26 July 2019
The DPEA website still offers no indication that the applicant's closing submissions have been received 14 weeks beyond the original deadline. There is no published record of the applicant's motives and reasons for delay being interrogated. Whether there will ever be a point at which the reporters determine that the fairness of the public inquiry has been compromised to the extent that it is rendered redundant remains unexplored. However, the would-be developer would appear to be careless to the possibility that it is leaving itself increasingly open to the question of whether it is sufficiently competent and respectful of public process to be entrusted with the stewardship of Coul Links.
17 July 2019
Still no indication that the DPEA has received the applicant's closing submissions in their entirety or an explanation for the further delay. If the inquiry process was not being portrayed "in its best light" two weeks ago, the light has become ever less flattering with the passing of the days. Progress can be followed at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
15 July 2019
Nothing so far published on the DPEA website to suggest that the applicant has met their agent's "best estimate" for submission of the closing submissions's missing chapters.
4 July 2019
The applicant's agent, Moray Thomson, has communicated to the DPEA that his "best estimate" for the date of submission of the final tranche of the applicant's closing submission is Friday 12 July. In an email response, Fiona Manson for the DPEA, writes, "The reporters have asked me to convey their unease about the repeated and significant delays in the submission of your closing submissions. It does not portray the inquiry process in its best light, and it does not assist them in submitting their report in an efficient and timely manner". Ms Manson adds, "Therefore you should be aware that there may be significant further delay before they are able to complete their report".
2 July 2019
Representing the applicant, on 21st June Moray Thomson of Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP communicated that he was "confident" that the remaining chapters of the submissions would be fully drafted early last week allowing submission "no later than Friday 28th June". His confidence appears to have been misplaced as no further closing submissions have been lodged.
28 June 2019
For those who see parallels between the Coul Links development and that at the Trump International Golf Links at Menie in Aberdeenshire, Scottish National Heritage has recommended that the Trump links be removed from an existing site of special scientific interest (SSSI) as the the golf course had "destroyed" the sand dune system, causing permanent habitat loss. BBC News reports that the Trump Organisation reacted by calling the move a "stitch up".
25 June 2019
On 21st June the applicant informed the Reporters that the remaining chapters of the closing submission will be provided no later than 28th June.
QC for NotCoul finally committed frustration to paper and complained to the Chief Reporter that the applicants have taken control of the process. "We are severely prejudiced by a combination of the unexplained delay, and by the assumption that whatever is needed, whenever is needed, for whatever reason to suit the applicant, it is the applicant's for the taking." The applicant's response was not conciliatory and entirely consistent with their attitude to date. No reasons for the further delay to submission were offered.
On 25th June, Fiona Manson, for the Reporters, responded to NotCoul that the Reporters shared the frustration. No criticism or sanction of the applicant was mentioned or implied. The Chief Reporter does not agree that the applicant has taken control of the process from the Reporters.
If the applicant was in control of the process, they still are. The exchange can be found at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
17 June 2019
Another week and still no sign of the applicant's missing chapters. The submitted material places much emphasis on unpicking the opponents' evidence and credibility. To the extent that, though they have yet to finalise their own submission, the applicant declares to the Reporters that "unless it is spelt out in black and white in the Report to Scottish Ministers that there are serious shortcomings in the evidence and case presented by NC (NotCoul) at Inquiry, including serious issues of credibility and reliability, then the written evidence and NC's closing sublissions will be presented as though the evidence was accepted as not having been undermined". As the applicant continues to set their own timeframe for writing closing submissions, what might have passed as a pursuit of thoroughness runs the risk of looking rather too like arrogance when what they do commit to paper is advice to the Reporters.
10 June 2019
Chapters 1 - 7 of the applicant's closing submissions received by DPEA. Progress can be followed at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
7 June 2019
The applicant has again failed to submit closing submissions. They advise that material will be submitted next week.
29 May 2019
The applicant has advised that their closing submissions will be lodged on 5th June, more than six weeks after the original deadline.
22 May 2019
Chapter 14 of the applicant's closing submissions delivered today to the DPEA, almost nine weeks after the close of the public sessions. A date for delivery of the remainder of their closing submissions is yet to be confirmed. Should it not be a real concern to the applicant that any of the parties opposing the golf development now have understandable grounds for questioning the fairness of the inquiry process and grounds entirely of the applicant's making?
