Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Monday, 3 November 2008

Is business open to Trump course?

Douglas Fraser
BBC Scotland Business and Economy Editor

Among the worst kept secrets in Scottish politics, Alex Salmond can now say that he would, after all, rather like Donald Trump to build 1bn-worth of golf resort and holiday accommodation in the first minister's constituency, just north of Aberdeen.

Donald Trump
Mr Trump's backers said turning him down would send the wrong message
The SNP leader has been required to observe a silence while his ministerial team had the final deciding role in planning permission for the Menie Estate proposal - particularly after being accused by Nicol Stephen, when he was Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, of having meetings last year with Trump representatives that "smell of sleaze".

Now that ruling has been made, with John Swinney, the cabinet secretary responsible for planning, going with the outcome of a public inquiry and giving outline consent to the proposal. The Scottish Government is citing "significant economic and social benefits".

And what a proposal it is - two golf courses, one of them "the greatest in the world" according to the never-understated Mr Trump, a 450-room hotel with conference centre and spa, 950 holiday apartments in four blocks, 26 golf villas, 500 houses for private sale and accommodation for 400 staff.

The political battle may have forced Mr Salmond into a frustrated silence, but others have been noisy in their battling over the plan.

Environmental campaigners have warned that this Site of Special Scientific Interest, including a fine area of east coast sand dunes, could be wrecked by such a large development.

Substantial fortune

They won backing from a committee of Aberdeenshire Council that blocked the planning bid a year ago, before ministers called it in for a public inquiry.

But the business lobby has been as keen to stress that it wants the Trump plan to go ahead, fearing that his international profile would mean the message would reach round the world that Scotland "is not open for business".

The question has more recently arisen of whether business is open to this kind of development. Economic prospects have turned bleak since this project was first tabled.

So is there sufficient demand for this scale of luxury development? And even if there is, where is the credit available for investment?

Michael Forbes
Protestors like Michael Forbes campaigned against the project
A spokesman for Mr Trump says that the funding is from his own substantial fortune, rather than sourcing funds from partner investors, and that he intends to push ahead even in the face of downturn.

He is helped by the Aberdeenshire area being partially protected from the worst of recession by the strength of its offshore oil sector, which follows a different economy cycle.

But this will have to have appeal a long way beyond Scotland's north east if it is to succeed. He now has to get the detailed plans approved, and he has five years before the permission expires.

Meanwhile, there are some interesting conditions placed on Mr Trump's planning permission. He has to build the tourism development before the more lucrative private housing is built.

The project has to include 98 affordable homes and 50 starter level flats. He has to build a new local primary school for Balmedie village and provide a new bus service, with 500,000 to help local learning.

There has to be provision for public access to the estate. Golf buggies are banned. Environmental impact is to be assessed and monitored across a wide range of activities.

And "the Donald" - more usually given to bombast as star of the US version of The Apprentice - will have to turn his attentions to a "pink-footed goose management scheme" and "favoured foraging routes" for otters and badgers.

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