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Result of the community ballot was a resounding YES!

C4C are delighted to report that the result of the East Sutherland Coul Links community ballot was a resounding

YES!

An overwhelming 69.2% of voters said yes to the question “Do you support a community planning application for an environmentally sensitive, world-class golf course to be built at Coul Links near Embo”. The vote, conducted by Civica Election Services, the UK’s leading provider of election services, is an unequivocal result in favour of our aim.

We sincerely thank everybody who voted in this ballot. The turnout of 44.4% was incredibly high for such a one-off event and is comparable to the turnout at local Council elections and about 10% higher than European Parliament elections.

C4C will take this result as our mandate to move ahead with a new planning application for an environmentally sensitive world class golf course at Coul Links to create employment and economic prosperity for East Sutherland.

North Highland Hospitality Charter created by C4C

C4C understand that it is all very well creating jobs, but the most important element is ensuring these are ‘good jobs’. We have therefore created the North Highlands Hospitality Charter, a document which aims to transform the reputation of the hospitality industry, creating a platform for renowned tourism jobs. The components of the charter include:

(1) hiring local talent,
(2) ensuring fair and decent pay, at living wage level or above, including the distribution of tips,
(3) training and development opportunities for all employees,
(4) guaranteeing inclusion and diversity for employees and
(5) creating secure and full-time jobs at every opportunity, rather than seasonal jobs.

C4C – who will own the planning permission for the Coul Links Golf Course and will retain custody of the land and a community stake in the business – will ensure that all businesses directly benefiting from the golf course, sign and adhere to the charter. We are pleased to announce that we have commitments to the charter so far from the Coul Links Golf Course developers, the Coul Links Hotel developer and Highland Coast Hotels (owners of the Royal Golf in Dornoch and the Royal Marine in Brora).”

DOWNLOAD THE CHARTER

Public Vote Announced

Communities for Coul (C4C) have announced that a public vote will take place between the 28th May and 11th June to ask the people of Brora, Dornoch, Embo and Golspie if they “support a community planning application for an environmentally sensitive, world class golf course to be built at Coul Links near Embo.”

The ballot is being run by Civica, the UK’s leading provider of ballot and election services, and all registered electors residing within the IV25, KW9 and KW10 postcodes will have the opportunity to vote. The outcome will provide the first ever definitive answer to the level of local support for the
creation of a world class golf course at Coul Links.

Gordon Sutherland, a Director of C4C commented:

“The first, business led application for a golf course at Coul Links was a rare opportunity for our beautiful but socio-economically challenged area. To now have on the table £50 million of private investment – almost 3 times the amount of public money earmarked for the Sutherland Spaceport – gives an unheard of second chance which we as a community must seize as we will never have another opportunity like this.

The economic benefits of creating Coul Links would ripple out to all the towns and villages of the Dornoch Firth and perhaps even beyond, giving opportunities to those that are able and willing to take them. As local people will be prioritised for the jobs that are created, this will give local youngsters more reasons to stay and raise families and help reverse the ongoing and serious depopulation of our area which, as things stand, is slowly but surely becoming a retirement home.

Dornoch is the most economically successful town in East Sutherland and this is predominately based on the desire of international golfers to play Royal Dornoch’s Championship course, one of the world’s greatest. Indeed, the fortunes of Dornoch have fluctuated as the popularity of its golf course have waxed, waned and waxed again over the years. As one of Dornoch’s more prominent business owners commented recently when discussing Dornoch’s relative prosperity: “… but it’s fragile – and not just because of Covid – its fragile, the fact we have a High Street and a vibrant community is fragile.”

Having a second golf course of a similar stature to Royal Dornoch would encourage more golfers to visit and more golfers to stay in East Sutherland, thereby helping grow the economies of Brora, Golspie, Embo and Tain and acting as an effective “insurance policy” for Dornoch’s economy. As Mike Keiser, the world renowned golf course designer who names Royal Dornoch as his inspiration, has said, “One course is a curiosity, two is a destination.”

If the outcome of the vote supports our belief that the quiet majority of East Sutherland residents are in favour of the golf course for both the environmental protection it would fund and the many sustainable jobs it would create, then we will consider that a mandate to proceed with preparing a full planning application.”

Andy Stewart, President of Brora Golf Club and a C4C Director added:

“A world class golf course at Coul Links would complement Royal Dornoch and, together with the excellent and historic golf courses at Golspie, Tain and my home course at Brora, has the potential to create a golfing destination of international renown that would attract high spending golf tourists to stay in our area, to the great benefit of our towns and villages.”

Town Hall Meetings Announced

Communities for Coul have announced a series of virtual “Town Hall Meetings” to discuss the potential benefits Coul Links golf course could have for the communities of the Dornoch Firth. There will be a short presentation, followed by a question and answer session, with questions from attendees. The aim is that the meetings will take no more than an hour.  Everyone is welcome – whether you support the initiative, are against it, or are undecided; we encourage as many people to hear our plans and to ask their questions.
To register for the event, please click on the appropriate link below. You will receive back instructions on how to join on the day. 
 
