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Not Coul raise concerns at event in Parliament over Coul Links planning assessment document

By Staff Reporter

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A CAMPAIGN group has highlighted at a Scottish Parliament event what it claims is a “potential illegal irregularity” in a Highland Council planning assessment document for the proposed Coul Links golf course.

Members of the North Planning Applications Committee voted in favourof the controversial development at their meeting on December 6. The Scottish Government has since called in the applicationfor review due to environmental concerns.

The Cluain Burn outlet at Coul Links. Picture Andrew Weston.
The Cluain Burn outlet at Coul Links. Picture Andrew Weston.

Representatives of Not Coulsay the “potential irregularity” centres on a document called an ‘Appropriate Assessment’, which the council is required to carry out under policy four of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPFS). The Appropriate Assessment assesses the potential impact of a development on a Special Protection Area (SPA).

Dr Tom Dargie and John Campbell KC raised concerns at an event at Holyrood on February 20entitled ‘NPF4: Is it Working for People and Planet?’

The event was organised by the charity Planning Democracyto examine the effectiveness of NPF4. It was hosted by Green MSP Arianne Burgess and attended by Sutherland MSP Maree Todd and nine other MSPs and members of the public.

Dr Dargie explained the ‘irregularity’, saying: “Instead of being produced and published in advance, the assessment was presented during the meeting, prompting a 10-minute adjournment to afford committee members the opportunity to read its contents.

“Upon examination, concerns were raised regarding the origin and authenticity of the document. The Appropriate Assessment provided appears to have been directly lifted, verbatim from a NatureScot document, rather than being independently carried out by Highland Council.”

Mr Campbell spoke of his concern that a cross-party group of politicians had come out in support of Coul Links. He emphasised the importance of “respecting the proscribed protocols on pending applications”.

Dr Dargie continued: “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 interest of both the people and the planet it aims to protect.”

A Highland Council spokesperson said: “The planning application was processed in accordance with the correct procedures and regulations. This is reflected in the committee report which sets out in detail how the proposal would impact on the designations which cover the site; with this assessment forming the basis of the Appropriate Assessment.

“Although the Appropriate Assessment was not originally attached to the committee report, when this was noted it was arranged that this would be circulated to the members ahead of the consideration of the application. However, as was highlighted to members, this document did not contain any information not already included in the committee report.

"We can also confirm that the Appropriate Assessment was undertaken by the council. However, as allowed for, it is based in part on the advice of the relevant statutory consultees which in this instance included NatureScot. This is accordance with the relevant guidance. The council's findings in the Appropriate Assessment were the same as NatureScot’s. There were no procedural irregularities."

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