22 May 2019
On 21 May, 11 days after the extended deadline for their closing submission expired, the applicant's representative contatced the DPEA to report that they would submit a single chapter of their closing submission on 22 May. The other chapters will follow next week. "The preparation of the chapter on Socio Economic evidence also took far longer than initially anticipated as the approach to drafting was driven by the need to properly ventilate the policy related issues of relevance to the question of national significance," was offered as explanation. Whether a golf course on Coul Links is a good thing or a bad thing, the process of arriving at a decision must be fair. An applicant that would appear to hold such scant regard, with apparent impunity, for the stipulated schedule observed by other parties, runs the risk of undermining the credibility of any decision in their favour. Are the would-be developers being done any public relations favours by the authors of their closing submission? Perhaps the reporters will smile on their efforts and the contents will be worth the extraordinary wait.
13 May 2019
The DPEA has written to the applicant's legal representative to point out that their closing submissions to the public inquiry are now overdue. It would appear that the extended deadline has been missed.
30 April 2019
On the afternoon of the day before the already extended deadline, the applicant's representative requested a further 14 day extension for submission of their closing submission. Amongst the reasons given for the request were, "Counsel was not able to dedicate herself to the drafting process for the first 2 weeks immediately after the inquiry ended" and "the drafting of the chapter on socio economic evidence has taken considerably longer than envisaged". On the 29th of April, the office of the reporters responded expressing disappointment with the delay but seeing "no alternative but to agree" to the request. Other parties, some with comparatively meagre finance and resources, produced their closing submissions to deadline and might well have benefitted from a three week extension such as that now afforded to the applicant.
22 April 2019
The deadline for the applicant's closing submission has been extended to 26th April.
4 April 2019
Closing submissions from all parties other than the applicant and The Highland Council due to be submitted to the public inquiry reporters this Friday. The applicant has a further two weeks to finalise their concluding statement.
22 March 2019
Final day of public inquiry.
17 March 2019
Moving in to the fourth, and what is scheduled to be the final, week of the inquiry, the only socio economic arguments yet heard have been those put forward by some of the individuals marshalled by councillor McGillivray's LACG.
8 March 2019
Second week of public inquiry lost a day due to illness. The reporters used this as an opportunity to visit Coul Links and walk the site of the proposed golf course. Webcasts of each daily session can be found at https://dpea.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts
26 February 2019
Public inquiry starts.
12 February 2019
The DPEA has published a provisional programme for the public inquiry.
Week 1: 26 February – 1 March 2019
Inquiry session: natural heritage
SNH (2 witnesses). Applicant (6 witnesses total).
Week 2: 5-8 March 2019
Inquiry session: natural heritage
Applicant continued (Professor Pye on Tuesday 5th). Coalition (4 witnesses). Not Coul (3 witnesses total).
Week 3: 12-15 March 2019
Inquiry session: natural heritage
Not Coul continued (Professor Hansom on Tuesday 12th).
Inquiry session: socio-economic impact
Applicant (2 witnesses). Not Coul (2 witnesses). Professor Bell (for LACG) on Friday 15th.
Week 4: 19-22 March 2019
Inquiry session: socio-economic impact
Not Coul continued (if necessary). Scotways/Ramblers (2 witnesses). Local Area Community Groups (13 witnesses).
Hearing session: conditions
23 January 2019
The Scottish Government has published an Advice and Guidance note (12 January 2019) on "Implementation of Scottish Government policy on protecting Ramsar sites". https://www.gov.scot/publications/implementation-of-scottish-government-policy-on-protecting-ramsar-sites/ The DPEA has notified all inquiry participants that they have until 12 February to make any changes to written statements on policy matters in the light of the revised SG guidance.
There is some freshly edited drone video of Coul Links at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV8sQRhWWPk The commentary is not impartial. The video also appears on an updated home page published by opposition group NotCoul.
7 December 2018
All parties, with one exception, have lodged their inquiry and policy statements within the deadline set at the pre-inquiry meeting. https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883 The applicant has failed to observe the deadline. The reporters have accepted this disregard for the agreed timetable. Away from the official process, at a time when communication from the would-be developers could be informative for everyone interested in the future of Coul Links, the applicant's blog and twitter feed have been silent since 22 October.
