tuesdays to Fridays. At the pre-examination meeting the applicants and SNH agreed to advise within 21 days their positions on an appropriate assessment specifically addressing Ramsar considerations. It would appear that The Scottish Government has no established protocol for the production of an appropriate assessment of the impact of a proposed development on a Ramsar site.
19 October 2018
The Planning and Environmental Appeals Division has written to all interested parties to advise that, "Further to the agenda dated 17 October 2018, I can now advise that (subject to the discussion at the pre-examination meeting) the reporters are proposing that the inquiry be held during the weeks beginning 25 February and 4 March 2019".
17 October 2018
The Plannng and Appeals Division has circulated an agenda for the pre-examination meeting.
9 October 2018
The pre-examination meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday 31 October 2018 at The Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, Dornoch, IV25 3RG.
26 September 2018
Via the developer's website Mr Abel Smith, the landowner of Coul Links, publishes an open letter stating, "I wish to ensure that access to the site is undertaken strictly in terms of the approved Scottish Outdoor Access Code". Anyone seeking access to the application site should first contact the development Project Manager "in order that he may coordinate and manage the visits".
21 September 2018
The Planning and Environment Appeals Division has written to all who made previous representation to the planning authority inviting their participation in a hearing or enquiry session(s) at a date to be advised. "The reporters have now looked at the documentation available and decided that a hearing or enquiry session is required to assist in writing their report." All details about the appeal can be found at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
24 August 2018
Kevin Stewart announces, "As Planning Minister, 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". He added, "it is right that the decision is taken at the national level". (The letter to The Highland Council notifying the call in can be found with other documents lower down this page.)
This bogey at the second for developer Todd Warnock prompted him, via the developers' blog, to comment, "Whilst this decision delays bringing significant economic and environmental benefits to the area, we welcome the opportunity to set out again the compelling case to create a world class golf course in east Sutherland".
Local opposition group Not Coul have used Facebook to publish a brief explanation of how the call in is likely to be handled ...
18 August 2018
Scottish Wildlife Trust and a coaition of environmental bodies have written to the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention seeking intervention. (See letter below)
31 July 2018
Scottish Government - "Ministers had an initial 28 day period to consider the application for a golf course at Coul Links after Highland Council notified them it was minded to grant planning permission. In order to fully consider the application ministers are extending that period by a further 28 days from 1 August to consider whether or not to call in the application for their determination." Todd Warnock, for the developers, responded by saying "The Scottish Government is right to take its time to consider the issues. After more than three years of thorough consideration of the project we are happy to wait a few more days".
29 July 2018
National press reports on the destruction wreaked on a SSSI protected dune system by the Trump International golf course in Aberdeenshire and a timely reminder that Trump stated that the site would be "environmentally enhanced and better than it was before" just as Todd Warnock has declared that "Coul Links is an extraordinary site ecologically and our plans will immprove it".
26 July 2018
Further clarification at Westminster on Ramsar protection in England but, in the face of numerous submissions flagging up the failings of the Highland Council position, no call in from Scottish Ministers.
4 July 2018
The Highland Council is reported to have informed the Scottish Government that it is minded to grant permission for the planning application. The 28 day window available for calling in the application opens now.
3 July 2018
The World Commission on Protected Areas asks the Scottish Government to urgently call-in the planning proposal, insisting the golf course will destroy the integrity of rare coastal habitats.
On BBC Good Morning Scotland, Todd Warnock continues to emphasise that the planning officer recommended refusal as a statutory requirement triggered by a single "narrow" Scottish Natural Heritage objection. See the 30 May news item below for a brief summary of that "narrow" objection.
20 June 2018
Planning Committee gives consent to Coul Links golf course development. Congratulations to Todd Warnock: a par on the first marked with some truly presidential sentiment at https://www.coullinks.co.uk/single-post/2018/06/20/COUL-LINKS-PLANS-PASSED-BY-COUNCILLORS
18 June 2018
At midday today, The Chair and members of The Highland Council North Area Planning Committee were alerted to the fact that, to date, the complete Appropriate Assessment required for developments impacting on Ramsar sites (afforded the same protection as Natura sites) has not been concluded. Nothing has been published since Scottish Natural Heritage offered assistance on 25 May.
For the development to be approved, this Appropriate Assessment must conclude that an adverse effect on the integrity of the site will not occur and can be ruled out. Claiming economic benefit is not one of the Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Importance that would open the door to planning consent. The law does not give The Highland Council any discretion.
13 June 2018
In a further consultation response, SEPA maintains its previous planning position on the wetlands outside the Loch Fleet SSSI and defers to SNH on aspects within the SSSI. (In its consultation response SNH objects to the planning application.)
13 June 2018
Public comments on The Highland Council planning website objecting to the Coul Links development: 1,851. Those supporting the development: 348.
8 June 2018
A coalition of environmental groups, (Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust), has written an open letter to the First Minister calling on her to use her powers to urgently call in the application.
7 June 2018
The only account we can find of the evidence that prompted the deferral of a decision is at http://notcoul.com/press.html We are aware that this is a partisan source but material from this source has proven well researched in the past.
6 June 2018
Public comments on The Highland Council planning website objecting to the Coul Links development: 1,843. Those supporting the development: 348.
5 June 2018
The Highland Council North Area Planning Committee today deferred a decision on the application to build a golf course on Coul Links. The developers clearly regarded the tone of the deliberations as positive with Mr Warnock stating that "This is clearly a highly significant milestone in this project. The fact that every council member who spoke was supportive and no council member was prepared to put forth a motion for refusal was deeply gratifying."
World Environment Day - the United Nations' core effort to encourage awareness and action for the protection of the environment.
31 May 2018
In his blog Mr Warnock, for the developers, reports that "the recommendation to refuse permission for the Coul Links development was expected". He insists that the remaining objection from statutory bodies is "narrow" and that "the report to the planning committee is clear that without this one objection, the application would be supported".
30 May 2018
Report by the Area Planning Manager to the Highland Council North Planning Applications Committee recommends refusal of the Coul Links golf course planning application. See full report under the planning section lower on this page. Committee meeting 5 June 2018.
It is recommended the application be Refused subject to the following reasons for refusal: 1. The application is contrary to the provisions of the Highland-wide Local Development Plan Policies 28 (Sustainable Design) Policy 57 (Natural, Built and Cultural Heritage) as the proposed development would result in a significantly detrimental impact on the Loch Fleet Site of Scientific Interest and Loch Fleet Ramsar Site, designated for its sand dune habitat. In particular, the Coul Links support some of the best quality SSSI dune slack habitats in Scotland and the proposal, in its current format, will result in significant and permanent loss of sand dune habitat, particularly dune heath and dune slacks and impacts to other species which depend on it. Although mitigation is proposed the residual losses are extensive and likely to be permanent. In addition, the proposed development will create a high level of disruption to natural dune processes, such as dynamism, due to large dune areas becoming stabilised. It will also result in significant levels of habitat fragmentation, with the course infrastructure spread throughout the dune system. Furthermore, translocation of habitat is unlikely to be successful and therefore not an appropriate technique to safeguard a protected area of such natural environmental complexity and notable dune quality.