Nature conservation charity RSPB Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to call in and refuse plans for a new golf course near Embo in East Sutherland.

Ministers have been formally notified of the Highland Council’s decision to grant approval for the development at Coul Links, and now must decide whether to call in the application.

Councillors voted by eight in favour and six against to allow the plans to go ahead in December, despite almost 750 objections from locals, NatureScot, and Scottish Government nature advisors. 

A coalition involving the RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife and Plantlife Scotland launched a petition calling for ministers to reject the plans to develop the land, which it considers "one of Scotland’s important and last remaining undeveloped dune systems". 

The e-action from the Conservation Coalition urging Ministers to call in the plans and save Coul Links has had over 10,000 responses.

READ MORE: Highland golf course on protected dunes approved

Now, RSPB Scotland has written to the Planning Minister, Joe FitzPatrick, asking that the plans are called in and permission refused for this damaging development.

RSPB Scotland has outlined in its letter that the new application has failed to address the many environmental concerns of a previous proposal - which was turned down by Ministers in February 2020 after a lengthy public inquiry.

Ministers could avoid the expense and uncertainty to the public of another inquiry, but their intervention is needed to protect such an important area for nature and address the important planning legal and policy issues, RSPB Scotland said. 

Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “Thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign so far. The fate of Coul Links is now in the hands of the Scottish Government.

"With its commitment to tackling the nature and climate emergency it’s vital that Ministers call in the plans – protected areas like Coul Links should be safe from development.

The Herald: Highland Council has approved controversal golf course plans at Coul Links Highland Council has approved controversal golf course plans at Coul Links (Image: Craig Allardyce)

“The previous public inquiry showed just how unsuitable those golf course plans were for Coul Links, and these current plans differ very little. The Scottish Government can and should call in these plans and refuse them permission. It does not require a public inquiry to show that they shouldn’t be going ahead.”

Responding to Highland Council’s decision to grant approval for the development Communities for Coul, a community group campaigning for the golf course at Coul Links, said the plans would create "much-needed" employment.

A spokesperson said: “We were absolutely delighted that, in December, councillors voted in favour of our application after careful consideration of all the information presented to them.

“It is the second time The Highland Council has approved a plan for a golf course at Coul Links and we hope that the Scottish Government will allow local democracy to prevail. 

“Our plans, which have had the backing of local people from the outset, will create much-needed new employment opportunities in an area where the working age population is falling, threating the future viability of fragile communities. They also provide a guaranteed future for the wonderful wild coastal environment of Coul Links, which is currently sadly neglected and at risk.

“The plans were guided by the findings of the lengthy and expensive public inquiry into the previous, separate and unsuccessful application. They offer a lasting solution for the restoration and protection of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Coul Links, where, under current management arrangements, the protected features will be lost through increasing nitrogen deposition, neglect and the aggressive spread of invasive species. As the recent Scottish Budget clearly showed, there will be little or no public money available for this vital work.

“With less than 1% of the SSSI at Coul Links being directly impacted by habitat loss and the developer guaranteeing to restore and protect the entire site, this is effectively a major restoration project funded by a golf course.

“With this knowledge, it is disappointing that the RSPB and others continue to object to the development, particularly as they have never even bothered to professionally survey the site or offered any help for its restoration.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government received a notification on January 31, following Highland Council’s decision to approve the application for a golf course at Coul Links.

"Scottish Ministers are currently giving full and proper consideration to the proposal. As this is a live planning application, it would not be appropriate to comment any further.”