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You've 30 days to do U-turn - Trump ultimatum to council

DONALD Trump will withdraw his plans for a £1 billion golf resort in 30 days unless a Scottish council overturns the decision of its planning committee to reject the scheme.

The billionaire property tycoon announced yesterday that he will not appeal against the decision by Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure services committee.

Instead, his organisation delivered a terse ultimatum to leaders of the authority - give us the go-ahead or we will build our resort in Northern Ireland.

However, it is not yet clear if a full council meeting would have the power to supersede last Thursday's ruling by its own planning committee.

The Trump Organisation said it had secured a 30-day option to buy an alternative site in Northern Ireland which it claimed met all its needs.

Mr Trump does have the option of appealing over the council's decision, leaving the final say with Scottish ministers, but says he does not want to become embroiled in an expensive and lengthy appeal.

Last night, George Sorial, the Trump executive charged with masterminding the resort development, warned: "The clock is ticking. We are not going to compound one disaster with another."

Mr Sorial spoke after representatives of the Trump International Golf Links team met Alan Campbell, the chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council, and other senior officials in Aberdeen yesterday.

"We really need to start working on the project now. The first choice by far is to get another hearing in front of the full council which I think will better reflect what the people of the city and shire and many other councillors have demanded," Mr Sorial said.

"After consulting with our planners and our solicitors, we have decided that it is not in our best interests to pursue an appeal. An appeal process is a lengthy and expensive one and we are just not in a position where we are willing to do that."

He added: "We signed last week an option in which we have 30 days to exercise on a great piece of land in Northern Ireland.

"What I told Mr Campbell and the rest of the council was: The clock is ticking. Some decision has to be made."

The pressure is now mounting on the leader of the authority, Anne Robertson, to quickly arrange a full council meeting after Martin Ford, the chairman of the infrastructure services committee, used his casting vote to throw out Mr Trump's plan to build the resort on an environmentally sensitive site on the Menie Estate, ten miles north of Aberdeen.

Councillors are well aware that many business leaders believe the development could be the biggest boost for the North-east since the discovery of North Sea oil. Many have united in condemning the decision of the council's planning authority.

Scottish Government ministers are also believed to be desperate for the prestigious development to be sited in Scotland.

Ms Robertson requires the support of 16 councillors to requisition the special meeting and should get the support she needs.

But council officials have confirmed that legal experts are still studying the council's standing orders to determine whether such a meeting has the power to overturn the decision of the committee.

One senior councillor, who did not wish to be named, told The Scotsman: "In all my years on the council I have never heard of such a thing happening before. But that doesn't mean to say it can't happen. At the end of the day, it will be up to the experts in our law and administration department to decide what the council can and cannot do."

One issue, however, was clear last night. A fresh decision in favour of the development by Aberdeenshire Council is the only way of preventing the company pursuing the Northern Ireland alternative.

Mr Sorial said: "There are several reasons behind our decision not to pursue the appeals process - the length of time it would take, the uncertainty of the outcome and also other business deals that we are actively pursuing. If we have an option to build what we want in another place it may be a better business decision for us."

He continued: "I have spent the whole weekend in Aberdeen and I have been reading about the public outcry [over the infrastructure services decision]. There have been two different surveys in which the support of the population has been put at 93 and 89 per cent.

"Over the past couple of days, an overwhelming number of the people have sent me e-mails and come up to me in the street and just expressed their complete dissatisfaction with the result and implored me to impress upon Mr Trump that the people really want this project.

"So we have taken that to the council and said: Look, we know the pressure exists at the populace level and we know there are many councillors who also agree with our position. So you have to give us another hearing and you have to do it quickly because we are not going to compound one disaster with another.

"We are simply not going to lose another business opportunity by taking a gamble on what's going on in Scotland."

A spokesman for Sustainable Aberdeenshire, the protest group leading the campaign against the development, claimed that even if a special meeting of Aberdeenshire Council was to be called, it would have no right to overturn the decision of the infrastructure services committee.

