My colleague, Kate Bellew, Senior Conservation Planner at RSPB Scotland has just posted this blog  following an important meeting held by Highland Council to decide on the fate of Coul Links.

Given the significance of the case - I'm reproducing the whole blog here.

Small blue butterfly - just one of the species that calls Coul Links home

A week ago Highland Council’s Planning Applications Committee decided to defer a decision on whether or not to grant permission for a golf course to be built on Coul Links. We are incredibly frustrated and disappointed by this deferral when it’s clear that the only reasonable course of action was to turn down the application.

Over 1,500 people submitted letters and emails to Highland Council, asking them to refuse the damaging proposals for a golf course at Coul Links, a site which is triple protected. This overwhelming response included many detailed, evidenced based objections from concerned environmental groups and individuals, including the Scottish Government’s own nature conservation advisors, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Furthermore, even Highland Council’s own planning officials recommended refusal of the development as it is contrary to the development plan. The official report concluded that not only is the development unsustainable, but also referenced SNH‘s objection, which confirms that the proposals would result in damage to the nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and also an internationally important Ramsar site. As highlighted by the official report:

‘..Coul Links support some of the best quality SSSI dune slack habitats in Scotland and the proposal, in its current format, will result in significant and permanent loss of sand dune habitat, particularly dune heath and dune slacks and impacts to other species which depend on it’.

So it is incredibly disappointing that Councillors unfortunately didn’t seem to understand the seriousness of the objections, or that golf courses, despite being green, are not always good for the environment. Or indeed, that there could be other options, such as moving the course onto the adjacent, relatively low nature value fields in order to avoid destroying the internationally important wildlife site. This simple act of moving a few hundred metres could provide a win-win for communities and the environment, enabling a golf course to be built and protection of the wildlife site. Yet none of this was even discussed.

Despite the strong recommendation by planning officials, not one Councillor was prepared to stand up for nature and support a motion to refuse the development. While it was decided to defer the final decision for another two weeks to allow consideration of a technical matter that had arisen, support for the project from councillors was clear, even if their understanding of the environmental impacts was unfortunately not. A further meeting is expected to be held on the 20th June where a final decision is expected to be made. We responded to the news as follows:

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."

The battle to save Coul Links continues. Immediately after the deferral decision along with our coalition partners we wrote to the First Minister appealing to her to “call” in the proposal and help save Coul Links and we need you to please get ready to help us with the next stage of our campaign. If Councillors do decide to grant consent, then because of the damage that would be caused to an internationally important wildlife site, Scottish Ministers would have to be notified and given an opportunity to “call-in” the project and consider it in detail themselves before any final authorisation could be given. If this happens we’ll need all your help to ensure Ministers do ‘call in’ the application and save Coul Links from this devastating proposal. We’ll keep you updated on what happens next. Many thanks for all your support so far.