Environmental experts call on Holyrood to block golf course

The site of the proposed Coul Links course. The World Commission on Protected Areas claims it will destroy a rare coastal habitat. Picture: Contributed
The site of the proposed Coul Links course. The World Commission on Protected Areas claims it will destroy a rare coastal habitat. Picture: Contributed
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An international panel of environmental experts has asked Scottish ministers to call in “urgently” a controversial planning decision in the Highlands approving a championship golf course on a site of scientific interest.

Last month councillors agreed the construction of the 18-hole Coul Links course at Embo in the north-east of Scotland, despite officials recommending rejecting it.

The proposals are spearheaded by US billionaires Mike Keiser, who is regarded as US president Donald Trump’s biggest rival in the golf business, and his business partner Todd Warnock. The World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) claims the golf course will destroy a rare coastal habitat.

A group of conservation organisations, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland and RSPB Scotland, oppose the project.

Michael Wong, a North America-based official of the WCPA, said his organisation was urging the Scottish government to protect the Coul Links dunes, associated habitats and rare wildlife.

“If a country such as Scotland is not able to uphold its international commitments, how do we expect other countries to do so,” he said.

Todd Warnock, Coul Links developer, said the project involved less than 1 per cent of protected habitat, adding that the course would bring much- needed jobs to the area.

He said a management plan would be put in place to improve the land, and deal with invasive plant species that had encroached on the dunes habitat.

“We are ready to start work on the development after three years of scrutiny and having won the support of the local authority and the majority of local people.

“The democratic process has been comprehensive and fair.

“The project has been assessed by the two statutory bodies as well as the competent planning authority and we now look forward to realising the economic benefits such a prestigious golf course can bring to east Sutherland.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said “Councillors have indicated they are minded to grant planning permission, against the advice of Scottish Natural Heritage.

“The local authority must formally notify Scottish ministers of its decision and once that happens, ministers will decide whether or not to call in the application and determine it themselves.”