He declared: "It's a pity Donald Trump wasn't better advised on the process before he embarked on it. If he had stuck to his original plan for a 300 million development he would have got his foot in the door, demonstrated his capability to the people of Aberdeenshire from there and grown the business from there.

"My understanding is that once the decision was made by the committee the issue [was] closed. But Donald Trump is trying to hold a gun to the council's head."

Meanwhile, the leaders of Aberdeen City Council have sent a letters to all 68 of Aberdeenshire's councillors calling on them to do all they can to get the proposed Trump golf resort scheme back on track. The letter has been signed by Aberdeen Lord Provost Peter Stephen, city council leader Kate Dean and deputy leader Kevin Stewart.

Business tycoon who boasts celebrity status

ESTIMATED to be worth almost 1.5 billion, Donald Trump, the chief executive of the Trump Organisation, is seen as the epitome of the high-flying businessman.

Based on highly successful real-estate dealings - the 61-year-old owns several skyscrapers which bear his name - his businesses stretch into all areas of the leisure industry. In addition to his hotels, he owns four golf courses across the US, again all named after him, and is building another one in the Caribbean.

His name has graced ice-cream parlours, a board game, a fragrance and even bottled water. But not everything the tycoon touches has turned to gold. In 1990, the recession forced him precariously close to bankruptcy, avoiding it by selling 50 per cent of his share in the Taj Mahal Casino.

Current developments also vary in success: the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto has been subject to a series of delays and a height reduction; while his Tampa development in Florida caused controversy because the initial sales were so successful that all deposits were returned to charge a higher price. Three years after construction began, it was delayed and lawsuits filed.

In recent years, his brash, outspoken celebrity status has been boosted by his appearance on the US version of the reality show The Apprentice, of which he was executive producer.

His private life has been almost as colourful as his public one, having married three times, though perhaps it was his marriage to Ivana Trump, who coined his nickname "The Donald", that remains uppermost in most people's minds.

Green knight rides to environmental cause

WITH a background as a college lecturer and an interest in plant ecology, recycling and environment, Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Council's planning department chairman, was unlikely to take kindly to the tycoon's plans.

Cycling the ten miles every day to his 16,000-a-year job, the 48-year-old Liberal Democrat councillor - described by those who know him as "analytical" - has also gained the unwelcome reputation as the man who cost Aberdeenshire millions of pounds.

But his green credentials cannot be questioned. Mr Ford has not set foot in an aircraft for 15 years, does not own a mobile phone and buys his electricity through a "green tariff" promoted jointly by Scottish & Southern Energy and the RSPB. He does not own a car, although his wife does. Elected in 1999, he has continually fought to protect the environment - opposing the construction of a local bypass and the expansion of Aberdeen airport - while also promoting recycling, improvement of public transport and increased awareness of climate change.

A man of principle, he has claimed he is not anti-Trump, rather pro the environment, and claims that while he took no pleasure in casting the deciding vote, he had no qualms about the decision.

He claimed "it was absolutely right thing to do" and that he had received support from as far away as New Zealand.

As it is, however, Brian Adam, the local MSP, was moved to comment that, while he did not question Mr Ford's integrity, he did question his judgment.

THE PROJECT'S PROS AND CONS

PROS

• The development could support 6,230 jobs during construction in Aberdeenshire and 740 in the rest of Scotland.

• Ongoing operations could support 1,250 and 1,440 long-term jobs in the region and Scotland, respectively.

• It could create 205-262 million of new economic output over the course of building work.

• It could generate 47 million a year in Aberdeenshire.

• It would provide a lasting impact for the region, bringing in a 300 million slice of tourism income.

CONS

• Area marked for the golf course is environmentally sensitive coastline. It hosts seven bird species on conservation Red List.

• About 40 per cent of the site is on the Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest.

• Environmentalists say the project would destroy one of UK's top five sand dunes.

• It is also claimed that it would undermine the Scottish environmental assessment regulations laid out to protect nationally important sites - and would be contrary to European and Scottish legislation.

 
 
 

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