The Trump Organisation’s plans for a major expansion of its flagship Scottish resort by building swaths of housing and luxury villas have been thwarted, further jeopardising efforts by the US president’s company to stem multimillion pound losses at its most prestigious overseas property.
Donald Trump’s firm wanted to significantly increase the footprint of its Trump Turnberry resort, with his son, Eric, personally overseeing blueprints for a new housing development on landholdings surrounding the historic golf venue.
The Trump Organisation enlisted architects in an attempt to rezone agricultural land for development, pointing to the firm’s “excellent track record of investment” in the region and describing the proposals as “very positive for the area.”
However, The Scotsman has learned that planners at a Scottish local authority have rejected the Trump Organisation’s request to reclassify the vast tracts of farmland along the rugged Firth of Clyde coastline for housing.
The US president has previously boasted he has the right to build as many as one thousand homes around Turnberry, but in a significant blow to any such bold ambitions, the council’s proposed new local development plan (LDP2) also specifies a policy restricting development at Turnberry on account of its status as a significant tourist attraction and sometime host of golf’s prestigious Open Championship.
The Scotsman revealed last November how Mr Trump’s firm had enlisted Covell Matthews, an Aberdeen-based architectural practice, in the hope of convincing South Ayrshire Council to allow land it owns to be used for what it called a “logical extension” to Turnberry.
It earmarked part of Mr Trump’s landholdings on the site for a housing development of 87 units and an unspecified number of villas.
Covell Matthews promised that if the adjoining sites were included in LDP2, the Trump Organisation would seek full planning permission right away to commence building work.
It is not known how much the Trump Organisation earmarked to spend on the expansion at Turnberry, or the price range of the houses it hoped to build. Based on the average house value in South Ayrshire, the scale of the development suggests it would have been worth in excess of £15m.
The sale of private housing was seen as a key avenue to generate revenue at a world-renowned resort that has been struggling under Mr Trump’s ownership.
Since he acquired it in 2014, Turnberry’s parent firm has run up four consecutive years of losses, amounting to nearly £33m. It is also reliant on £107m in interest free loans provided by the 73-year-old.
Correspondence obtained by The Scotsman via the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, show that the Trump Organisation envisaged the properties reflecting “a continuation of the town’s quaint spirit.” The houses would vary in size and type, and feature “large private gardens.”
Another letter sent by Covell Matthews to planners stated: “The vision for the site is to develop more villas to support the operations of the hotel and provide customers with alternative accommodation options.”
The firm pointed to the Trump Organisation’s “excellent track record of investment in the area,” and claimed that the luxury villas would “create an obvious requirement for Trump Turnberry to employ more staff, which would be very positive for the area.”
At the time, Ralph Porciani, Turnberry’s general manager, told The Scotsman that previous owners of the resort had tried to develop the land in question, but that he expected the Trump Organisation would prevail where others had failed.
He explained: “What Eric [Trump] has done in the last year is zone the land out that he thinks is the best fit for it and basically notify the council that it’s our plan to do it.”
Mr Porciani added: “Does Turnberry want to do it? 100 per cent yes. The Trump Organisation have it in their radar and are quite excited.
“It’s land that’s used for the odd bit of cattle grazing. We rent the land out to a farmer so he maintains it, it just sits there ticking over. I’d hope it would be welcomed and we would be able to do it, because I think it’d bring a lot to the area.”
However, a newly published draft plan of the LDP2, now subject to a consultation, confirms that the proposed sites will remain zoned as prime agricultural land, deemed unsuitable for housing.
The LDP2 includes a proposed new policy designed to safeguard key tourism sites in the region, which makes explicitly clear that any proposed development surrounding Turnberry will face an uphill battle..
“We will protect existing golf courses and will encourage the development and improvement of golf facilities,” it states. “We will not generally allow development which we consider may negatively affect the status of Turnberry and Royal Troon as venues for the Open Championship.”
A spokeswoman for South Ayrshire Council confirmed the sites put forward by the Trump Organisation for development would remain as prime agricultural land.
She said: “Our planning department have advised that the sites were assessed against a range of environmental and planning criteria, alongside other alternative site submissions made in response to the main issues report consultation. It was concluded that they should not be recommended for release through LDP2.”
The proposed plan’s publication comes as the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the US Congress is investigating US military payments at Turnberry and nearby Glasgow Prestwick Airport.
In a June 2016 interview with Reuters, Mr Trump boasted that he had the right to create a major housing development at Turnberry, but said his focus at the time was on his fledgling political career.
He described his portfolio golf courses as “not really golf investments,” but “development deals,” explaining: “I have the right to build thousands of homes on the various properties I own, and I haven’t wanted to build them because frankly I’ve been busy doing other things, like running for president.
‘Thousands of housing units’
“It’s pretty simple. My golf holdings are really investments in thousands, many thousands of housing units and hotels. At some point the company will do them. Hopefully, I won’t because I will be president, but we’re in no rush to do them.”
In the interview, which coincided with the reopening of Turnberry after an extensive refurbishment, Mr Trump added: “I would have the right to build at least a thousand houses on Turnberry, if I wanted to, again, if I wanted to. Right now I am doing something far more important than building houses.”
While his purchase of Turnberry attracted international media coverage, less well known is the fact he simultaneously acquired a sprawling expanse of land to the north and east of the historic links course.
The sites it hoped to use for housing are part of around 200 acres of land, which encompasses a disused runway which formed part of RAF Turnberry during both World Wars, and a cluster of outbuildings
The Scotsman asked Trump Turnberry and the Trump Organisation if the decision would impact on its plans for future investment at Turnberry, and if it planned to appeal the exclusion of the sites in the LDP2.
Neither company has responded.