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Kate Forbes backs controverisal Coul Links golf course



She also suggested that most people opposed to development did not live locally, but were “pontificating on the future” of the Highlands from the central belt.

The Herald:

It is the first time the MSP has spoken out in favour of the new course. Though she represents the neighbouring constituency, she said she had real concerns about the prospect of depopulation across the region.

“And that’s all the more reason to look at initiatives that might reverse that trend. And if you look right across the Highland’s history, particularly since the 1960s, what’s made the biggest difference has been key economic interventions.

“So opportunities to create jobs, industries taking off, and let’s be frank, tourism, and all that comes with tourism done the right way, is one of those key economic drivers.”

READ MORE: Ministers call in controversial Coul Links golf course proposal

Last month, the Scottish Government called in Highland Council’s decision to grant planning for the course.

Much of the land was designated as part of the Loch Fleet “Site of Special Scientific Interest” (SSSI) in 1984.

However, Communities for Coul, the group behind the proposed golf, said the area has become “so degraded that it needs the very best in 21st century conservation to restore and protect it”.

They added that having the course on “about 0.1%” of the SSSI would generate enough cash to restore and protect the whole area.

That claim has been rejected by Not Coul, the campaign group opposed to the development. They say the course would “seriously damage the habitats and wildlife of a triple-protected site.

There has also been opposition from the Conservation Coalition  of wildlife charities, which includes the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland, and Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Two petitions calling for planning permission to be refused have now received over 125,000 signatures between them.

Scottish ministers called in and rejected a previous planning proposal for a golf course on the same site in 2020.

Ms Forbes said: “I would never support something that I didn’t feel had the backing of the local community and whilst I don’t represent the Dornoch area, I was at an event a couple of weeks ago, and to a person, everybody I spoke to was wildly in favour of bringing this development to Dornoch.

“So clearly, there have been concerns raised in terms of previous applications that have been submitted.

“My understanding is that a lot of the earlier concerns have now been mitigated. And when you’ve got renowned economists telling you that this could turbocharge the Highland economy, when you’ve got environmentalists telling you that concerns can be addressed and this may actually be good for the environment, I am left wondering why not?”

When asked about the opposition and the huge numbers of people who signed petitions against the development, she said: “Well, the first question I would ask is where the petitioners are predominantly located?

“And I’m open to being corrected, but it wouldn’t be the first time that there are many people that feel very exercised about something in an area where they don’t live.

“Ultimately, the young people of the east Highlands are the ones that we have to retain with jobs and housing.

“It’s all very well from the luxury of an Edinburgh flat, pontificating on the future of the more fragile areas of Highlands, it’s quite another thing when you’re trying to make ends meet, and you’re feeling that challenge of being unable to get on the housing ladder and not earning a decent wage.

“So I, ultimately, as a Highlander, would always prioritise the views of those in the Highlands.”

“I just don’t think in the Highlands we’ve got the luxury of ignoring major economic opportunities,” she added. “Other places may have that luxury. In the Highlands, it’s a necessity.”

READ MORE: Coul Links: Ewing throws weight behind golf course plans

Modelling by Professor David Bell from the University of Stirling’s School of Economics predicted that the course could create up to 400 local, sustainable jobs in the area.

He said that with Royal Dornoch already being one of the best courses in the world, a second would have a significant impact.

“Having two world-class courses – and I think Coul Links would be a world-class course – I think that would, without doubt, encourage people to stay in the area rather than, as many do, come to Dornoch to play a round of golf and then head back south.”

On the environmental impact, the academic said the site was “going backwards at the moment.”

He added: “Nature based sites are not immutable. They change through time. And it is actually suffering from significant overgrowth of both gorse and scrub.

“And the question is, well, who’s going to fix it? Is it going to be these bodies that are so critical of the actions that have been taken?

“Is it government, which is very short of money?”

“Or is it going to be someone who comes in, who’s got the resource to actually combat the invasive species at the cost of a relatively small proportion of the overall site?

“The site is huge. The golf course would only take up a relatively small proportion of it.”

The Herald: Coul Links

Dr Tom Dargie, an ecologist who is the campaign lead for the Not Coul campaign opposed to the development rejected claims there was depopulation in the area.

“Instead, it is expansion with lots of young families. The 2022 Census figures to be issued in May will show that.

“This depopulation assertion is a myth bandied by people who should know better. They will be claiming next that local communities are an endangered species.

“The 400 jobs claim is another myth. There is no demand for more seasonal hospitality jobs in Dornoch and SE Sutherland.

“Local businesses cannot recruit enough staff at the moment. There is full employment and little available housing. The seasonal tourist industry here is vibrant and businesses are thriving, generating record turnovers. Nobody is out there looking for a job.”

Dr Dargie also said the proposal would “seriously damage the habitats and wildlife of a triple-protected site. Mitigation is just not possible. It contravenes up-to-date government planning and biodiversity policy.”

The campaigner also suggested the course as proposed could soon be affected by changes to the dunes. 

Scottish Green MSP for the Highlands & Islands, Ariane Burgess insisted locals were opposed to the development.

She said: “This is the second time a plan for a totally inappropriate development on Coul Links has been brought forward. There are already high quality courses where people can play a great game without such a damaging impact to our local environment.

“Yet again, local communities and environmental groups have had to fight against multi-millionaire developers. Last time the Scottish Government ruled against the proposals, and I am confident that they will do so again.

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

“After giving full and proper consideration to the proposal, Scottish ministers decided to call in the application for their own determination.

“A reporter has been appointed to examine these proposals and prepare a report and recommendation for Scottish ministers who will make the final decision on this planning application.

“It would not be appropriate to comment on the merits of the proposed development at this stage.”

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