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Developer launches ‘Coul Collective’ and calls for local businesses to become involved

The developer behind the planned £20 million Coul Links Hotel is building up a preferred supplier list.

Edward Abel Smith has launched the Coul Collective and is hoping local business people and trades will put their names forward to become part of it.

Mr Abel Smith, owner of Coul Links, announced in January his plan to build lodge style accommodation on his land to service the Coul Links golf course – should it get the go-ahead.

An original plan for a championship golf course at Coul Links was thrown out by Scottish ministers in February 2020 despite being backed by Highland Council.

Now community group Communities For Coul (C4C) has resurrected the project and Mr Abel Smith is working in tandem with the organisation.

The launch of the Coul Collective earlier this month was run by the Highland Business Partnership, a new initiative that provides businesses with a platform to establish new connections and support each other.

Mr Abel Smith said he aimed to build up a preferred supplier list for the proposed Coul Links Hotel, which would be sited on farm land overlooking Coul Links and would comprise a number of traditional and locally designed luxury eco-lodges

The Guardian

Renewed Highland golf course plan has environmentalists crying ‘Fore!’

Scottish government rejected a new links at Coul to protect the complex dune system but investors have revived the scheme. It is an area so tranquil that the notion of bitter dispute is hugely anomalous. The serenity of Coul – in east Sutherland, north of Dornoch – is in fact fundamental to a backdrop of unrest.

Read the full article

The Scotsman

Leading economist says new Scottish government guidance could pave way for golf course approval as pandemic highlights need for ‘crucial’ investment.

A leading economist believes new Scottish government guidance highlighting the need to tackle rural depopulation and the effects of the pandemic on tourism, could pave the way for a revived Coul Links golf course bid to get the go ahead.

Read the full article

Brora Support for New Coul Links Plans

Brora Golf Club has pledged its support behind a new community group seeking to revive plans for a new world-class golf course in the northern Highlands.

Communities for Coul (C4C), a group of people from the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth coast, has launched a website as part of a larger campaign for a ‘world class yet environmentally sensitive’ course at Coul Links. After a drawn-out battle, it was in February 2020 when the Scottish Government refused to back the creation of a new luxury golf course development – led by US businessman Todd Warnock – at Coul Links near Embo.

Highland Council had initially granted consent for the plans, approved by 16 votes to one, claiming it would provide a much-needed economic boost for the area. However, after calling the issue in, the Scottish Government decided against the proposal, which was opposed by several nature groups.

Now C4C aims to put forward a new community-led planning application for a course to be built at Coul Links and create benefits for the local area and beyond. C4C are again highlighting the economic benefits such a development would bring to the northern Highlands – especially given the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic – create more job opportunities for young people, boost a declining population and also be environmentally sensitive to the land.

Brora GC, the renowned links in Sutherland which fought its way out of financial troubles last year thanks to global goodwill, are supportive of the new Coul Links plans. They are among a number of clubs who have suffered from a lack of national and international visitors over the last 12 months and believe any new golf course in the area – allied to new infrastructure – would benefit the northern Highlands as a whole.

Brora Club President Andy Stewart said: “The creation of a new world class golf course at Coul Links should be viewed as a catalyst. This proposed project will help Brora Golf Club, but the club will grow with or without it. The reason I am so passionate about this project is the benefits that will be available to Brora and the wider community.

“Rather than having golfers visit Brora to play golf and leave again, if we can get them to play and stay longer, then that is income from accommodation, food and drink, transport, retail and so on. That means more jobs and new businesses for Brora. That is why I want this to happen more than anything.”

C4C’s proposals are separate from the previous plans for a course on the land at Embo near Dornoch. Stewart added: “The local group recognise the environmental importance of the site but believe the best way to protect it is to obtain planning permission to sensitively create a world-class golf course and ensure that the chosen developer implements a viable and fully funded Environmental Management Plan.”

Local Councillor Deirdre Mackay said: “I’m delighted to support this initiative and the benefits to be gained by our golfing communities working together to secure the future. The importance of local action in terms of addressing the short and long-term economic consequences of COVID-19 has never been more vital. We need to take into account the changes wrought by COVID-19 and do all we can to support and develop the vitality of our important golfing sector.”