With all parties waiting for a Scottish Government statement of clarification on policy, on 29 November The Highland Council requested that the date (5 December) for exchange of further written submissions, inquiry statements and statements of agreed matters be delayed. The DPEA responded on 3 December requesting parties to stick to the timetable as " the reporters note they have no information as to when any Scottish Government statement or clarification is to be issued".
22 November 2018
DPEA confirms Carnegie Hall, Clashmore as venue for the inquiry for want of any alternative. Circulation list of participating parties published.
21 November 2018
Harper Macleod LLP, solicitors to SNH, has written to DPEA to report that SNH has been in dialogue with both the applicant and the Scottish Government on the issue of an appropriate assessment of the impacts on the Ramsar site. "SNH recognises that this is a matter relating to Scottish Government policy. We understand that the Scottish Government intends to provide clarification on how it expects its established policy for the protection of Ramsar sites to be implemented and SNH intends to await that clarification." It would appear that the Scottish Government is unable to formulate a protocol for Ramsar site appropriate assessments within a timescale set by its own recorders in advance of its own inquiry.
7 November 2018
A note, dated 5 November, listing the points arising at the pre-examination meeting was circulated to all parties on 7 November. The inquiry is to start on 26 February (venue to be decided) and run for a probable four weeks of Tuesdays to Fridays. At the pre-examination meeting the applicants and SNH agreed to advise within 21 days their positions on an appropriate assessment specifically addressing Ramsar considerations. It would appear that The Scottish Government has no established protocol for the production of an appropriate assessment of the impact of a proposed development on a Ramsar site.
19 October 2018
The Planning and Environmental Appeals Division has written to all interested parties to advise that, "Further to the agenda dated 17 October 2018, I can now advise that (subject to the discussion at the pre-examination meeting) the reporters are proposing that the inquiry be held during the weeks beginning 25 February and 4 March 2019".
17 October 2018
The Plannng and Appeals Division has circulated an agenda for the pre-examination meeting.
9 October 2018
The pre-examination meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday 31 October 2018 at The Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, Dornoch, IV25 3RG.
26 September 2018
Via the developer's website Mr Abel Smith, the landowner of Coul Links, publishes an open letter stating, "I wish to ensure that access to the site is undertaken strictly in terms of the approved Scottish Outdoor Access Code". Anyone seeking access to the application site should first contact the development Project Manager "in order that he may coordinate and manage the visits".
21 September 2018
The Planning and Environment Appeals Division has written to all who made previous representation to the planning authority inviting their participation in a hearing or enquiry session(s) at a date to be advised. "The reporters have now looked at the documentation available and decided that a hearing or enquiry session is required to assist in writing their report." All details about the appeal can be found at https://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=119883
24 August 2018
Kevin Stewart announces, "As Planning Minister, I have called in the application as the proposal raises issues of national importance in relation to natural heritage issues and its compliance with Scottish planning policy and requires further scrutiny". He added, "it is right that the decision is taken at the national level". (The letter to The Highland Council notifying the call in can be found with other documents lower down this page.)
This bogey at the second for developer Todd Warnock prompted him, via the developers' blog, to comment, "Whilst this decision delays bringing significant economic and environmental benefits to the area, we welcome the opportunity to set out again the compelling case to create a world class golf course in east Sutherland".
Local opposition group Not Coul have used Facebook to publish a brief explanation of how the call in is likely to be handled ...
18 August 2018
Scottish Wildlife Trust and a coaition of environmental bodies have written to the Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention seeking intervention. (See letter below)
31 July 2018
Scottish Government - "Ministers had an initial 28 day period to consider the application for a golf course at Coul Links after Highland Council notified them it was minded to grant planning permission. In order to fully consider the application ministers are extending that period by a further 28 days from 1 August to consider whether or not to call in the application for their determination." Todd Warnock, for the developers, responded by saying "The Scottish Government is right to take its time to consider the issues. After more than three years of thorough consideration of the project we are happy to wait a few more days".
29 July 2018
National press reports on the destruction wreaked on a SSSI protected dune system by the Trump International golf course in Aberdeenshire and a timely reminder that Trump stated that the site would be "environmentally enhanced and better than it was before" just as Todd Warnock has declared that "Coul Links is an extraordinary site ecologically and our plans will immprove it".
