Coul Links

Coul Links golf course refused planning permission by ministers

BBC news   21 February 2020

A controversial plan to build an 18-hole championship golf course in the Highlands has been refused planning permission by the Scottish government.

About 32 acres of the planned course was proposed for dunes at Coul Links at Embo, near Dornoch.

Highland councillors gave the project the go-ahead last June, before Scottish ministers called in the planning application for further scrutiny.

Following a public inquiry, the government has refused permission.

In their decision, Scottish ministers said the plan would have supported economic growth and rural development.

But they agreed with government-appointed planning officials' findings that the golf course would have "significant" effects on rare plantlife, wintering and breeding birds and the the dunes themselves.

The government said the "likely detriment to natural heritage is not outweighed by the socio-economic benefits of the proposal".

Read the full article

Scottish Green Party MSP John Finnie commented on the decision

“I am absolutely delighted that this ill thought out and unsuitable application has been rejected. It seems the Scottish Government has learned the lesson from the disastrous decision to grant permission for Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire after all.

“Coul links is a spectacular site of environmental significance and has several important international designations. I welcome the fact that Ministers have made clear that post Brexit they will seek to maintain high environmental standards, they can be assured that Greens will continue to keep them under scrutiny in that regard in the long term.

“It’s important that the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise now look at how they can deliver long term, sustainable and well paid work for the people of Sutherland, without threatening its precious environment.”

Decision letter

All decision-related documents

Image - Julian Paren

Image  - BBC News


Planning application details and links

21 March 2019

Leading witness for opposition gives evidence as Coul Links inquiry enters day 13

Press & Journal report by Chris MacLennan


13 March 2019

Witness tells Coul Links public inquiry that proposed plans are not flood-proofed

Press & Journal report


8 March 2019

Coul Links site visit as inquiry postponed

Press & Journal report by Chris MacLennan


Feruary 2019

Coul Links golf course planning enquiry opens

A Public Enquiry into controversial plans to build a golf course over an area of coastal dunes north of Dornoch, which has three conservation designations, opened in Clashmore on 26 February.

The enquiry follows the calling in of the planning application by Scottish Ministers last year, after it was approved by Highland Council against the advice of its Planning Officers, and in spite of the fact that the site is an area of natural dunes of considerable scientific and environmental value, and is ajacent to or includes  Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),  The Dornoch and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area (SPA),  and the Dornoch and Loch Fleet Ramsar Site.

Rita Campbell writes in the Press & Journal  26 February

"Plans were first launched in 2015 for an 18-hole championship course spanning 805 acres, by US businessman Todd Warnock and developer Mike Keiser.

"Nature witnesses will give evidence on behalf of the Conservation Coalition, a group of seven environmental organisations who have come together in a bid to halt progress on the links. They regard the site of significant importance to wildlife.

"The developers say that 250 indirect jobs, plus a £60million boost to the East Sutherland economy, would be delivered in the courses first 10 years.

"The inquiry in Clashmore near Dornoch, which is due to last at least four weeks, will hear evidence from a number of experts who will argue that the internationally important wildlife site is unsuitable for a golf course.

"The fate of the site will then lie with Scottish Ministers."

For the background to the golf course application, see our Environment / Coul Links page.

Read Rita Campbell's full report, and Susy Macaulay's report of the first day's proceedings,  in the Press & Journal.


October 2018

Coul Links Enquiry Preliminary Procedural Meeting

This will be held on Wednesday 31 October 2018 at 10:00AM within Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, Dornoch, IV25 3RG.

This meeting is open to the public.

September 2018

Public Enquiry into Coul Links application announced

Reporters from the Scottish Government's Planning & Environmental Appeals Division, appointed by Scottish Ministers to consider the case and make recommendations to them, have decided that a hearing or inquiry session is required to assist in writing their report.

Anyone who made representations to Highland Council about the golf course application has been invited to indicate if they wish to take part in the hearing or enquiry, the date and venue of which has yet to be announced.

August 2018

Coul Links golf course application called in by Scottish Ministers

Scottish Ministers have called in plans for a golf course at Coul Links near Embo, East Sutherland after deciding that the case is of ‘national importance’.

From the Scottish Wildlife Trust August newsletter

"The controversial plans, which would cause huge damage to internationally important dune habitats, were approved by Highland councillors in June, despite recommendations for refusal by the Council’s own officials and hundreds of objections from organisations and individuals from across Scotland and beyond.

Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “This is one of the most important planning decisions to have affected Scotland in recent years so it is only right that it is considered by the Scottish Government.

“Nearly 13,000 members of the public wrote to MSPs asking them to take a closer look at this vitally important case, and we are heartened that these plans will now be given closer scrutiny.

“We urge Scottish Ministers to maintain their commitment to the long-term protection of fragile and internationally rare habitats by ensuring that these wholly inappropriate plans are not allowed to go ahead.”

The decision will give Scottish Ministers a chance to reconsider the case and they could decide to overturn the Council’s decision and refuse consent."

Read the SWT newsletter

Planning application for golf course at Coul Links, Embo

The application was lodged in September 2017 by Coul Links Ltd. led by Mike Keiser, President of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, Oregon, Trump Golf’s main global rival, & entrepreneur Todd Warnock.  There is a separate application for two boreholes and a reservoir to store water for irrigating the golf course.

The site is an area of natural dunes of considerable scientific and environmental value, and is ajacent to or includes  Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),  The Dornoch and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area (SPA),  and the Dornoch and Loch Fleet Ramsar Site.

A group opposed to the development set up a 38 Degrees petiton to rally opposition to the applications.  This has been presented to Highland Council, who approved the applications in June against the advice of planning officials, but since the applications were called in it is being kept open to be presented to the public enquiry.

Below are links to the Highland Council ePlanning pages relating to the applications, and the petition.

Coul links golf course planning application         17/04601/FUL

Reservoir planning application                           17/04404/FUL

NOT COUL petition  (and more information)



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