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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.