26 July 2018
Further clarification at Westminster on Ramsar protection in England but, in the face of numerous submissions flagging up the failings of the Highland Council position, no call in from Scottish Ministers.
4 July 2018
The Highland Council is reported to have informed the Scottish Government that it is minded to grant permission for the planning application. The 28 day window available for calling in the application opens now.
3 July 2018
The World Commission on Protected Areas asks the Scottish Government to urgently call-in the planning proposal, insisting the golf course will destroy the integrity of rare coastal habitats.
On BBC Good Morning Scotland, Todd Warnock continues to emphasise that the planning officer recommended refusal as a statutory requirement triggered by a single "narrow" Scottish Natural Heritage objection. See the 30 May news item below for a brief summary of that "narrow" objection.
20 June 2018
Planning Committee gives consent to Coul Links golf course development. Congratulations to Todd Warnock: a par on the first marked with some truly presidential sentiment at https://www.coullinks.co.uk/single-post/2018/06/20/COUL-LINKS-PLANS-PASSED-BY-COUNCILLORS
18 June 2018
At midday today, The Chair and members of The Highland Council North Area Planning Committee were alerted to the fact that, to date, the complete Appropriate Assessment required for developments impacting on Ramsar sites (afforded the same protection as Natura sites) has not been concluded. Nothing has been published since Scottish Natural Heritage offered assistance on 25 May.
For the development to be approved, this Appropriate Assessment must conclude that an adverse effect on the integrity of the site will not occur and can be ruled out. Claiming economic benefit is not one of the Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Importance that would open the door to planning consent. The law does not give The Highland Council any discretion.
13 June 2018
In a further consultation response, SEPA maintains its previous planning position on the wetlands outside the Loch Fleet SSSI and defers to SNH on aspects within the SSSI. (In its consultation response SNH objects to the planning application.)
13 June 2018
Public comments on The Highland Council planning website objecting to the Coul Links development: 1,851. Those supporting the development: 348.
8 June 2018
A coalition of environmental groups, (Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust), has written an open letter to the First Minister calling on her to use her powers to urgently call in the application.
7 June 2018
The only account we can find of the evidence that prompted the deferral of a decision is at http://notcoul.com/press.html We are aware that this is a partisan source but material from this source has proven well researched in the past.
6 June 2018
Public comments on The Highland Council planning website objecting to the Coul Links development: 1,843. Those supporting the development: 348.
5 June 2018
The Highland Council North Area Planning Committee today deferred a decision on the application to build a golf course on Coul Links. The developers clearly regarded the tone of the deliberations as positive with Mr Warnock stating that "This is clearly a highly significant milestone in this project. The fact that every council member who spoke was supportive and no council member was prepared to put forth a motion for refusal was deeply gratifying."
World Environment Day - the United Nations' core effort to encourage awareness and action for the protection of the environment.
31 May 2018
In his blog Mr Warnock, for the developers, reports that "the recommendation to refuse permission for the Coul Links development was expected". He insists that the remaining objection from statutory bodies is "narrow" and that "the report to the planning committee is clear that without this one objection, the application would be supported".
30 May 2018
Report by the Area Planning Manager to the Highland Council North Planning Applications Committee recommends refusal of the Coul Links golf course planning application. See full report under the planning section lower on this page. Committee meeting 5 June 2018.
It is recommended the application be Refused subject to the following reasons for refusal: 1. The application is contrary to the provisions of the Highland-wide Local Development Plan Policies 28 (Sustainable Design) Policy 57 (Natural, Built and Cultural Heritage) as the proposed development would result in a significantly detrimental impact on the Loch Fleet Site of Scientific Interest and Loch Fleet Ramsar Site, designated for its sand dune habitat. In particular, the Coul Links support some of the best quality SSSI dune slack habitats in Scotland and the proposal, in its current format, will result in significant and permanent loss of sand dune habitat, particularly dune heath and dune slacks and impacts to other species which depend on it. Although mitigation is proposed the residual losses are extensive and likely to be permanent. In addition, the proposed development will create a high level of disruption to natural dune processes, such as dynamism, due to large dune areas becoming stabilised. It will also result in significant levels of habitat fragmentation, with the course infrastructure spread throughout the dune system. Furthermore, translocation of habitat is unlikely to be successful and therefore not an appropriate technique to safeguard a protected area of such natural environmental complexity and notable dune quality.