Dornoch Hotel owners confirm new investment to meet demand from Coul Links

Haydn Fentum, the Chairman of Bespoke Hotels, has announced his intention to upgrade the Dornoch Hotel to accommodate the anticipated new wave of golfing visitors to the area should the new world class golf course at Coul Links be given the green light.

This would meet the needs of higher value golf tourists and aligns well with local strategies to drive ‘Slow Tourism’ by encouraging visitors to stay in a place for longer periods of 9me and return in the future.

Mr Fentum said “I wish all involved every success in crea9ng a new golf course at Coul Links. We would see this development as a major addi9on to the area and, as such, would use it as the catalyst to reposi9on the Dornoch Hotel to offer accommoda9on to a wider range of visitors that would benefit the region as a whole. Investment of circa £5m would create 30 – 40 new jobs and local contractors would be used to carry out the renova9on. All in all, the crea9on of a golf course as has been proposed would be a wonderful springboard for further investment and jobs throughout the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth.”

Gordon Sutherland, a Director of Communites for Coul and a Dornoch resident, said: “Following the announcement of the proposed Coul Links Hotel, we are delighted to see further commitment to major investment in the area should we be succesful in achieving planning permission for a golf course on land at Coul Links.’ We will be working closely with Bespoke and the UHI to ensure local people are prioiritsed for jobs.”

£20 million investment planned for eco-hotel at Coul Links

I was delighted to have been contacted by a local community group – Communities for Coul – to say that they intended to resurrect the Coul Links golf application. I am pleased to give Communities for Coul my complete support and should they achieve planning permission, then I would fully back the construction of the golf course.

Independently I have been approached by a syndicate of private investors expressing interest in funding the erection of some accommodation on the Coul farmland which sits outside of the SSSI should the golf course be built. This is in anticipation for the vast increase in visitors coming to the area to play the new golf course.

Given the creation of Communities for Coul, I have decided to progress with a plan for accommodation in tandem. I am therefore in the process of submitting planning permission for a series of unobtrusive lodges to be built on the farmland overlooking the links, to form an eco-style hotel, Coul Links Hotel. At this point, we intend for each lodge to have four rooms, with a modest reception and breakfast building at the centre. If planning permission for the golf course is granted, phase one of the hotel with four lodges and sixteen rooms will be built.

The hotel will expand to twenty lodges and eighty rooms. The ambition for the hotel is to provide guests with an authentic and comfortable experience and will be aimed primarily at golfing visitors to the Coul Links Golf Course.

The initial surveys carried out by a leading Scottish surveying firm has advised that the investors should plan to spend £20 million to build the full hotel, which we are budgeting for.

It is our intention that the hotel should be a leader in the protection of the environment and therefore we have devised various schemes to this effect. These include a plan to offer to offset the emissions of the travel of all oversea visitors through appropriate and where possible native tree planting in the Highlands. We also intend to power part of the hotel through solar panels and are looking into providing car charging points to encourage electric vehicles.

It is anticipated that once running Coul Links Hotel will require over forty new jobs and we are currently working with various local institutions to look at ways of staffing the hotel with people from the Highlands. We also intend to serve fully local produce, so will also be looking to form partnerships with businesses in the vicinity.

We are in the process of working with local architects to finalise the design of the hotel and will be submitting a planning application for the first phase of the project imminently.

However, we will not start any form of construction until Coul Links Golf Course is approved. This is an example of the attractiveness a golf course at Coul Links has to investors, demonstrated not least but their willingness to progress with this scheme despite the current economic situation and the impact this has had on the hospitality industry. We continue to seek further investment to expand our plans further and should anyone be interested in
discussing this further, they should contact

For more information, please contact Edward Abel Smith – owner of Coul Farm and coordinator of the Coul Links Hotel.

Press Release – 19 January 2021

Communities for Coul (C4C) is a group of people who reside in the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth seaboard, united in the belief that their area was dealt a grave disservice when the Scottish Government refused the planning application for a world-class golf course at Coul Links in February 2020, after it had been approved 16:1 by the Highland Council.

