Page last updated at 22:18 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 23:18 UK

Trump golf inquiry in full swing

Donald Trump at the inquiry

Donald Trump has denied claiming he would create the "world's greatest golf course" to justify building it on environmentally sensitive land.

The American tycoon was speaking as an inquiry into his plans for a 1bn golf resort north of Aberdeen got under way.

Mr Trump said he always believed the project could be the best in the world.

The inquiry - ordered by Scottish ministers after an Aberdeenshire Council committee rejected his plans - is expected to last several weeks.

Environmental groups and local campaigners have criticised the plans for the Menie Estate, while business leaders have backed it.

Part of the course would be built on sand dunes which are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).


Donald Trump insists his golf resort would be 'very special for Scotland'

Mr Trump was questioned by a number of environmental groups at the start of the inquiry at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC).

David Tyldesley, for the RSPB, suggested that Mr Trump's original vision had been to create a "world class course" but not necessarily the world's best.

Mr Trump said: "Let me make it clear so we can perhaps save some time.

"I am looking to build the finest golf course in the world if given the chance to do it."

Mr Tyldesley said: "I don't doubt that it's an aspiration but can I put it to you that it is only a recent aspiration in order to justify the use of SSSI?"

In the US we have the expression 'half-assed'. Let's do it properly
Donald Trump

Mr Trump replied: "That is absolutely false - the moment I saw the site I thought it had the potential to be the greatest golf course in the world."

Mr Trump later described the current state of the site as "kind of disgusting".

David Morris of the Ramblers Association in Scotland asked him if the Aberdeenshire site was one of the best he had seen in the world.

He said: "I don't think it is just now, I think it can be. There are dead bird carcasses, there are animals lying over the site which have been shot. Maybe some people are into that - I'm not."

Mr Morris then asked whether it would still be possible for the public to go to the sand dunes and watch golfers play, if it was within the law to do so.

'An environmentalist'

Mr Trump said: "Subject to the law - but they don't go hand in hand.

"You don't want to be sitting with your family getting smashed by a golf ball."

Mr Trump said he did not know how many people currently used the beach, but added that he personally never saw people there and that it seemed "pretty desolate".

He added: "Before, no-one knew what it was. Now they are saying 'Menie, it's the greatest'."

Mr Trump repeatedly insisted that his development would help protect the dunes.

When asked by Mr Morris how far he was willing to compromise, Mr Trump replied: "In the US we have the expression 'half-assed'. Let's do it properly."

Martin Ford
Mr Trump clashed with Mr Ford at the hearing

At one point, inquiry chief reporter James McCulloch warned that there should be no calls from the crowd after Mr Trump described himself as "an environmentalist".

During the hearing Mr Trump clashed with Martin Ford, the councillor whose vote led to the rejection of his plans which include two championship golf courses and a luxury hotel.

In November last year, Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure committee rejected the plans on the casting vote of Mr Ford who was chairman at the time.

The matter was later called in by the Scottish Government due to its importance.

At the hearing, Mr Ford accused Mr Trump of showing "little understanding" of certain details of his application.

Mr Trump responded by saying: "No-one has ever told me I don't know how to buy property before. I appreciate that."

Mr Ford told the billionaire he was "a bit surprised" that Mr Trump had seemed unsure that the dunes were designated as SSSI when he bought the land.

The tycoon said: "I know every inch of the site, I know the site, for example, far better than you do. Details come later, you don't say, 'let me spend a couple of years studying it' - it doesn't work that way."

'Popular project'

Mr Ford later said: "Are you aware of the thousands of objections? It is not just me."

Mr Trump replied: "I see polls showing 93% in favour. You can say what you want, but this is a very popular project and you probably know that better than anyone."

Speaking at a press conference after the hearing, Mr Trump said the questions from his opponents "weren't very good" and added that he had "really enjoyed" the experience.

He said: "The questions were fair, the answers were 100%, everyone's saying we really knocked it out of the box.

"I listened to the questions from the few opponents we had, and honestly, the questions weren't very good."

In March this year, a parliament committee said First Minister Alex Salmond took a "cavalier" approach to his involvement with the plans.

Holyrood's local government committee raised concern that a government decision to call in the plans came after "two five-minute phone calls".

But, following an inquiry, it said the unprecedented decision was "competent".

The Scottish Government said the probe had found ministers and officials had acted within planning law.

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