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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 December 2007, 13:42 GMT
Swinney responds to Trump attacks
Following concerns surrounding the Scottish Government's handling of Donald Trump's application, MSPs asked a series of parliamentary questions on the issue.

As well as responding to 54 questions, Finance Secretary John Swinney stated that the rules had been followed, while saying he "very much hoped" that MSPs were not calling into question the integrity of Scotland's chief planner.

Here is what Mr Swinney, who has the final say on whether the golf resort plans in Aberdeenshire get the go-ahead, said:

The former Scottish Executive became aware of a potential development by the Trump organisation, and the former First Minister met Donald Trump, in late 2005.

The chief planner subsequently met with Neil Hobday of the Trump Organisation on 29 December 2005 to explain the procedures involved in handling planning applications, the timescales involved and the interaction between the planning system and the requirements for Environmental Assessment.

In January 2006 the chief planner, Jim Mackinnon, was requested to participate in a discussion about a possible planning application with officials of Aberdeenshire Council and consultants acting for the Trump organisation. It was made clear that the chief planner was available to be consulted on matters of Scottish planning procedure.

The planning application for the golf resort with associated development was submitted to Aberdeenshire Council on 27 November 2006.

In August 2007, the chief planner visited the site of the proposed development with a council official and a planning consultant representing the Trump organisation to understand better the various issues raised by the application.

The Formartine area committee received a report from the director of planning and environmental services on 18 September 2007 with a recommendation that planning consent be granted subject to conditions.

The application was deferred for a site visit and hearing which took place on 27 September 2007. The area committee subsequently met on 20 November 2007 and were minded to grant consent.

On 29 November 2007, on the casting vote of the Chair, the Infrastructure Services Committee of Aberdeenshire Council resolved to refuse consent.

On 29 and 30 November 2007, the chief planner and David Ferguson, head of planning decisions division, whose team is responsible for processing planning cases that come before ministers, offered verbal advice to Mr Salmond, at his request, confirming that, as MSP for the constituency where the development was proposed, he was entitled to represent properly the interests of his constituents and to speak to the developer and to any other relevant parties.

They confirmed that his constituency interest meant that Mr Salmond was debarred from any potential Scottish ministerial planning decision. They also set out the procedural implications of the resolution of the infrastructure services committee.

On 3 December, the chief planner took a call from Mr Salmond, in his capacity as constituency MSP. Mr Salmond sought advice from the chief planner on whether it would still be permissible for the officials of the planning directorate to meet representatives from the Trump organisation.

The chief planner confirmed that officials can meet with parties involved in a planning application, but only to discuss options and the procedural implications not to consider the merits of the case.

A request was then made to the chief planner by the Trump organisation representatives, who explained the criticality of the position and their uncertainty over procedures. The chief planner arranged the time and venue with Mr Sorial and Mr Hobday.

This meeting took place in the chief planner's office in Edinburgh on 4 December. The participants were Mr Mackinnon, Mr Ferguson, the head of planning decisions division, Mr Sorial and Mr Hobday.

During the meeting, the chief planner and the head of planning decisions division decided to speak by telephone to Ann Faulds, a lawyer from Dundas & Wilson, to clarify the advice she had given to the Trump organisation and then to the chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council for an update on the status of the council's consideration.

This was because the situation appeared to be moving quickly and they wanted clarity before advising me on the options, in particular the precise timing and scope of the proposed special meeting of the Council.

The chief planner advised the chief executive that Mr Sorial and Mr Hobday were present in the room. At the request of the chief executive, the representatives of the Trump organisation left the room and remained so for the duration of the call.

Contrary to what has been reported, at no point did the chief executive indicate he would terminate the call.

At the close of the meeting, the chief planner telephoned Mr Salmond as a courtesy to say the meeting had taken place and said that all discussion of potential ministerial action would be passed to me in line with proper procedure.

After the representatives of the Trump organisation left the building, the chief planner and the head of planning decisions division concluded that they should recommend to ministers the immediate calling in of the application.

The chief planner contacted me to offer this recommendation. I discussed and verbally agreed the recommendation with the chief planner.

My decision was immediately communicated by telephone to the chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council and subsequently confirmed by fax.

The telephone call was made out of courtesy and in advance of the media briefing the chief executive was about to attend.

The first minister was not party to the decision to call in the application and the documentation relating to the decision also excludes the first minister.

The purpose of call in on this occasion is to provide enhanced scrutiny of a planning application which raises issues of national importance and has been the subject of widespread public interest.

The recommendation to call in was based on a number of factors. The nature and scale of the proposals, and their potential impact on important natural heritage resources clearly raised issues of national importance.

The clear expectation had been that the proposals would come before the Government at some stage.

This could have happened in a number of ways. Firstly, Aberdeenshire Council could have determined in favour of the application and it would have been referred to ministers. Secondly, the Trump organisation could have appealed against refusal and it would have been referred to ministers. Thirdly, ministers could have called in the application.

In all three scenarios, the issue would have ultimately been considered by ministers.

In addition, there was significant public concern over the resolution of the infrastructure services committee and considerable interest in keeping the application alive.

Indeed Tavish Scott, in his capacity as convener of the economy, enterprise and tourism committee, has since written to me commending the government's actions in calling in the application.

In addition, both the Leader of Aberdeenshire Council and the Trump organisation welcomed the government's intervention.

Some written parliamentary questions have been asked about meetings the chief planner has had with developers whose applications might come before the Scottish ministers.

I very much hope that those asking these questions are not calling into question the integrity of the chief planner.

The chief planner has met a number of potential investors over the years, including on projects as important as the Royal Bank of Scotland World HQ, the redevelopment of Ravenscraig, the Caltongate development in Edinburgh and next month will be meeting representatives of the Rosyth Waterfront project.

I would find it extraordinary if the chief planner would not make himself available to meet with major investors to discuss the planning issues their proposals might raise.

Indeed, I find it inconceivable that ministers could not meet potential investors without having to address potential criticisms that they have compromised their role in planning decisions.

Ministers in this government are fully aware of their responsibilities in relation to planning but also recognise their vital role in promoting Scotland as a place which welcomes investment to support our aspirations for sustainable economic growth.

Along with this statement, I publish a letter from the permanent secretary because, unusually, the role of civil servants has been attacked in the handling of this issue.

The permanent secretary, having considered the issues, indicates that 'he is satisfied that civil servants have fully met the standards of propriety expected of them'. He also makes clear that the chief planner has assured him that 'at no time has he been instructed by any party to act improperly'.

I had determined that I would exercise the role of planning minister in place of Stewart Stevenson, as Mr Stevenson represents a parliamentary constituency in the Aberdeenshire Council area.

I had come to that view in advance of the meeting of the infrastructure services committee on 29 November 2007.

Finally, for the record, I have had no contact with anyone from the Trump organisation and I will exercise my responsibilities as planning minister fairly and responsibly having regard to all the considerations that are material to the final decision.




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