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NOT COUL BULLETINDATE SET FOR SCOT GOV INQUIRY HEARINGS INTO GOLF COURSE PLAN AT COUL LINKSThe Planning and Environment Appeals Division (DPEA) will gather evidence for and against the golf course plan at Coul Links in form of hearings in the week commencing the 11th November 2024.In a week-long appearance in the locality (venue to be announced), the DPEA reporters will convene a number of discussions on a variety of topics.There will be three days of hearings on the ecological impacts. This may include coastal erosion, which is already affecting the golf course plan.There will be one day of hearings on the socio-economic arguments, as well as a half-day on planning policy context and a half-day on draft conditions, wether the plan goes ahead or not.There will also be a community evening session of around 2-3 hours which will take place on the 14th November. Depending on how many people register to take part, the reporters may split the session into two, one for supporters and one for objectors.The Not Coul team is preparing to contest the ecological and socio-economic arguments, set out by the developers. Other objectors include the Conservation Coalition led by the RSPB. Highland Council and NatureScot will also give evidence. ... See MoreSee Less
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NOT COUL BULLETINFIRST MEETING BETWEEN THE DEVELOPERS AND OBJECTORS OF THE COUL LINKS GOLF COURSE PLAN SETS SHAPE OF UPCOMING INQUIRYThe pre-examination meeting of the upcoming governmental inquiry into the Coul Links golf plan took place today.It is the first time representatives of the developers, objectors and the adjudicating Scottish Government, met since the plan was called in by Scottish Ministers.Inquiry reporters David Buylla and Stuart West, will report their findings and make their recommendation to Scottish Ministers at the end of the inquiry proceedings.In attendance were the legal representatives of the developers C4C, NatureScot, Highland Council, the Conservation Coalition, and Not Coul, amongst others. Mr Buylla and Mr West set out administration and procedural rules, but also gathered reactions to the proposed topics to be examined, which were made public last week.There was some discussion on how the ecological impacts of the course should be assessed by the reporters. James Findlay representing C4C posited that a hearing session would be sufficient to discuss the ecological impacts of the plan, while Louise Cockburn representing the Conservation Coalition and Simon Crabb representing Not Coul contended that a cross examination into the ecological impact is paramount in discovering knowledge gaps in this case. Ms Cockburn also made the point SPA and Ramsar designations also have to be taken into consideration alongside the impacts on the SSSI. Reporter Buylla broadly agreed with this, saying that widening the scope to cover the details of the ecology on the site is necessary. He stopped short, however, of confirming a full blown cross-examination at this stage, and suggested reporters may use an extended “super hearing” to gather evidence instead.There was also discussion on how to address the topic of tourism and the socio-economic impact. Mr Crabb advocated for an inquiry session into this and confirmed that Not Coul were the only objecting party fielding an economic expert to hold the claims of the developer's economist to account. The Highland Council’s representative signalled his interest in this being heard at an expanded hearing, while developer representative Mr Findlay KC opined that a slimmed down hearing would be sufficient.Coastal erosion was not initially slated by the reporters as a topic for examination, however there was considerable discussion as to its relevance. Simon Crabb drew attention to the severe erosion that happened during winter and has already affected the plan of the golf course, as was widely reported in the press last month. He argued that because of ongoing change and new gathered data, the topic ought to be examined in some form, preferably through cross examination. James Findlay responded that his client, C4C, is willing to take the risk of having to re-apply for planning permission in the face of any coastal erosion effects on the current plan. The reporters indicated that they would prefer not to open up another line of inquiry into this topic and instead may incorporate it into the extended hearing on ecology.Similarly, hydrology was cited by the Conservation Coalition and Not Coul as being instrumental in understanding the unique ecology of the site. In response, Mr Findlay stated there was no basis whatsoever to consider this. Reporters Buylla, however took the view that it is a topic that should be heard, and slated it for inclusion into the ecology session.Discussion on the evening community input session produced a lively interchange between various parties. Jerry Bishop stated that a community session ought to allow locals to be heard, and suggested that people from further afield are not the ideal people to present views at such a session. Simon Crabb suggested that a clear definition of what local means would be helpful. Peter Batten stated he had no objection to a local session which involved residents of the IV25 postcode only. Dr Tom Dargie pointed out that a portion of Coul Links lies within the postcode assigned to Golspie, and that residents there, and indeed Tain, may also be considered local. Mr Buylla reiterated that a community session should be open to all and anyone that wants to come, but in wake of the discussion is considering holding two sessions, one for anyone who wants to come, and the other for local residents.Towards the end of the PEM, it was agreed that the Public Examination would take place in Embo Trust if technology allows for remote participation at that venue. Also to be confirmed is the exact start date of the Public Examination and any connected site visits, with the 11th November 2024 being pencilled in as a provisional start date, subject to confirmation of all participating parties.A note of the Pre-Examination Meeting outlining the finalised format of the inquiry will be made public in a few days. ... See MoreSee Less
