These paragraphs present a basic timeline for the progress of the first Coul Links golf course planning process. More detail is available in the News Archive page. Given their publication dates and the demise of the project, some of the links included in the text may be redundant.
A September 2015 fortune.com article profiling Mike Keiser characterised his blueprint for the development of golf resorts at Bandon Dunes, Oregon and Cabot Links, Novia Scotia as "transform woolly, under-utilized land in a picturesque and remote location into a bucket list golf destination that revitalizes a woebegone community". (http://fortune.com/2015/09/26/donald-trump-golf-keiser/)
The potential developers first publicised their outline plans for building a golf course on Coul Links in late October 2015.
The initial planning application reference 16/00053/SCRE dated 22 December 2015 was submitted by Mike Keiser's Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (see http://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=O0SCXUIH0EW00). The architects appointed to design the course are Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw http://www.cooreandcrenshaw.com
Mike Keiser, Bill Coore and Todd Warnock started a blog dedicated to the project in May 2016 at https://coullinks.wordpress.com This blog has been dormant since 23 July 2016.
On 6 July 2016 Bandon Dunes Golf Resort announced it had submitted a proposal of application notice (PAN) to The Highland Council. The PAN is formal notification of intention to submit a planning application, in this case for the development of an 18 hole championship links golf course, practice area, access arrangements, club house and ancillary facilities. Bandon Dunes Golf Resort hosted public consultation events presenting preliminary information on the proposed development in Dornoch and Embo on 13 July 2016. The support material presented at those meetings can be viewed at https://coullinks.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/coul-pullup-panels-final.pdf At that point the developers indicated their intention to submit a detailed planning application in December 2016/January 2017. The Highland Council planning committee meeting to examine the application is scheduled for 5 June 2018.
The applicant, Coul Links Limited, was incorporated on 28 July 2016 with the company number SC541313, the nature of the business being "Other letting and operating of own or leased real estate". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/SC541313/filing-history The certificate of incorporation lists the directors as Todd Warnock and Michael Keiser, all shares being held by Coul Links Holding Company LLC with a Delaware address. Mike Keiser is a golf resort developer (http://theworldlink.com/news/south-coast-strong/entrepreneurial-philanthropy-giving-with-purpose/article_085629c2-f968-5ff0-a416-0d1f9e99e92a.html), Todd Warnock has local hotel interests. The applicant's agent is STRI (Richard Stuttard, St. Ives Estate, Bingley, England, BD16 1AU, tel: 07912 578967, Richard.email@example.com).
A second round of public consultation events took place at Dornoch on 30 August and Embo on 31 August 2016. The support material from these meetings is again available at https://coullinks.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/coul-pullup-panels-final.pdf.
On 1 September 2016 John Finnie (msp Highlands and Islands) lodged three questions regarding Coul Links with The Scottish Parliament. These received answers from Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government and Housing on 20th September 2016. http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&MSPId=4947&SearchFor=AllQuestions&DateChoice=3&SortBy=DateSubmitted
On 11 May 2017 representatives of a partnership of wildlife organisations hosted an event in Dornoch that examined the ecological implications of a golf course on Coul Links. The free event saw experts from RSPB Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Buglife giving their organisations' perspectives on the irreparable damage to habitat and species that a golf course on the site would cause. Some dissent was voiced from the floor with the view expressed that the expertise of the specialists representing wildlife organisations was less credible than that of some of the local residents supporting the project. Todd Warnock attended the event in a private capacity.
Some of these issues are discussed in Dr Tom Dargie's letter to The Northern Times, dated 19 August 2016, (which can be found towards the foot of this page). Dr Dargie is responsible for The Sand Dune Vegetation Survey of Scotland published by Scottish Natural Heritage and is involved in the NotCoul group. His far from favourable working audit (19 October 2017) of Annex B: Ecology of the Environmental Statement submitted in support of the planning application can be found athttp://nebula.wsimg.com/8735d9e855581da0c1543e50a7f97466?AccessKeyId=EDC827D8AD8BC3E385FC&disposition=0&alloworigin=1 and is expanded upon in the NotCoul comment to The Highland Council.
In an interview with GolfAdvisor.com's Morning Drive spot on 28 September 2017 Bill Coore reported that the planning application would be lodged "in the next few days" after "two years of scientific studies". GolfAdvisor reported Mr Coore as saying that he wouldn't ... "have gone this far if he didn't know every public body, politician and local citizen was solidly behind the project".
A planning application reference 17/04601/FUL for "Development of 18 hole golf course, erection of clubhouse, renovation of existing buildings for maintenance facility, pro-shop, caddy hut, workshop, administration building, information booth, formation of new private access from C1026" was lodged with The Highland Council on 29 September 2017 by Coul Links Ltd. The application has a determination deadline of 28 January 2018. Supporting documents can be viewed at http://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=OX1OGYIHH0I00 The press release of 29 September heralding the application stated that "The golf course will be constructed in and outside the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which currently extends to 1,232 hectares. After significant layout revisions as a result of public comment, the golf course will incorporate a total footprint of 22.7 hectares. As a result of careful planning, the course will include only a 14.0 hectare footprint inside the SSSI (1.1% of the total SSSI area) and 8.7 hectares outside".
