Posts Tagged ‘Coul Links’

Not Coul re: proposed Coul Links golf course

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

The record from the Pre-Enquiry Meeting held in Carnegie Hall in Clashmore village held on 31st October 2018.

The full note of this record is downloadable HERE.

Text of this record is below.



1. The pre-examination concerned the planning application by Coul Links Ltd
(‘the applicants’) for the proposed development of an 18-hole golf course at Coul
Links, north of the village of Embo.  The proposal includes the erection of clubhouse,
renovation of existing buildings for maintenance facility, pro-shop, caddy hut,
workshop, administration building, information booth, and formation of new private
access from the C1026 road.

2. The planning application was made to The Highland Council, but was called in
by the Scottish Ministers for their own determination “as the proposal raises issues of
national importance in relation to natural heritage issues and its compliance with
SPP [Scottish Planning Policy] which require further scrutiny at a national level.”

3. David Liddell and Timothy Brian, who are Inquiry Reporters within the Scottish
Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA), have been
jointly appointed by Scottish Ministers to conduct a public inquiry, and to prepare a
report and recommendation to them as to whether to allow or reject the proposals.

4. The purpose of the meeting was purely to discuss the arrangements and
procedures to be followed in the consideration of the planning application, and not to
hear any views or evidence on the proposals.  The meeting was recorded so that
anyone not able to attend the meeting would be able to view the proceedings on the
DPEA website.  Unfortunately, due to the corruption of a data file, only the second
part of the meeting is available to view.  It is intended that the Coul Links inquiry will
also be webcast.

Procedural matters

5. The procedures for planning appeals and applications called in for
determination by Scottish Ministers are explained in the Town and Country Planning
(Appeals) (Scotland) Regulations 2013, and in Circular 4/2013: Planning Appeals,
which can be viewed through the DPEA website.

6. It is for the reporters to decide in each case whether any further procedure is
required.  Where they require further information before making a decision or a
recommendation to Scottish Ministers, or where they would like to test the evidence
of the parties or particular elements of their case, they will decide which issues they
require a further procedure on.  In practice, the reporter can seek further written
evidence on certain issues, and might want others to be explored through the
hearing process or the inquiry process, or both.

7. A hearing session is essentially an informal round table session chaired by the
reporter, whereas an inquiry session is a more formal, adversarial procedure in
which evidence is led by witnesses for each side, who are open to cross examination
by representatives of the opposing side.

Choice of procedures

8. The Reporters confirmed that their consideration of the case is not restricted
to the matters referred to in the direction by Scottish Ministers.  On the basis of their
initial review of the file, they had identified a number of issues/topics that require
further procedure, which were listed at Annex A to the agenda for the meeting.  Of
those, it appeared that certain key issues would need to be addressed at a more
formal inquiry session, due to the number of parties involved, and because some of
the topics would lend themselves to cross-examination.

9. The applicants, Not Coul and the Save Coul Links Conservation Coalition (see
paragraph 23 below) argued that it was essential for the inquiry to consider national
policy (including socio-economic policy) as well as development plan policy.  The
Reporters accept the point made by the parties, and propose to expand the scope of
the further written submission accordingly.  If necessary, they will arrange an
additional inquiry or hearing session to address any unresolved national policy

10.  In response to a question from the representative of Scotways (and Ramblers
Scotland), the Reporters agreed that the socio-economic impacts under discussion
should include public access to, and enjoyment of, the links.

11. However, the Reporters are not persuaded that an inquiry or hearing session
is justified on landscape and visual impact, having regard to the material which is
already before them.

12. The applicants asked for clarification as to what is meant by “impact on the
water environment”.  Having considered the issue, the Reporters would invite the
parties to concentrate under that heading on the particular matters which are in
dispute between the parties.

13. Accordingly, the following issues will be considered at the inquiry sessions:

A.  Impacts on natural heritage and protected species – including:

 effect on Dornoch Firth & Loch Fleet Special Protection Area (and Moray Firth
proposed Special Protection Area)
 impact on Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest & Ramsar Site
 purpose and significance of above designations
 impact on the water environment
 (short term and long term) impact on sand dune-related habitats
 risk of habitat fragmentation
 effect on natural dune and coastal processes
 likely effect on breeding and other birds and other fauna and flora
 impact on existing woodland
 proposed mitigation measures, including translocation of habitat
 habitat management and control of invasive species

B.  Socio-economic impacts – including:
 significance of golf tourism
 net economic impact during construction period
 net economic impact when golf course in operation – additional employment
and expenditure in the area
 impact on local recreation and tourism, including public access to, and
enjoyment of, the links
 other socio-economic impacts

14. There will also be an informal hearing session to consider what conditions
and/or legal agreements would be required if permission was granted for the
proposed development.  This is standard procedure at inquiries, and does not prejudge
the outcome.

