The group that is opposing plans to build a new golf development in the far north of Scotland has rubbished claims it could be compared to an 18th-century community "utopia".

Landowner Edward Abel Smith has pledged to build at least 30 new homes, three crofts and an eco hotel in the east of Sutherland if the Coul Links golf course is approved for development by government planners.

The plans, by Communities 4 Coul (C4C) have been called in by the Scottish Government because environmental concerns have been raised by Nature Scot and a Conservation Coalition, led by the RSPB.

The area forms part of the Loch Fleet Special Protection Area.

Jim McGillivray, councillor for Sutherland East, said Mr Abel Smith served as an example to other, major landowners, "who sit on their land" and likened the development to New Lanark, the former 18th-century cotton spinning mill village created by industrialist Robert Owen, who was lauded for his educational and workplace reforms.

The Herald: 18th century reformer Robert Owen 18th century reformer Robert Owen (Image: Getty)

This provoked a response from Not Coul, which is opposing the plan and branded the comparison "astonishing".

It said that while Robert Owen "bought out greedy investors to protect his workers' wellbeing" and accuse the developer of "harming protected natural assets for personal profit.

In a statement the group said: "Owen addressed poor living conditions, education and welfare, contributing a lasting legacy to workers' rights.

"This absentee landowner's chosen cause, however, is only to “help” East Sutherland in the “grip of depopulation”.

The Herald: The final decision rests with the Scottish Government The final decision rests with the Scottish Government (Image: Getty)

"Strangely, the Census reveals Dornoch, Golspie and Brora all growing.

"New Lanark embraced new technology and offered year-round employment.In contrast, the golf plan offers yet more seasonal jobs in a saturated market.

"Local businesses struggle to recruit every season. With summer unemployment extremely low, additional golf jobs are simply surplus to requirement."

The group added: "The developers are stuck in the 19th century.

"New Lanark is now a museum. 21st century challenges like climate change, coastal erosion and biodiversity loss show we must move forward with new ideas.

"Protecting the natural benefits that Coul Links provides, intact, is now important for our collective future."


The application by community group Communities for Coul (C4C) was approved by Highland Council in December after 750 objections were lodged.

C4C estimate that the development could create up to 400 new jobs, mainly in the hospitality sector and attract £50 million of investment and say it has the backing of a majority of residents. 

The Herald: Royal Dornoch golf course Royal Dornoch golf course (Image: Getty)

The group say the developers and site owners will provide the expertise, manpower and investment needed (estimated at more than £500,000 in the first 5 years) to support the full restoration and sustainable protection of the site.

Highland MSP Kate Forbes, now Deputy First Minister, is among the high-profile politicians who have backed the plan.

Royal Dornoch golf course generates around £2million for the local economy every year.

The Scottish Government's Planning and Environment Appeals Division (DPEA) will gather evidence for and against the golf course plan at Coul Links during a series of hearings scheduled to begin on November 11

There is expected to be three days of evidence on the ecological impacts of the development.

According to the Not Coul group, coastal erosion is already happening and affects the golf course plan.