Page last updated at 15:57 GMT, Monday, 3 November 2008

Saga of Tycoon's golfing vision

Donald Trump

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

It could have been one of the nightmare challenges straight out of Donald Trump's programme, The Apprentice.

The brief: "Attempt to build the world's most expensive golf resort in a corner of rural Scotland, overcoming hostile political questioning, accusations of sleaze and two inquiries in the process."

These issues were eventually overcome and, with strong arguments on both sides of the debate, Scottish Government Finance Secretary John Swinney gave it the green light.

But that did not happen without a great deal of fallout - and some comments made which may never be forgotten.

Mr Trump, the billionaire property developer, whose mother Mary MacLeod came from Scotland's Western Isles, has never been shy when it comes to citing his Scottish roots.

When it emerged in 2006 that discussions were taking place with the local authority, Aberdeenshire Council, about a top-class golf resort, it was touted as the biggest thing since north-east Scotland's oil boom of the 70s.

The episode left a bitter taste in the mouth of Team Trump, which warned 'malicious and inaccurate' political attacks were threatening the plans

The first stumbling block came when Mr Trump was said to have expressed concern that plans for a wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen would spoil the view.

As Team Trump began to look across the water to Northern Ireland for a possible alternative site, bird conservation group RSPB Scotland expressed concern about the plans, while a pressure group, Sustainable Aberdeenshire, was set up to oppose the plans.

Heritage body Scottish Natural Heritage also objected.

Nevertheless, an application for the 1bn resort was submitted to the council in March 2007 and Mr Trump flew to Scotland to say that, if he really did not care about the environment, the cost would have been a lot less.

Then came the decision nobody was really expecting.

On 29 November, 2007, the chairman of Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure committee, Martin Ford, used his casting vote to reject the plans after a tie.

Declaring the application "dead", Mr Ford maintained his decision was the correct one, before he was later offered for sacrifice by his fellow councillors.

He was handed an Apprentice-style "you're fired" decision from his convener job, while the full council backed the development.

As speculation grew that Mr Trump was once again swivelling his sights towards Northern Ireland, the Scottish Government made an unprecedented decision to "call in" the rejected application.

'Sleaze smell'

Mr Swinney, who said the Trump resort was an issue of national importance, would have the final say after an independent, public inquiry into the plans.

Then came the most outspoken attack on the development, when the then Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen said the Scottish Government's involvement with the plans "smelled of sleaze".

The claim - strongly denied by Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, came on the back of conversations Mr Salmond and Scotland's chief planner, Jim Mackinnon, had with Mr Trump's team.

Mr Salmond - in whose Gordon constituency the resort would be based - insisted the rules were followed to the letter.

That did not stop the Scottish Parliament's local government committee, at the prompting of Conservative MSP David McLetchie, holding its own inquiry into the plans.

Mr Salmond and Mr Trump's right-hand man, George Sorial, were called and subjected to some hostile questioning by Labour's Duncan MacNeil, the committee convener.

The committee eventually ruled that calling in the application was competent, but branded Mr Salmond's actions "cavalier".

The episode left a bitter taste in the mouth of Team Trump, which warned "malicious and inaccurate" political attacks were threatening the plans.

Despite the political arguments, Mr Swinney announced in November 2008 that outline planning consent had been given.

And even amid the global financial crisis, Mr Trump has given strong signals that the development will proceed, saying the people of Scotland would be "extremely happy" with the final product.

Only time will tell.

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