A coalition of environmental groups has called on the First Minister to step in to save a precious habitat from destruction.
This afternoon (Tuesday, 5 June) Highland Council decided to defer its decision on plans for an environment-wrecking golf course on the internationally important dune system at Coul Links near Embo in East Sutherland due to a technicality.
However, no councillors moved to refuse planning permission and to protect the important wildlife and habitats found at the site, and the council is expected to approve the application in around two weeks’ time.
The coalition of environmental groups, made up of Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, has written an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling on her to use her powers to urgently call in the application.
Aedán Smith, head of planning and Development at RSPB Scotland, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Highland Council appear to be minded to give permission for this very damaging development, despite it being clearly contrary to the Highland Council’s own development plan policies to protect the natural environment.
“Coul Links is now an important test of whether Scottish Ministers intend to uphold the international environmental standards that they have committed to. We urge them to call in the application, to ensure Coul Links is safeguarded for wildlife and people, both now and in the future.”
Jonny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Today’s decision to defer the decision on Coul Links is very disappointing as we believe the application should never have been allowed to get this far.
“Today is World Environment Day and we urge the Scottish Government to use its powers to review this decision and refuse it as quickly as possible, on the grounds that this golf course will do irrevocable damage to an internationally important site. Doing so would demonstrate commitment to protecting Scotland’s natural environment, and show that lessons have been learned from the damage done to Foveran Links by the disastrous Trump International Links development.”
The plans for the golf course at Coul Links had been recommended for refusal by Highland Council officials as they are contrary to the local development plan due to the “significant and permanent loss of sand dune habitat”. Their report also highlighted that “Coul Links supports some of the best quality SSSI dune slack habitats in Scotland”.
The proposal has received an unprecedented level of opposition with over 1,500 objections lodged with Highland Council, and one petition gaining over 89,000 signatures.
Objectors included many local people and local groups such as Tain and District Field Club and local campaign group Not Coul, as well as Scotland’s statutory nature conservation advisors Scottish Natural Heritage, the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, and numerous national environmental groups.