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NOT COUL ON FRONT PAGE OF THE NORTHERN TIMESRISKY COUL LINKS GOLF PLAN SLUMPING INTO THE SEAIt's now official: a golf course at Coul Links is risky business. Data gathered by Not Coul backs up Dynamic Coast and Glasgow University predictions on the rapid advance of coastal erosion at Coul Links.Placing a golf course on an area at risk of coastal erosion will immediately put it on the list of endangered golf courses along with Golspie, Royal Dornoch, Fortrose, Montrose, St. Andrews, and many more.The developers claim the process will reverse. Where is their data to back that up? This plan is a recipe for financial disaster, one that the local area can do without. ... See MoreSee Less
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NOT COUL OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASECOUL LINKS GOLF PLANS IN COASTAL EROSION CRISISThe planned golf course at Coul Links near Dornoch is already beginning to be washed away even before a decision on the application is made.The Moray Firth area on the east coast of Scotland is increasingly affected by climate change, with more frequent and intense storms, compounded by sea level rise. Near Coul Links, Golspie's golf course has experienced multiple instances of flooding and erosion during recent winters, with damage and breaches in coastal protection measures. Fortrose, Montrose and St. Andrew’s golf courses have all reported considerable erosion and/or damage to their seaward defences.After little change since a storm surge in 2012, there has been considerable erosion at Coul this winter. Although storms Babet and Ciarán caused significant erosion in their own right, they seem also to have triggered a trend of continuing erosion in normal conditions. A tall dune cliff now extends north from the Embo slipway to near the mouth of Loch Fleet. Slumping on the dune face follows in the days after erosion events. The dune edge has retreated significantly inland.Not Coul has monitored the dune edge and dune foot retreat since 2018 by taking successive readings with highly accurate industry-standard positioning systems. This data will be made available to the inquiry. At this moment the eroding dune edge is only 3.15 and 3.40 metres from the closest parts of the proposed golf course, at Hole 17 and the back tee of Hole 18, respectively,. Erosion is also just 10 metres from Hole15.This Not Coul work shows that part of the actual C4C course could slip into the sea by the time the 2024 inquiry into the golf course plan begins. At present the ground around the 17th fairway and 18th back tee is already unsafe for construction and landscaping due to very recent erosion. More than 4,000 tonnes of sand from within the golf course construction footprint has already been lost since November. Not Coul maintains C4C's planning application is already seriously affected by erosion making it impossible to construct the course in its planned form. ... See MoreSee Less
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NOT COUL BULLETINSCOT GOV ANNOUNCES "BIODIVERSITY VS GOLF COURSE" INQUIRY TO BEGIN PROCEEDINGSThe Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) has set the date for the Coul Links golf course inquiry Pre-Examination Meeting (PEM) for 11am, Monday 13th May 2024.The appointed reporters will chair the PEM to establish the topics to be assessed and the mix of formats in which they will be considered — this will include hearing sessions and a Public Examination. Written submissions were not mentioned in the announcement. Administrative arrangements will be set out.Not Coul will be at that meeting to state its intention to contend the development and will put forward its team of expert witnesses.The PEM will, in effect, fire the starting gun on the inquiry. For around 32-35 weeks the developers and the opposition will make their play in scheduled hearings during which there is no cross-examination.At the end of that period, a Public Examination which includes cross-examination will take place, before the reporters come to a final decision. The date and venue for this final round will be announced after the PEM.If you received a letter from the DPEA asking if you wish to participate but feel that Not Coul represents your view, then you do not need to reply. Not Coul will do that for you. This will save the DPEA considerable resources. The public will be allowed to attend and details on how will follow. ... See MoreSee Less
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NOT COUL OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASENOT COUL SUPPLIES MORE DETAIL ON COUL LINKS GOLF PLANNING IRREGULARITYOn 26th February 2024, the Northern Times reported on Not Coul’s claim of procedural irregularity during a Coul Links golf course planning committee which took place on 6th December 2023.The focal point of contention centred on an essential document referred to as the Appropriate Assessment (AA). This document, mandated by Policy 4b of National Planning Framework 4 as well as the Highland Council’s Local Plan, is required to be conducted by the Highland Council in its capacity as 'competent authority', and after consultation with NatureScot.The assessment specifically pertains to European sites, namely the Dornoch Firth & Loch Fleet and the Moray Firth Special Protection Areas. Its contents must include statements