Golspie Meeting, chaired by Henrietta Marriott, 18th May, 7-8pm: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/7816204774690/WN_lY4iDfgZQNK6ahOJb7JytA
Brora Meeting, chaired by Deirdre Mackay, 19th May 7-8pm: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/7216204795650/WN_44bJgzKxQPqHuwKj_kdu-A
Embo meeting, chaired by Jim McGillivray, 24th May, 7-8pm:  https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/7316207232679/WN_opQsdLTITm6oHYiXS8PpKg
Dornoch meeting, chaired by Yvonne Ross, 27th May, 7-8pm: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/2016208154709/WN_5ndRwpY0RayNHOh4cmoiow

Mike Keiser confirmed as Golf Course Developer for Coul Link

Communities for Coul (C4C) have received the commitment from one of the world’s leading golf course developers to build Coul Links should planning permission be granted.

Over the last six months, the directors of C4C have spoken to a number of developers in their search for someone who was aligned with the community group’s key philosophy: to create prospects for our people while protecting the place we live.

Mike Keiser

C4C are delighted to announce that Mike Keiser, the developer behind the initial Coul Links application, has been selected to build the golf course at Coul Links. A committed environmentalist, Mike made his fortune by founding one of the first greeting card companies to print on recycled paper, before embarking on a career as a golf course developer, having been inspired by his first visit to Royal Dornoch.

Mike’s passion is to build great golf courses, which are accessible to every golfer. He has built 14 golf courses and is currently working on 10 more.  Golf Magazine and Golf Digest list six of Mike’s courses in the top 100 courses in the world.

Although terms are yet to be finalised, the principle of the agreement is as follows:

  • C4C are fully and wholly responsible for achieving planning permission. Mike Keiser will only become involved after planning permission is granted
  • In return, the community will be given a seat on the board and an equity share in the golf course, creating a fund which will support local good causes
  • The golf course will avoid the most sensitive areas of the SSSI
  • The golf course will be responsible for funding a full and comprehensive environmental management plan for all of Coul Links (c. 25% of Loch Fleet SSSI)
  • The golf course will create improved access for walkers
  • All hiring and employment is done in accordance with the work C4C and others are doing to keep jobs local and of good quality. More details on the job policy will be released in the coming weeks

In response to being selected, Mike Keiser simply said: “It is an honor to be chosen by the community to build Coul Links!”

C4C director, Ginny Knox, said: ‘Mike Keiser lives and breathes our ethos, which is to create prospects for our community – in particular the young people, our own “endangered species” – while respecting and protecting the environment.

C4C have spoken to key people in places that have benefitted from the ‘Mike Keiser effect’ for unsolicited feedback and their testimony speaks for itself.  Along with the investment secured for the Coul Links Hotel, Dornoch Hotel and a plethora of other businesses, having the golf course developer confirmed is a major milestone in our mission.”

Attachments:

  1. Letter from Mayor of City of Bandon
  2. Letter from Editor of ‘The Inverness Oran’ newspaper

Coul Links: What do our constituency candidates say?

Dear Candidate

We are contacting you on behalf of Communities for Coul, a not-for-profit company formed to represent what we believe is the majority of the people living in and around the towns and villages surrounding the Dornoch Firth in trying to achieve planning permission for the creation of an environmentally sensitive and world-class golf course at Coul Links, near Embo in East Sutherland.

Our Board consists of six Directors representing all the main population centres from Brora through to Tain. The Board is equal in numbers between men and women, and golfers and non-golfers.

Having another world class golf course in our area would be very exciting, but we collectively view this as the catalyst for economic transformation, creating wealth and employment, particularly for our young people, in an area of declining population with an ageing demographic. An economic impact study by BiGGAR Economics, a leading independent economic consultancy, forecast that building the golf course would create 175 FTE jobs in the Dornoch Firth locale within 5 years and 250 within 10 years (311 in the wider Highlands within 5 years & 450 within 10 years). We have now identified companies & individuals who are prepared to invest c. £40 million of private capital on the back of such a golf course development, which gives us real confidence these jobs would materialise. We believe this initiative is of vital importance as our already fragile economy tries to recover post COVID.

Once you have satisfied yourself of the above, please reply to the following two questions:

1. DO YOU SUPPORT C4C IN ITS AIM OF OBTAINING PLANNING PERMISSION FOR THE CREATION OF A GOLF COURSE AT COUL LINKS?

2. IF YOUR ANSWER IS “YES” TO THE ABOVE, WILL YOU HELP US FIGHT TO ACHIEVE THIS OUTCOME?

We look forward to receiving your responses, which we aim to take into the public domain as we believe this will be of interest to many local people.

Best wishes

Communities for Coul


Maree Todd MSP
Scottish National Party Candidate

I am not opposed to your proposal but I think there are two main barriers ahead:

1. The recent planning application for a golf course at Coul Links was refused. What changes to the planning application have been made to take account of the grounds for refusal and make success more likely?

