Coul Links golf course project refused planning permission

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Coul LinksImage source, Craig Allardyce
Image caption,
Highland councillors approved the plan for a golf course at Coul Links in 2018

A controversial plan to build an 18-hole championship golf course in the Highlands has been refused planning permission by the Scottish government.

About 32 acres of the planned course was proposed for dunes at Coul Links at Embo, near Dornoch.

Highland councillors gave the project the go-ahead last June, before Scottish ministers called in the planning application for further scrutiny.

Following a public inquiry, the government has refused permission.

In their decision, Scottish ministers said the plan would have supported economic growth and rural development.

But they agreed with government-appointed planning officials' findings that the golf course would have "significant" effects on rare plantlife, wintering and breeding birds and the the dunes themselves.

The government said the "likely detriment to natural heritage is not outweighed by the socio-economic benefits of the proposal".

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart said: "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."

'Incredibly grateful'

The plan also included a clubhouse and the renovation of existing buildings to form a maintenance facility, along with a pro shop, caddy hut, workshop, administration building and information booth.

The developers behind the project argued that the golf course would improve and protect the area of land involved, and bring much-needed jobs to the area.

Image source, Vince Lowe
Image caption,
The Scottish government said the potential harm to natural heritage out-weighed the socio-economic benefits

A group of conservation charities opposed to the project, including RSPB Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Anne McCall, director at RSPB Scotland, said: "I am incredibly grateful to everyone who stood up against this application over the past few years - it's been a huge partnership effort and inspiring to see how many people raised their voice in support of this amazing place."

The Scottish Wildlife Trust said "difficult decisions" were necessary to address the "urgent crisis facing nature".

Ramblers Scotland has also welcomed the government's decision.

Director Brendan Paddy said: "The decision sends out a clear signal that Scotland's finest landscapes, habitats and beauty spots aren't simply up for sale to the highest bidder."