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Publication - FOI / EIR Release

Proposed golf development at Coul Links, Sutherland: EIR release

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.

FOI reference: FOI/18/02978
Date received: 7 December 2017
Date responded: 10 January 2018

Information requested

Copies of any correspondence in 2016 and 2017 relating to the proposed golf development at Coul Links, near Embo in Sutherland, between the office of the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity and other Scottish Government Departments, Highland Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Visit Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Response

As the information you have requested is 'environmental information' for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.

I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the the information you have requested because of exceptions under regulations 10(4)(e) (internal communications) and 10(5)(f) (the interests of the person who provided the information) of the EIRs apply to that information.

In addition, the Scottish Government does not hold any correspondence between the office of the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity and Highland, Council, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection agency, Visit Scotland and Highalnds and Islands Enterprise from 2016 and 2017 relating to the proposed golf development at Coul Links, near Embo in Sutherland., Therefore we are refusing this part of your request under the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs.

The reasons why these exceptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

(i) The Scottish Government does not have the information

Under the terms of the exception at regulation 10(4)(a) of the EIRs (information not held), the Scottish Government is not required to provide information which it does not have.

This exception is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. While we recognise that there may be some public interest in information about the proposed golf development at Coul Links, near Embo in Sutherland, clearly we cannot provide information which we do not hold.

(ii) An exception applies

An exception under regulation 10(4)(e) of the EIRs (internal communications) applies to some of the information you have requested because it is internal communication between Scottish Government Ministers and officials and involves the exploration of a policy question which arose in relation to the proposed golf development at Coul Links, near Embo in Sutherland.

This exception is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. We recognise that there is some public interest in release as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on the development of these policies will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government's view on that while it is still under discussion and development.

An exception under regulation 10(5)(f) of the EIRs (substantial prejudice to interests of person who provided the information) applies to some of the information you have requested. This exception applies because disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the interests of Coul Links Ltd who provided that information to the Scottish Government. They:

  • were not under any legal obligation to give us that information;

  • did not supply it in circumstances in which it could, apart from the EIRs, be made available; and

  • have not consented to disclosure.

This exception is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. We recognise that there is some public interest in release as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in witholdong the information because its release would be likely to prejudice substantially the interests of the person who provided the information.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses

FOI-18-02978 - related documents.pdf

22 page PDF
463.9kB

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference

Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Published:
12 Jan 2018
Proposed golf development at Coul Links, Sutherland: EIR release