2. Whilst there is a great deal of support in the community for a development, there is also strong opposition. The Coul Links development prompted more correspondence than any other issue in my five years as a regional MSP, the majority of it against. What work has been done to build consensus around a future application?

For my own part, I agree that golf tourism will make a significant contribution to our recovery from the pandemic and I will continue to advocate for support for the sector as we come through and out of this challenging time.

I agree that we need to ensure economic development going forward, not least in order to tackle depopulation. That means, as well as supporting sustainable tourism and our world class food and drink sector, we need to ensure good digital connectivity to support home working, maintain and improve physical transport links and harness the opportunities offered by our renewable energy potential to promote sustainable industry. The shift to net-zero could see Caithness, Sutherland and Ross lead the world in new technologies and transform our economy and I look forward to working on all of these issues if elected.


Marion Donaldson
Scottish Labour Candidate

The answer to your first question is YES, I would support the creation of a golf course at Coul Links.

The answer to the second question is YES, obviously my only influence would be in advocacy, even as an MSP my powers would be limited.

People must be at the heart of all that we do. There will always be a tension between development and the environment, but with vision and commitment I believe there can be a balance which respects both.

Depopulation is a serious concern for the North, exacerbated by the effects of Covid. This ambitious project would create work not only for young people who wish to stay, but would attract new people into the area.

I was impressed by the commitment, energy and community buy-in of the new bid for a golf course at Coul. Accordingly, I wholeheartedly support the planning application for a new golf course at Coul Links and wish C4C well in their endeavours.


Molly Nolan
Scottish Liberal Democrat Candidate

1. DO YOU SUPPORT C4C IN ITS AIM OF OBTAINING PLANNING PERMISSION FOR THE CREATION OF A GOLF COURSE AT COUL LINKS?

Yes. Helping inward investment into East Sutherland must be a top priority in the next parliament, and I agree that the golf course could provide a vital injection of jobs into the area. We are facing devastating depopulation and we need to do all that we can to help young people remain in the North Highlands. I also want to see investment into the environment around Coul Links, and I believe that C4C want that too – making sure any new development helps restore our local ecology is important.

I want to also be clear that East Sutherland has incredible potential beyond tourism, and I want to fight for economic diversification in the area so that we are not over reliant on tourism. Bringing superfast broadband to the area and upgrading our transport infrastructure are two of my key aspirations.

2. IF YOUR ANSWER IS “YES” TO THE ABOVE, WILL YOU HELP US FIGHT TO ACHIEVE THIS OUTCOME?

Yes. If elected as MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross I will fight tooth and nail to help East Sutherland boost its economy and I will also work to ensure that local planning decisions aren’t overruled by the Scottish Government in the central belt as they so often have been.


Councillor Struan Mackie
Scottish Conservative and Unionist candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

Having reported to the board of the North Highland College and in some of my public statements so far, I hope my position on the Coul Links developments are known to many but I am more than happy to reaffirm my position.

Representing one of the most fragile communities in Scotland in Thurso and Northwest Caithness, I can see the similarities with East Sutherland in the desire to create economic opportunities for locals and attempt to reverse the tide of young people leaving the region and being lost to cities across Scotland and further afield. The population projections for Sutherland are stark, losing up to 12% of its inhabitants if depopulation trends are not addressed should be a national scandal. We need projects that create jobs and help build up our communities, not reject them.

Tourism has been one of the great vehicles for regeneration in the Far North of Scotland, but at times the impact can be cyclical, which is something I am sure your Board will recognise in their localities. Cornerstone developments that can attract high-value tourism year round are a far more sustainable way to revitalise the economy and to create opportunities for Sutherland and I believe that the Coul Links could provide such an opportunity.

So in answer to your questions:

1. DO YOU SUPPORT C4C IN ITS AIM OF OBTAINING PLANNING PERMISSION FOR THE CREATION OF A GOLF COURSE AT COUL LINKS?

I believe that the decision reached by the Highland Council was the correct one and it was wrong to overturn a locally determined decision by unelected Scottish Government reporters.

Although I am a sitting Councillor, and currently a substitute on the planning Committee, I am clear in my support of this project and believe it would provide opportunities in East Sutherland but also support the wider regeneration of the Far North. Creating jobs directly but also in the local supply chain, with the added benefit that our academic institutions such as North Highland College – UHI would have an additional world class development to showcase to students in Scotland and abroad.

2. IF YOUR ANSWER IS “YES” TO THE ABOVE, WILL YOU HELP US FIGHT TO ACHIEVE THIS OUTCOME?

I am more than happy to lend my support to the Communities for Coul campaign. Although I am not a local to East Sutherland, many locals have reached out asking for me to support this cause and I am happy to help.

One of the areas I wish to progress, if I was fortunate enough to be elected as the MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross is to end Holyroods power to overturn local planning decisions.

It is of great frustration that good local decisions are being overturned by Scottish Ministers, especially when the public have given their overwhelming support or indeed rejection of a project. It is wrong that unelected officials, under the instruction of the Scottish Government have the power to overrule The Highland Council and I will fight for this to end if I was elected as the constituencies next MSP.

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