Some of the group have lived locally all their lives and some have chosen to make the area their home. All are deeply attached to the special place in which they live and are concerned for the future of its oft-neglected people.

With the support of local residents, C4C hopes to put forward a new community-led planning application for a great, environmentally sensitive golf course to be built at Coul Links.

This week will see the launch of the Communities for Coul website, as well as associated social media.

The creation of a new world class golf course at Coul Links should be viewed as the catalyst for:

1. creating many, much needed, local jobs and building the economic prosperity of the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth seaboard, some of which have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and

2. providing the funds to protect almost all of the important environment at Coul Links which, currently, is being progressively lost.

Without the new golf course, none of the benefits outlined below will transpire and both the depopulation and the ageing demographic of our area will continue.

Fundamentally, our cause is to support our communities through the creation of a great golf course.

Why are we doing it?

  • We believe a solid majority of local people support the development of a world class golf course at Coul Links (of the 90,000 or so who signed the online petition against the development, less than 0.15% live within the IV25 postcode)
  • The original Coul Links planning application was emphatically supported by Highland Council, being passed with a 16-1 majority
  • None of the individuals or non-governmental organisations that previously opposed the development, including the RSPB with its 1.15 million members, £147 million annual income and £48 million cash in the bank, have done anything to protect the site before or since the decision to refuse
  • We recognise the environmental importance of Coul Links but believe the best way to protect the site is to obtain planning permission to sensitively create a world class golf course (using just over 1% of the Loch Fleet SSSI) and ensure that the developers implement a viable and fully funded Environmental Management Plan as well as climate change mitigation schemes.

What will the benefits be to our local area?

  • £ multi-million in private investment
  • Many new jobs with preference being given to local people
  • Good career prospects for our young people
  • The majority of new jobs classed as green jobs
  • More affordable housing
  • Increased prosperity to our local economies
  • Helping to reverse the ongoing depopulation
  • Helping to reverse an ageing demographic


Statements from Communities for Coul Members

I am in full support of a second planning application for a golf course at Coul Links and I am encouraged to see an ambitious community-led approach unfold with wider communities and local golf clubs working together to make a significant impact for the East Sutherland and Ross-shire area.

‘A world class golf course and so much more’. Having another world class golf course would be very exciting however it’s the so much more part that really grips my interest. The social and economic benefits that the successful implementation of this project would have are needed now more than ever as our communities face a depopulation crisis and the Covid 19 pandemic. As a mother of two young boys and someone who works within training and education, I am particularly concerned for the ‘Covid Generation’, our young people, who face the toughest times ahead. We will see exponential levels of youth unemployment and a successful application for a golf course at Coul links and all the investment and job opportunities that will follow as a result, will provide our young people, businesses and wider communities with much needed hope of a brighter future for all.

Sarah MacKenzie, Tain


My reasons for supporting the proposed development at Coul Links is that I believe this is so important to a beautiful but financially delicate area. Now, more than ever post COVID-19 and post Brexit, East Sutherland needs a sustainable source of income. For many years the area has not provided the opportunities young people need to stay, which has necessitated their emigration – often never to return.

In 2016, Visit Scotland reported that golf tourism was worth over £23M to the Highland economy and there were over 600 jobs linked to this. That shows the importance of golf tourism to the Highlands, but it also shows the potential for East Sutherland. That said, golf tourism is competitive, even within Scotland. East Sutherland has competition from St Andrews, Ayrshire, East Lothian and Aberdeenshire, amongst others, and the area needs a world class golf course at Coul Links to enhance the great courses that we have already and to create an attractive destination for tourists.

With this development, revenue throughout East Sutherland can be maximised. As it stands, many golfers visit East Sutherland but do not stay overnight. Visit Scotland reported that while visitors will spend around £60 on average per round of golf, they will spend 4 times that on food and accommodation if they stay.

This development will allow for the organic growth in infrastructure needed to ensure the social and economic wellbeing of East Sutherland and must be welcomed by everyone who has the welfare of our community at heart.

