It all comes down to this.

INQUIRY 2024

In December 2023, Highland councillors voted just eight votes to six to grant permission for the developer’s golf course plan at Coul Links. This decision went against the recommendation of the Highland Council’s own planning officials and against the statutory objection of NatureScot. Because a statutory objection was not followed, the decision was called in by Scottish Ministers, who will now have the final say.

A governmental inquiry, known as a Public Examination, will gather evidence and report to Ministers. Not Coul is primed to participate on behalf of all in the local community, and beyond, who wish to object. This is our second Coul Links inquiry, and just as in 2019, we have again assembled a team of expert witnesses who will present a compelling case against development in this ongoing saga to safeguard Coul’s natural treasures.

Timeline

From May 2024, the Planning, Environment and Appeals Division (DPEA) will conduct a 32-week Public Examination into the case. A general schedule of the inquiry process is below. The majority of these items relate to preparation for the crucial week of hearing sessions.

Following the Highland Council decision to grant planning permission for the golf course against the recommendation of NatureScot, the proposal has been called in by the Scottish Government.

The Planning and Environment Appeals Division (DPEA) will now examine the case via a Public Examination, a lengthy and costly inquiry that will last around 32-34 weeks. The DPEA reporters are Mr West and Mr Buylla. They will report their findings to Scottish Ministers who will make a final decision.

The DPEA case site is public and can be viewed here: https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=124499&T=0

This is the first meeting between interested parties and the DPEA after the call-in and kicks off inquiry proceedings. Having reviewed the submission of the applicant and the various objections, the reporters Mr Buylla and Mr West will suggest a list of suggested topics to be examined. These will be discussed during the PEM, as well as administrative guidelines. It will take place virtually on 13th May 2024 at 11am and members of the public can watch the live stream.

Link to archived video of session is here: https://dpea.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/879063

Reporters to issue provisional agendas for the Ecology and Tourism & Socio-economics hearing sessions.

All participats to respond to DPEA with any additional agenda items for the Ecology and Tourism & Socio-economics hearing sessions by this date.

The applicant, the Conservation Coalition and other parties to submit statement of agreed matters by this date.

The DPEA will issue the finalised agenda for the hearing sessions to be held from 11th November.

The DPEA plans to take further written statements on planning policy and the statutory framework to decide wether the hearing on this topic, which has been pencilled in for the morning of the 15th  November, is even necessary.

The DPEA will consult with the appropriate parties on their received written submissions on planning to get a sense of wether a dedicated hearing session for planning, etc is needed.

All relevant parties are expected to respond to the DPEA with their take on issues raised through the written submissions on planning.

After assessing the round of FWS consultations, The DPEA will confirm wether the hearing on policy is required.

Hearing statements to be submitted by all taking part in any of the hearings.

The DPEA reporters, Mr West and Mr Buylla, will visit Coul Links to examine the site of the planning proposal. They will not be accompanied by interested parties. As such, the date of this visit is not public.

For a week in November 2024, the DPEA reporters will relocate from their offices in Falkirk to a venue in the locality (probably Clashmore Hall) to gather evidence from developer and objector witnesses on set topics. There will be three days dedicated to Ecology, one day on Socio-economics. There will also be an evening session where pre-registered members of the public can participate. The provisional timetable is here:

Following the hearings, participants wil provide closing submissions and a summary of their case. The applicant will have an additional two weeks for this.

DPEA reporters Mr Buylla and Mr West will produce a report on their findings during the Public Examination and make a recommendation to Scottish Ministers. The date has not been set, but it is expected that the reporters will release their report in early 2025.

After taking the DPEA report into account, and reading the reporters’ recommendation, Scottish Ministers will make a final decision on the proposal. There is no date set, but is expected to happen in January or February 2025.

Save the date, save Coul Links.

The Hearings
11.-15. Nov. 2024

The week of hearing sessions will take place at Clashmore Hall (TBC). There, the DPEA will gather evidence from witnesses starting from 11th November 2024. After the hearings and closing submissions, the DPEA will report their findings.

Date

Time

Topic

Session

11.11

AM

1. Ecology

A. Effects on SSSI sand dune habitats

11.11

PM

1. Ecology

B. Effects on SSSI breeding bird assemblage and non-breeding Eider

12.11

AM

1. Ecology

C. Effects on invertebrate assemblage

12.11

PM

1. Ecology

D. Effects on plant assemblage, including SSSI species

13.11

AM

1. Ecology

E. Effects on the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet SPA and Moray Firth SPA (including disturbance and habitat loss)

13.11

PM

1. Ecology

F.

14.11

All Day

2. Tourism and Socio-economics

14.11

Eve.

3. Matters of Concern to the Local Community

15.11

AM

4. Legislative, Policy and Guidance Context

15.11

PM

5. Conditions

Documents

Not Coul will publish submissions and other important inquiry documents here.

14th July 2024 | Spanish Case Study

Planning guidelines raise concerns over Ramsar compliance

Coul Links scenario could benefit from Spanish case study

30% of Coul Links floods during the the colder months to form a winter wetland habitat and foraging zone for birds. Building a golf course on Coul Links would very likely damage these wetlands, and possibly even destroy them.

If the Scottish Government approves the golf course plan, it is at present unclear how that might affect the UK Government’s obligations to the Ramsar Convention. Coul Links is part of a Ramsar site which the UK Government is obliged, under the convention, to protect. However, planning policy is a devolved matter. Newly worded “guidance” introduced in 2019 appears to dilute protection arrangements in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.

Not Coul will be seeking to ensure the issue is properly addressed in the forthcoming inquiry. Ramsar procedures were used a decade ago to prevent a proposed golf course damaging a Ramsar site in Majorca. The case exposed loopholes and led to changes of national environmental law in Spain. You can read the Ramsar Assessment below.