delineating the qualifying interests and conservation objectives of these sites. Moreover, the assessment must provide an audit trail showcasing the Highland Council's decision-making process, culminating in conclusions regarding the potential impact of any planning applications on site integrity. Crucially, this evidence must withstand scientific scrutiny, providing a robust foundation for the Council's conclusions.This required content is set out under advice on Habitats Regulations Appraisal, available on the NatureScot website: Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA) | NatureScot. Not Coul maintains that the importance of the AA is so significant, that it should be accessible to both planning committee members and the public well in advance of any meeting. Delegates of Not Coul and others in attendance at the meeting were surprised by the conspicuous absence of the document in the run-up to its production. Subsequently, upon acquisition of a copy of the AA, Not Coul found it to contain a raft of errors, some of them significant enough to call procedures at the meeting into question. The AA document appeared to be based only on old, out-of-date information. A first iteration makes reference to Scottish National Heritage, with no mention of NatureScot. A second iteration cited advice (Circular 6/1995) which permits use of information supplied by SNH, the applicant and published information. However, it should be noted that Circular 6/1995 was withdrawn some time ago by the Scottish Government as a planning advice note. Additionally, the document bore striking resemblance to the AA document supporting the failed 2017 Coul Links Golf application.These revelations were first revealed by Not Coul on the 20th of February 2024 during a Scottish Parliament event hosted by charity Planning Democracy which set out to examine and assess the efficacy of the National Planning Framework. 11 MSPs were present at the packed event, including Maree Todd and Arianne Burgess.Confirming some aspects of Not Coul's assertions, a spokesperson from Highland Council acknowledged that the AA was not furnished until the last possible moment. Furthermore, the Council, although initially citing SNH in the document, defended its decision to base part of the AA on NatureScot advice, refuting any allegations of procedural irregularity in this regard.In response, Not Coul has published the AA with a couple of annotations on their Facebook page. Not Coul's scrutiny highlights a shocking blunder in the document, which apparently went completely unnoticed during the procedure: incredibly, the text urges for more disturbance to birdlife, and is thus in clear contravention of the conservation objectives of the SPA.A second annotation identifies a specific irregularity, the copied NatureScot text, within the AA conclusion. Moreover, Not Coul pointed out in the Facebook post that the format of the document deviates from the required AA guidelines available on the NatureScot website. Not Coul’s Dr. Tom Dargie drew parallels between the current Assessment and its counterpart from the 2019 Coul Links golf inquiry. He suggested that if the Assessment had been conducted accurately, it could have had decisive implications for the 2017 planning application, potentially rendering the subsequent 2019 inquiry unnecessary. Highlighting discrepancies between the Council's 2018 Assessment and that of the 2019 inquiry, Dr. Dargie hinted at the possibility of a similar outcome in the present scenario. ... See MoreSee Less
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NOT COUL OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASENPF4 SCRUTINISED AT SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT EVENT: NOT COUL UNVEILS CONTROVERSIAL IRREGULARITY IN THE COUL LINKS GOLF PLANNING PROCESSOn 20th February 2024, Not Coul took centre stage at the Scottish Parliament event titled "NPF4: Is it Working for People and Planet?" The event, orchestrated by the charity Planning Democracy, united MSPs, ministers, officials, and the general public to scrutinize the efficacy of NPF4. With Arianne Burgess MSP as the host and Highland MSP Maree Todd in attendance alongside nine other MSPs, the room was brimming with participants, outstripping its supply of chairs.During the discussion, Dr. Tom Dargie and John Campbell KC from Not Coul grabbed attention by revealing a potential illegal irregularity during the Coul Links planning committee meeting at the Highland Council on 6th December. This revelation, coupled with passionate and compelling testimonies from various campaigns across Scotland, underscored the widespread neglect in adhering to NPF4 guidelines by many local authorities—a sentiment corroborated by Planning Democracy's research findings.John Campbell KC also highlighted the ongoing attempts by a handful of MSPs and one MP to influence the outcome of the Coul Links call-in, a process clearly set out by established Planning Law and accepted procedures. He suggested that their noisy tactics were at odds with the restraints on Councillors, and emphasized the importance of respecting the prescribed protocols on pending applications. He urged them to trust in the established system to fulfil its obligations impartially.Not Coul is pleased to have been part of this debate and thanks Planning Democracy for their excellent work. The robust presence of MSPs indicated a growing awareness and concern within the political sphere regarding the implementation of NPF4. The event served as a platform to highlight the pressing need for stricter enforcement and oversight, not to mention training and resourcing to ensure that NPF4 genuinely serves the interests of both the people and the planet it aims to protect. ... See MoreSee Less
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Film