15. Parties are also invited to make written submissions on the extent to which
the application proposals are consistent with relevant provisions of: (a) national
policy; and (b) the Highland-wide and Caithness and Sutherland Local Development
Plans, and relevant statutory supplementary guidance.

16. The Reporters are satisfied that they already have sufficient evidence on all
the other matters which are relevant to the case, including landscape and visual
effects, traffic and transport and cultural heritage.

17. If a topic is not earmarked for an inquiry or hearing session, or further written
submissions, it does not signify that the Reporters regard it as unimportant – it
means that they already have enough written material on the topic, or that it is an
issue best assessed on site, rather than at an inquiry.

18. All of the written material already lodged, including the numerous letters of
support and objection, will be fully taken into account in any case, so it is not
necessary for an individual or body to take part in the inquiry to have their views

Participation of interested parties in the inquiry/hearing sessions

Inquiry session

19. The applicants will be represented at the inquiry session by Ailsa Wilson QC,
instructed by Moray Thomson (lead contact for correspondence) and Steven
Stewart, Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP.  Ms Wilson will call 5 witnesses at the natural
heritage session who will cover the topics of ecological impact assessment, botany,
hydrology, coastal processes and dune habitats, and a further 2 witnesses at the
socio-economic impact session.

20. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), represented by Peter Ferguson of Harper
Macleod LLP (contact for correspondence), may instruct counsel for the inquiry
session on natural heritage, who will lead 2 witnesses at the natural heritage session
giving evidence on coastal habitats and ecology, and translocation of habitats.

21. The Not Coul objection group, including the British Lichen Society, will be
represented at the inquiry sessions by John Campbell QC and Simon Crabb,
Advocate, who are instructed by Tom Dargie of Not Coul (contact for
correspondence).  Not Coul will have 4 witnesses at the natural heritage session
(ecology, hydrology, coastal processes and lichens), 2 at the socio-economic impact
session, and a further 2 witnesses if there is a hearing or inquiry session on policy
matters.  The Botanical Society of Scotland (represented by Julia Wilson), and Peter
Batten may join the Not Coul group at the inquiry.

22. The Save Coul Links Conservation Coalition (comprising RSPB Scotland,
Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Marine Conservation Society,
Plantlife, Buglife and Butterfly Conservation Society) will be represented by Neil
Collar, Brodies LLP.  Correspondence should be directed to Kate Bellew at RSPB
Scotland.  The Coalition is likely to present 5 witnesses on invertebrates, habitats,
plants, ornithology and the international importance of the site.  Highland Biological
Recording Group, represented by Murdo Macdonald, may also join the Coalition at
the inquiry.

23. Scotways will be represented at the socio-economic impact session by John
Mackay (contact for correspondence).  Scotways hope to combine their evidence at
the inquiry with Ramblers Scotland, whose representative is Helen Todd (contact for
correspondence).  They also intend to make a written submission on conditions.

24. Embo Trust, which is represented by Councillor Jim McGillivray (contact for
correspondence), propose to arrange a coalition in support of the application, to take
part in the socio-economic session of the inquiry, which would include Dornoch
Community Council and Embo Amateur Football Club.

25. Tain and District Field Club may wish to join with like-minded objectors at the

26. Valerie Smith proposes to give evidence on natural heritage, but may join the
Not Coul case.

27. Colin Taylor, Farm Manager, Coul Farm wishes to give evidence on natural
heritage, but he may decide to collaborate with other supporters.

Hearing session

28. The applicants, the council, SNH, Not Coul, the Coul Links Conservation
Coalition and Embo Trust propose to take part in the hearing session to consider the
proposed conditions and any legal agreements.

29. The Highland Council will be represented at the hearing session by Karen
Lyons, council Solicitor (contact for correspondence) or by leading counsel.

