The Trump Organisation has spent years attempting to develop swaths of farmland around its flagship international golf resort at Turnberry, with plans to build hundreds of luxury properties, leisure facilities, and shops by the Firth of Clyde coastline.
In a development aimed at wealthy golf enthusiasts and retirees, architects enlisted by the former US president’s drew up a masterplan detailing hundreds of “high end” private houses which, they said, would provide “permanent tranquillity and respite,” while also helping meet what it described as “an ever increasing demand for investment opportunities”.
But in what represents a significant setback to the Trump Organisation’s attempts of turning Turnberry into a profitable enterprise, its ambitious expansion plans have been set back by government planning officials.
However, Sarah Malone, executive vice-president of Trump International Scotland, said the Trump Organisation still intended to develop the site, and would lodge a planning application “in due course”.
Mr Trump’s firm had sought an amendment to planning policy in the rural region to support any development proposals seen as “enhancing” the status of the resort, a four-time host of golf’s prestigious Open championship. It also urged planning officers to allocate land it owns around the South Ayrshire property for the leisure, recreation, and housing development.
Now, Scotland on Sunday has learned that after a near year-long review of the proposals, reporters at the government’s planning and environmental appeals division (DPEA) have made it clear that the Trump Organisation’s requests should not be granted.
Having scrutinised South Ayrshire Council’s new local development plan (LDP) - essentially a framework which decrees which sites in the area could be developed - the lead reporter, Claire Milne, pointed out neither the Trump Organisation nor its representatives had advanced a case to show a recognised housing shortfall in the area, and provided “no evidence” around the need for retirement housing.
Ms Milne added the site in question is remote from medical facilities and other major services, and with the impact on the local infrastructure unknown, “it is unclear if the development would be viable or indeed effective in the plan period”.
She concluded: “Nothing in the submission convinces me that this proposal would fit with the plan’s spatial strategy in promoting a sustainable pattern of development appropriate to the area.”
Ms Milne’s fellow reporter, Philip Barton, also dismissed the Trump Organisation’s demand that planning policy should be amended to show support for proposals “which might enhance the status” of Turnberry.
Taking issue with any such theoretical promises of improvements, he described the request as “not well justified”, and noted: “The suggested modification seeks in-principle support for any proposal which ‘might’ enhance the status of Turnberry and Royal Troon. It would more properly be a matter for a developer to explain on a case by case basis, and with reference to good quality evidence, how their proposal would do so.”
The reporters’ examination, complete with conclusions and recommendations, will now be submitted to the council. It must accept the recommendations and modifications, and can only refuse to do so in a limited number of circumstances.
The Trump Organisation and its Scottish subsidiaries will still be able to submit a planning application for any new proposed development. Even if any application is adjudged to fall foul of the new LDP, it could still be approved by councillors.
In 2018, Scotland on Sunday revealed the Trump Organisation’s intention to develop the land around Turnberry, with Eric Trump, the firm’s executive vice-president, overseeing a long-term project to build housing and luxury villas. At the time, Ralph Porciani, the resort’s general manager, said the land in question was only used for “the odd bit of cattle grazing”.
However, planners at South Ayrshire Council described those initial plans - drawn up by Covell Matthews, an Aberdeen-based architectural practice – as an “insensitive” development with “unsubstantiated” benefits.
Undeterred, the Trump Organisation returned to the table. Far from scaling down its proposals for 87 dwellings so as to appease officials, it instead drew up blueprints for an even larger development across 120 acres of land.
The revised project was never announced or publicised, but Scotland on Sunday obtained documents in 2020 detailing the scope of the “coastal retreat,” consisting of as many as 225 properties, spanning residential homes, holiday homes, retirement villas, rental cottages, and luxury serviced apartments.
Such an expansion, one document said, represented a “natural extension” of Turnberry’s current trading assets, and would bolster its future as a “global leader in the leisure and tourism market”.
It added: “This is not a traditional hotel and tourism offering, but is responding to an ever-increasing demand for investment opportunities through the purchase, and part ownership, of private holiday homes in world-class tourism and leisure resorts.”
Asked about the Trump Organisation’s future development plans at both Turnberry and its inaugural Scottish resort in Aberdeenshire, which was granted planning permission in 2019 to build 550 homes, Ms Malone said the Trump Organisation remained “fully committed to its long-term investment plans” in Scotland.
“We have not yet made a formal application to develop the site at Turnberry but will do in due course,” she explained. “Our plans for Trump International in Aberdeenshire have not changed and will be brought forward over the next 12 months.”
It comes after Turnberry’s corporate entity, Golf Recreation Scotland Limited, posted losses of nearly £5.3 million in 2020, marking the seventh consecutive year it has been in the red under Mr Trump’s ownership.
Since the 75-year-old took over the resort in 2014, its losses have totalled nearly £50m, and the latest accounts filed with Companies House show that it remains reliant on more than £113m in loans from its parent firm, a Florida state grantor trust in Mr Trump’s name.