The Secret Life of Coul Links

The SSSI designation is the basic building block of nature legal conservation in the UK. Most other protections, such as SPA, SAC, Ramsar sites, NNR, and others, are based on it.

Coul Links is included in the Loch Fleet SSSI because it is an exceptional example of a complete, mature sand dune system and forms an integral element of the estuary system.

Except for some grazing, the dunes are relatively undisturbed by human development and as such the dunes remain unfixed, dynamic and natural. Additionally, the unique topography of the dunes allows water to collect in the dune slacks through the winter months.

These physical characteristics host a complex matrix of intermingling habitat types forming a rich tapestry featuring an exceptionally high number of species for a site so far north.

The vascular plant assemblage at Coul Links is particularly impressive and it is also one of the UK’s top sites for its lichens. The Fonseca’s seed fly is endemic to these dunes, meaning it’s found nowhere else in the world. New species are still being found above ground, with underground species yet to be investigated.

In short, the value of Coul Links as a site for biodiversity is off the scale.

SPAs represent the very best of Scotland’s nature and are internationally important for threatened habitats and species. These areas are selected to protect one or more rare, threatened or vulnerable bird species, or certain regularly occurring migratory birds.

Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet SPA provides a vital habitat for Wigeon, Teal, Scaup, Greylag Goose, Dunlin, Oystercather, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Osprey and Redshank. Wigeon and Teal use the Coul Links sector in particular.

Ramsar sites are classified as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. Its mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

A special feature of Coul Links is the flooding which happens in the dune slacks during the colder months. The water table begins to rise, forming dozens of ponds of varying size to cover around 30% of the Coul Links area. It is an annual cycle around which certain habitat types have formed. Additionally, winter birds use it for shelter and to forage.

The Coul Links wetlands, then, are an integral feature of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site which has been designated since 1997. As signatories of the Convention, the UK Government is obliged to protect the site in its entirety.