Further written submissions

30. The applicants, the council, SNH, Not Coul, the Coul Links Conservation
Coalition, and probably Scotways/Ramblers Scotland wish to make further written
submissions on the policy matters described in paragraph 15 above.  SNH and the
Coalition will confine their contribution to national policy.

Time requirements

31. On the basis of the time estimates of the parties it appears that the inquiry will
last for 3-4 weeks.

Date and venue of inquiry/hearing sessions

32. The inquiry/hearing sessions will be held on consecutive days within the
following dates:
 26 February – 1 March 2019;
 5-8 March 2019;
 12-15 March 2019; and
 19-22 March 2019 (if necessary).

33. The inquiry will sit each week from Tuesday to Friday (to allow the parties to
prepare and travel on the Monday) until the proceedings are completed, and will start
on 26 February 2019.  The inquiry and hearing sessions will sit each day from 10 am
until around 4.30 to 5 pm, with a break for lunch of about an hour starting at a
convenient time between 12.30 and 1 pm.  Depending on the progress of the
proceedings, the start time may be brought forward to 9.30 am with the agreement of
the parties.

34. DPEA are currently investigating the potential venues in the area where the
inquiry could be held, including the Carnegie Hall in Clashmore where the preexamination
meeting was held.
The inquiry venue requires to be
large enough to
the likely high level
of interest in the inquiry, and
needs to be available
the lengthy inquiry period,
accessible for those taking part,
and (ideally) suitable
live webcasting of the proceedings.
Parties will be notified
when an appropriate
has been secured.

Hearing of the evidence – procedures for hearing and inquiry sessions

35. The running order of the parties at the inquiry will be agreed at the start of the
inquiry, when their evidence has been lodged.

36. During evidence-in-chief each witness at the inquiry session will be invited to
read his/her precognition (written statement of evidence).  Then the witness will be
subject to cross-examination by the opposing parties, following which there will be an
opportunity for re-examination by the witness’s advocate or representative.  The
parties are asked to co-operate with each other to avoid unnecessary or repetitive

37. When all of the evidence is complete, each participating party will be given the
opportunity to make a closing statement.  Closing statements will be heard in the
reverse of the order in which the evidence is presented, which means that the
applicants’ closing statement will be heard last.  Closing statements by the main
parties should be lodged in typed form before they are read at the inquiry.
Alternatively, with the agreement of the parties it may be decided to exchange
closing statement in writing after the inquiry, in accordance with a fixed timetable.

Arrangements for the prior exchange of documents

Exchange of documents

38. The inquiry process is based on the principle of prior disclosure – every party
is required to disclose its case to the other parties well in advance of the inquiry, in
accordance with a strict timetable.

39. Therefore, all those taking part in the inquiry session are required to lodge
inquiry statements by 5 December 2018, setting out the particulars of the case they
propose to make on the matters specified in paragraph 13 above, the documents to
be relied upon, and a list of anyone who is to speak at the inquiry session on their
behalf, including the matters to be covered by each person and their relevant

40. By the same date (5 December 2018) the parties should lodge further written
submissions on the planning policy matters referred to in paragraph 15 above,
including a statement of agreed matters (to be initiated by the applicants, and
involving the other relevant parties) which highlights the areas of agreement and
disagreement between the parties.

41. Any documents to be referred to at the inquiry should be submitted at least
28 days before the start of the inquiry (i.e. 29 January 2019).  Each witness giving
evidence at the inquiry session will need to lodge a precognition (written statement of
evidence) at least 14 days before the start of the inquiry (i.e. 12 February 2019).  All
precognitions should be a maximum of 2000 words.  Witnesses should not attach as
appendices to their precognitions documents which other parties have not seen, as
these documents should be lodged as documents in the normal manner.

42. The council has already tabled its draft schedule of conditions.  The applicants
and any other parties wishing to lodge an alternative schedule of conditions, or
comments on the council’s schedule, should do so by 29 January 2019.  That would
allow the applicants to produce an annotated version of the proposed conditions
(highlighting any agreed changes or remaining areas of disagreement) by 12
February 2019.

43. In preparing evidence for the inquiry and hearing sessions, the main parties
will consider the scope for further agreed statements, for example on technical
matters, so that the sessions can focus on the matters in dispute which are relevant
to the proposals before Scottish Ministers.   Any such studies or agreed statements
should be lodged by 5 December 2018.

