SCOTTISH ministers last night took the unprecedented step of calling in Donald Trump's planning application for a £1 billion golf resort, without an appeal having been made.
In a decision described by one planning expert as "very odd", the controversial scheme will now be examined by the Scottish Government, despite last week being rejected by Aberdeenshire councillors.
Ministers could overturn the local authority's decision, uphold it, or appoint a reporter and hold a public inquiry into the Trump Organisation's proposals. The move will raise questions about whether the integrity of the democratic planning process has been compromised.
However, it was warmly welcomed by enterprise leaders, perhaps unsurprisingly given the economic benefits promised by Mr Trump's initiative at Menie Estate, near Balmedie.
Until last night, the project appeared dead in the water, after it emerged Aberdeenshire Council would be unable to reconsider the application unless Mr Trump lodged an appeal, a process he had already ruled out.
A disgruntled Mr Trump served the council with a 30-day ultimatum on Monday to find a way of keeping the application alive. He was appearing to shift his attentions towards County Antrim. Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland's first minister, was even reported to be in contact with the host of the United States version of the television show The Apprentice.
However, the Scottish Government later revealed it was to step in. A statement released last night said: "Ministers recognise that the application raises issues of importance that require consideration at a national level."
It is understood the decision to call in the application was not made at Cabinet level, but rather was largely at the bidding of John Swinney, the finance secretary.
He will make the final decision on the development. Stewart Stevenson, the planning minister whose Banff and Buchan constituency adjoins Gordon, where the development is planned, will also play a role in considering the decision.
Mr Trump was last night said to be "very impressed" with the move. Neil Hobday, his project manager in Scotland, said: "It is a very good and brave decision. It is of national importance and reflects the outcry after last week's appalling decision."
Brian Adam, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen North, also welcomed the turnaround, saying: "I am sure people across Aberdeenshire who... feared the loss of this crucial investment will welcome this move."
Alex Johnstone, the Conservative MSP for North-east Scotland, added: "This is absolutely the right decision, and I can only hope it is not too late."
Anne Robertson, the leader of Aberdeenshire Council, also praised the intervention, given it keeps Mr Trump's application "alive". But Trevor Davies, a for- mer convener of Edinburgh city council's planning committee, declared himself "flummoxed".
He said: "Ministers tend to call in an application fairly reluctantly, and it's applications that have been approved. To do so for this application is very odd; it's a weird decision.
"Something like this would be the decision of one senior minister, who may not be satisfied Aberdeenshire Council's process in dealing with the Trump scheme was proper. The initial decision to reject the plan is one I'd probably have agreed with, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn of Mr Trump's influence playing a part here."
COUNCIL IN THE BUNKER
THE decision to reject Donald Trump's golf resort plan has prompted furious responses from politicians, business leaders and ordinary residents who believe the local authority has missed a golden opportunity for the North-east of Scotland.
Alex Johnstone, the area's Tory MSP, believes the council have been shown to be incompetent.
He said: "I am afraid that it looks hopeless. This is what happens when people with no business sense come up against big business.
"Big business does not hang around, it goes elsewhere. It's a disaster for the North-east and Scotland."
Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald, Labour's tourism spokesman, said the council had dug itself into a hole. "The situation is about as grim as it could get," he said.