The Coul Links press release of 29 September 2017 states that "Importantly, the developers believe the Coul Links site will be environmentally enhanced, not degraded, as a result of the project" and that it will result in "significant economic benefit to the East Sutherland and national Scottish economy". (See press release below.) With parallels having been drawn, unfairly or otherwise, between Coul Links and Trump International Golf Links, the chronic drip of negative news coverage concerning the modification of environmental commitments and scope of development at the Aberdeenshire golf resort cannot be helpful to golf proposals at Coul Links. Mr Warnock, via blog and press, has sought to deflect any narrative of similarity to the Trump development with the claim that opposition to his proposals is fuelled by anti-American sentiment.
A third round of public consultation events took place on 22/23 October 2017. The developers reported that across the two October events 88% of attendee surveys returned were in favour of the proposals.
On 3 November 2017 Mr Finnie lodged a motion with The Scottish Parliament (Motion S5M-08620 Coul Links) the final sentence of which closes, "... at a time when Brexit has caused considerable anxiety regarding environmental protections, granting permission for this development could send a dangerous message to developers that Scotland's highly protected sites are open to development at the expense of the environment." http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/28877.aspx?SearchType=Advance&ReferenceNumbers=S5M-08620&ResultsPerPage=10
The primacy of local opinion is a common theme in statements supportive of the golf course. On 16 November 2017, Andy Stewart, President of Brora Golf Club, wrote to all members of the club urging them to "visit the Highland Council website, as the opponents to Coul Links, most of whom are not from the area and in some cases, not even Scotland, have committed many signatures and we need to have our say on this matter". It might be noted that the developers are "not from the area", "not even from Scotland" and their prospects for gaining planning consent would be enhanced by a convincing argument that their scheme is of national not purely local benefit.
On 17 November 2017 The Northern Times reported local councillor Jim McGillivray (East Sutherland and Edderton ward, also Director of Embo Trust which has a stake in the proposed golf course) as saying that "Mr Finnie is showing total disrespect to the point of contempt for the democratic planning system in the Highlands". His ward colleague councillor Deirdre Mackay is reported as saying "I take a pretty dim view of this high-handed attempt to circumvent the planning process" and describing the four signatories to the motion as "Green List MSPs located in the central belt with no locus whatsoever in our area".
On 28 November 2017 the original website for the project www.coullinks.com was finally replaced having been idle for many months. Their live replacement (with blog) can be found at https://www.coullinks.co.uk The developers have consistently been more active in their communication via the golf media and local press, placing news of the impending revised planning application along with sympathetic quotes from local politicians and business interests.
After addenda to their submission were lodged with The Highland Council during March and April 2018, the fact that the developers do not plan to file any further documents was signalled by planning notices published in The Northern Times and Edinburgh Gazette on 27 April. These notices stipulate a 28 day period, from date of publication, for public comment.
On 30 May 2018 the 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 news archive).
On 5 June 2018 The Highland Council North Area Planning Committee deferrs a decision on the application to build a golf course on Coul Links.
6 June 2018: Of the 2,318 public comments lodged with The Highland Council, those objecting to the golf course planning application outnumbered supportive comments by a ratio of more than 5 to 1. The 348 public comments supporting the development number considerably fewer than the local residents eligible to be members of Embo Trust which stands to have a minor part share in the project: far from an expression of the overwhelming local support boasted by the developers. Objections were submitted by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA modified its objection in late March and SNH in late May after the developers augmented their submission); both bodies had made recommendations to the developers over the months prior to the application.
On 20 June 2018 The Highland Council North Area Planning Committee gives consent to the application to build a golf course on Coul Links.
On 31 July 2018, The Scottish Governments extends the period available for consideration of the application by a further 28 days.
On 24 August 2018, Planning Minister Kevin Stewart calls in the Coul Links application.
Scheduled four weeks of Public Inquiry start on 26 February 2019.
The applicants deliver their closing submissions to the Public Inquiry more than 15 weeks beyond the initial deadline.
On 28 November 2019, the DPEA submitted its report to Scottish Ministers for consideration.
On 21 February 2020, planning permission for the application to build a golf course on Coul Links is formally refused by Scottish Ministers. The decision letter can be viewed at https://www.gov.scot/publications/planning-decision-na-hld-086/
25 February 2020: Golfweek reports developer Mike Keiser as saying, "I'm moving on. I have many other projects".
At 9 April 2020 the 38degrees petition opposing the golf course had attracted 92,003 signatures, that supporting the golf course had 606 signatures when it closed in early January 2018. The Care2 petition opposing the golf course had 2,038 signatures.
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