Andy Stewart, President, Brora Golf Club


As an Embo resident who works with local young people from primary age to upper teens I know how vital it is for them to see possibilities of employment, and a future, in their own locale. More than ever with the economic effects of Covid on our small community, hope and a future is essential for the next generation.

I work in the outdoors with young people and am passionate about the outdoors, nature and the environment. If I felt this proposal was detrimental to our local environment I certainly would not support it. However having reviewed the plans and the environmental protections put forward I fully endorse this campaign as positive for our community and our next generation and wholeheartedly support and welcome this community approach to get our golf course underway.

Irene Bews, Embo


Since moving to Dornoch in 2014, I have become aware of how much our area seems to be ‘at the end of the line’ for public investment. Although many local community groups do their best to improve the lot of local residents, there appears to be a distinct lack of funding from regional and national government. This problem is clearly longstanding as the historic depopulation of our area shows. Unfortunately, this depopulation is forecast to continue and in conjunction with an ageing demographic implies a slow, but seemingly inexorable, decline.

I wholeheartedly support a development that would bring around £50 million of private investment and an estimate 175 local jobs, many of which will offer possibilities for outstanding careers to our young people.

Without these jobs the area will continue to lose its youth and a community without youth is a community that is dying. A new world class golf course at Coul Links, together with the other developments that will come as a result, gives our area the hope of a brighter future.

Gordon Sutherland, Dornoch


The creation of Coul Links would be a life line for the future of our area. This is a rare, if not unique, chance. A chance to encourage positive recognition worldwide of our home for successive generations. It is the duty of our group, Communities for Coul, to support the potential creators of Coul Links to work hand in hand with nature, local businesses and residents for the benefit of all our communities.

I support the Coul Links initiative whole-heartedly.

James Yuill, Golspie

Coul Links could be placed into community Stewardship

Communities for Coul are pleased to announce that they have reached an agreement with the owner of Coul Farm for Coul Links to be leased to the community on a long term basis for a peppercorn rent should planning permission for a new golf course be granted.

This will mean that the stewardship of the land will sit with a local community group and they will have authority to oversee the management of Coul Links in accordance with the terms of an Environmental Management Plan that would be agreed between the community and the golf course developer, in accordance with guidance from NatureScot.

Edward Abel Smith, the landowner said:

“I have held, and continue to hold, extensive and productive discussions with Scottish Natural Heritage, and now NatureScot, over how best to look after the SSSI that sits on Coul Farm. To do this properly – which means incorporating the protection of rare species, bird habitats, removal of invasive species and regenerating neglected areas to name a few – requires funding, which is a challenge on a generally loss-making farm and meaningful external finance is hard to find in these difficult times.

I have considered various options for the land, but I see the possibility of handing the land to Communities for Coul as the best, as it will mean a fully funded, far reaching protection for Coul Links section of the SSSI will be accompanied by unparalleled economic growth, which local business owners – myself included – will benefit from.”

A spokesperson for Communities for Coul commented:

“In the twelve months since the original planning application was refused by Scottish Ministers none of the non-mandated environmental groups that opposed the development have come forward with any positive initiatives or firm proposals for Coul Links. We are therefore delighted that, if our aim of securing planning permission for a golf course is achieved, the Loch Fleet SSSI that sits on Coul Links would come under the stewardship of the local community, ensuring the site is properly cared for the first time since the SSSI was designated in 1984.

As well as protecting the environment of the Coul Links SSSI, we have identified the need to improve access for walkers and plan to create sensitively positioned and signposted paths which will incorporate information to educate people on the important aspects of the site, including bird, insect and plant life. The aim is to encourage more visitors to experience the site in a sustainable way as less than 5 people a day, on average, have been recorded enjoying this special area in recent years.

These initiatives are aligned with Scottish Government policies for land management and public access.

We considered making arrangements to lease or buy the land to manage purely on an environmental basis but concluded this would only create a few jobs that may have to be filled from outside the local community. We are therefore certain no other course of action will bring more overall benefit to local communities than to sensitively build a world class golf course at Coul Links and use it as the catalyst to create employment for many, many local people.

Communities for Coul’s motto is ‘Creating Prospects. Protecting Places’ and this this is an excellent step in the right direction to achieving both these objectives.”