44. In order to help the parties to prepare their cases, the council and the
applicants will provide an indexed list of, and will produce copies of, all of the extant
application drawings and associated documents, and extant environmental
information, by 21 November 2018.

Deposit of documents

45. All parties are encouraged to submit their documents and precognitions
electronically, so they can be readily viewed on the DPEA website by other parties.
It is also helpful for lists of documents, inquiry statements, precognitions, and draft
conditions to be submitted as Word documents, so they can be incorporated as
appendices to the report if appropriate.

46. In addition, hard copies of all the relevant material connected with the case
will be placed on deposit at Dornoch Library, 8 High Street, Dornoch where they can
be referred to by members of the public.  The deposit copy will include the planning
application and supporting documents (including representations to the planning
application), together with all the inquiry papers lodged by the main parties.  Parties
are requested to submit a hard copy of each of these to the council for that purpose.
The council will bring the deposit set of documents to the inquiry/hearing sessions
when they open.

Site inspections

47. The Reporters have already walked over the application site to familiarise
themselves with the area.  Either during the inquiry/hearing sessions, or (more likely)
at the end of the proceedings, they will conduct an accompanied site inspection,
which the parties will be able to attend.

Other matters

Role of SEPA

48. The Reporters drew the parties’ attention to a letter received on 24 October
from Dr Dargie of Not Coul, which asked the reporters to request that Scottish
Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) participate in the pre-examination meeting
and in the public inquiry itself.  SEPA, who do not object to the proposed
development subject to the imposition of certain conditions, had indicated previously
that they did not propose to take part in the proceedings.  In response to the recent
letter from Not Coul, SEPA have reaffirmed that they do not intend to participate in
the proceedings.

49.       At the meeting Mr Campbell, on behalf of Not Coul, advised that he would
make a formal application asking the Reporters to request SEPA’s attendance at the
inquiry to explain their position, and failing that to require SEPA to attend under the
provisions of section 265 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
Ms Wilson indicated that the applicants will oppose such a request, which they
regard as unjustified.

50.       Mr Campbell subsequently advised that, in fact, no such application would be
made at the present time.  The Reporters note that SEPA has not objected to the
development (subject to the imposition of conditions) in respect of impacts from the
development relevant to their interests.  Whilst other parties disagree about such
impacts, and may wish to present evidence to the inquiry on them, at present the
Reporters are content that they understand SEPA’s position in respect of the
proposal.  Therefore they do not intend to invite SEPA to participate.

Environmental impact assessment

51. The applicants agreed to produce copies of the scoping request and the
scoping opinion in relation to this case, which in the opinion of the reporters may be
helpful to them and to the parties.

Ramsar designation

52. RSPB Scotland has raised the question of the need for an ‘appropriate
assessment’ (similar to what would be required for a Natura site under the Habitats
Regulations) of the impacts on the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site.  SNH
are in dialogue with the applicants on the matter and will set out their position on the
matter in writing by 21 November 2018.

DPEA contact

53. Anyone wishing to contact the DPEA about the application or the inquiry
should phone the case officer Fiona Manson on 0131 244 6915 or email her at  DPEA’s address is 4 The Courtyard, Callendar Business
Park, Falkirk FK1 1XR, but the best way to keep in touch with developments in the
case is via the DPEA website:

Note of the meeting

54. This note is being sent to all of those who have expressed an interest in the
case and those who have signed the attendance list, and will be posted on the DPEA
website.  Parties now have 14 days to confirm whether they wish to take part in
the inquiry/hearing sessions.  The proceedings will also be advertised in the local

55. The note comprises a procedure notice for the purposes of the appeals

T. Brian – 5 November 2018

Planning Objection to Coul Links Golf Course Proposal

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Tain & District Field Club

20th December 2017

The Head of Planning and Building Standards

ePlanning Centre

The Highland Council

Glenurquhart Road



Tain & District Field Club (TDFC) wish to lodge an objection to the following development:

Planning Reference: 17/04601/FUL

Development of 18 hole golf course, erection of clubhouse, renovation of existing buildings for maintenance facility, pro-shop, caddy hut, workshop, administration building, information booth, formation of new private access from C1026

Land 1700M NW Of Embo Community Centre School Street Embo

TDFC is a natural history society established in 1980 and based in Tain.  It draws its membership mainly from East Ross and East Sutherland.  Several members of the Club have read various aspects of the developers’ submissions; our objections below are based on a summary of their observations.

