'Government told me I'd win' – Donald Trump

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DONALD Trump has made the "explosive admission" the Scottish Government called him after his golf course plan was rejected by councillors to urge him to press on, assuring him "you'll win".

• Trump: Calls for a new inquiry Picture: Getty

In new revelations, the US tycoon – whose 750 million development at Menie estate, north of Aberdeen, is already under construction after getting subsequent government approval– reveals details of contacts he had with government after the course's original rejection.

In November 2007, it was turned down by a committee of Aberdeenshire councillors, in a move which scuppered the proposal. But the billionaire businessman claims he was then called by the government and urged to keep his interest alive.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, the 66-year- old tycoon claims: "I give the Executive (Scottish Government] a lot of credit. They called me and really wanted me to continue going forward. I said are you kidding? I just lost. I don't like to lose. They said no, you'll win. They didn't want me to leave."

Four days after the rejection, the Scottish Government "called in" the application, on the grounds the decision put the integrity of the planning process in jeopardy. It then went to a public inquiry before being approved by finance secretary John Swinney.

The revelation has brought calls for a new inquiry into the chain of events that preceded that decision.

Labour MSP Duncan McNeil, who led a Holyrood local government committee inquiry into the affair two years ago, said: "This is an explosive admission from Donald Trump. In many ways he has let the cat out of the bag and raises serious questions. The Scottish Government cannot form an impartial view on a planning application that has been called in if they have given secret guarantees to one side. There is now a case for reviewing the evidence in light of this new information."

Trump's plans to create a huge golfing resort on environmentally-protected coastal dunes north of Aberdeen were originally rejected by the council sub-committee on the casting vote of the chairman. Despite that rejection, the full council, following the move to call the project in, later voted for it. Following a public inquiry, which also backed the plan, Swinney approved it in November 2008.

Trump's claim that the Scottish Government offered him its support following the rejection is significant as it is supposed to remain impartial. Officials strongly denied his claims last night.

Parliamentary questions over the issue began after it emerged First Minister Alex Salmond met Trump's representatives after the rejection by the infrastructure services committee of Aberdeenshire Council. He said he was entitled to do so because, as MSP for Gordon, he is the local parliamentarian. He then set up a meeting between Trump officials and Scotland's chief planner, Jim Mackinnon. Mackinnon and Swinney then took the decision to "call in" the development, removing the council from the process.

In the interview, Trump said the government was backing him all the way during the tortuous planning process.

He said: "They knew what we were doing was right, that it was going to create a lot of jobs and maybe, most importantly, that it was going to be great in terms of the psyche of Scotland because it's going to be really special."

Asked about Salmond's involvement, he added: "I have a lot of respect for Alex Salmond. He's a strong man who loves Scotland above all else. I know he wanted the project to happen because it was good for Scotland."

Giving evidence to MSPs in 2008, the First Minister said he had met Trump aides to urge them to keep going with their application because of fears its rejection would give out the message that Scotland was "not open for business." Ministers insisted calling in the plans had been motivated by concerns that its rejection presented "a threat to the integrity of the planning system" and that the development was "of national significance".

At the inquiry in 2008, Mackinnon said the decision to call in the plans was "not about expediting" the development. He told MSPs: "There is no presumption in favour of, or against, the development; there is a presumption in favour of ensuring that the processes are fair."

Aberdeenshire councillor Martin Ford, the committee chair who voted against the development in 2007, said last night: "This is an extraordinary claim by Mr Trump. If what he says is true, it is a serious matter for the Scottish Government. This was a planning application and there was a process to be followed designed to ensure fairness and proper consideration of the issues before a decision was reached."

Asked whether anyone from government assured Trump he "would win", a government spokesman said: "No, this is not correct. No person in the Scottish Government expressed such a view."

He added: "The issue was determined according to the due process of the public local inquiry, which followed John Swinney's decision to call in the application on 4 December 2007.

"The PLI was announced on 28 February 2008, the independent reporter recommended outline planning permission be granted, and Mr Swinney granted this on 3 November 2008."

He said: "This procedure was totally robust, and was all gone into in the Local Government and Communities Committee Report of 14 March 2008, which said: 'The committee notes that the chief planner and the planning minister (Cabinet secretary for finance and sustainable growth], John Swinney acted in accordance with planning laws when issuing the decision to call in the application'."