  1. Coul Links has a number of national and international designations:it is part of the Dornoch and Loch Fleet RAMSAR site.
    it is part of the Dornoch and Loch Fleet Special Protected area.
    it is part of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest.

    Only the best sites in the UK and Europe are accorded such designations. This development is unnecessary within our coastline already dominated by existing golf courses.  Furthermore, the case presented in the Environmental Statement of ‘no harm’ to the interests of the SSSI is seriously flawed, as has been very cogently put by specialist commentators.

    Coul Links provides a mosaic of habitats:

    the beach.
    the mobile dunes.
    intertidal sands & gravels connecting to the dune slacks.
    grey dunes with dune heaths including juniper heaths.>

    Each of these provides it own complex of sub-habitats with characteristic plant and animal species.  Such a dynamic system with its patchwork of biological habitats is dependent on sand movement, hydrology and micro-climatic conditions and is therefore very vulnerable to changes in drainage, enrichments from fertilizers and diffusion of pesticides through the system.

  2. The proposed development would cover a considerable area of the protected land outlined in §1.  As Coul Links is a dynamic system it is impossible to alter one area without detrimental effects throughout the system.
  3. Biological surveysThe biological surveys are inadequate:
    1. inappropriate and ill-timed
      the major duck migration period (late August to early October) is not covered
    2. techniques are at best poorly described
      Breeding bird survey techniques are not fully described.
    3. inadequate
      1. bat surveys are inadequate
      2. while there is discussion of some lepidoptra and of Fonseca’s Seed Fly (Botanophila fonsecai), the vast majority of invertebrate groups are inadequately dealt with or totally ignored.
      3. non-vascular plants and fungi are largely ignored.  Many of the rarer plant species are even ‘scoped out’ because we are told they will not be affected by the course layout. This is prejudging the assessments.
  4. Mitigation procedures are inappropriate, two examples being:
    1. It is suggested that the mitigation procedure for the Fonseca’s Seed Fly depends on the funding of a PhD.  This implies retrospective “mitigation”.  Mitigation must take place before a development, rather than just monitoring the damage after it has taken place.
    2. The proposed “translocation” of dune heath.
      The present distribution of this habitat depends on dune mobility, hydrological and other habitat factors.  Moving turfs will translocate heather and some associated plants but cannot move a habitat with its terrestrial and hydrological conditions or its total assemblage of plants, vertebrates and invertebrates. Failure of this supposed mitigation is inevitable.
  5. Socio economic claims:The socio-economic case is optimistic in the extreme.   The business basis for such a seasonal activity seems flawed in the current climate of falling member numbers of golf clubs. The so-called benefits to other golf courses are speculative, and the claims of support, it suggested, not as wholehearted as claimed.There are other ways that the locality, and not just for Dornoch and Embo, can be made more attractive in order to draw in greater numbers of visitors to the area – and year round, not just in the summer.  The lure of a seasonal game of golf, is of very little interest to a large proportion of the local and visiting population.  Give us something we can all use – but not on a precious SSSI.

In summary: Tain & District Field Club members feel that Coul Links is a unique habitat which is too valuable to be destroyed for an unnecessary golf course which has unsubstantiated claims of employment and visitor numbers.  There is no evidence that any jobs created will go to local people.

The area attracts many visitors and its loss would have a detrimental effect on both local visitors and ecotourism in the Highlands and will probably have a detrimental effect on some of the 30+ golf courses already existing within a 30 mile radius.

An unnecessary golf development should not be permitted to destroy an area which is nationally and internationally significant.  Even more importantly the links provides locals and visitors with a peaceful environment to contemplate, study and relax in a truly wild environment in the Highlands all year round.  It’s a wonderful place to enjoy being outside and see some of the amazing birds, butterflies, amphibians and plants Scotland is home to.  It’s one of our club’s favourite places.  We are very worried about what impact the golf course would have here, not only with the loss of the Coul Links, but also how much disturbance would be created in adjacent areas once the golf course is up and running.

David W McAllister

(Chairman, Tain & District Field Club)

For TDFC Committee & Members

Original statement of objection to the Coul Links Golf Course Development