Planning officials have recommended that Trump Organisation’s contentious plans to expand its inaugural Scottish golf resort should be allowed, despite admitting that they fall foul of the local authority’s own policies and represent a “significant departure” from the original proposals.
In a decision that is sure to spark controversy, one of Aberdeenshire Council’s most senior executives has said that although the so-called Trump Estate development flouts various safeguards designed to protect rural areas and prime agricultural land, its potential economic benefits have “considerable merit.”
Stephen Archer, director of infrastructure services at the council, conceded that while the Trump Organisation’s plans differed significantly from an outline planning permission granted 11 years ago, the local authority “considers flexibility to be key to ensuring the deliverability of the full resort development over time.”
But Martin Ford, the Green party councillor who used his casting vote to temporarily block the plans for the Trump resort in 2008, said if the new plans are approved, it would represent a “major failure of the planning system.”
He warned that there was “no reason to believe” the Trump Organisation’s promise of investment was inaccurate and said council would look “ridiculous” by falling for “Trump’s sales pitch” a second time around.”
In a 44 page document, he has recommended that councillors who sit Aberdeenshire’s Formartine Area Committee greenlight the development at their meeting on 26 March.
Even if the committee approves, the Trump Organisation’s plans, it will still have to be ratified by the full council, but Mr Archer’s analysis represents a major boon for the project, which has been greeted with widespread hostility.
The local authority has received just three letters of support for the Trump Organisation’s plans. A record number of 21,640 people have made their objections known.
The Trump Organisation submitted its planning application last July, promising to spend £150m on the expansion to its lossmaking Trump International Golf Links resort.
It proposes building up to 500 homes, as well as 50 “hotel cottages” alongside a sports centre, town hall, and retail and commercial space.
The development is seen as integral to the long-term success of the resort, which has yet to turn a profit and is dependent on loans totalling more than £41.9m
In Mr Archer’s document, a copy of which will be sent to councillors, he states that ”as the application currently stands the submitted documentation does not provide sufficient evidence to satisfactorily demonstrate that the proposal meets the relevant policies in the Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan.”
He adds: “Having recently had a meeting with a number of consultees however, it is clear that all the technical issues and concerns can be addressed.”
Elsewhere, Mr Archer said he recognised that the application “is a significant departure from the allocation in terms of the original phasing” set out in the 2008 outline planning application, as well as a Section 75 agreement. He emphasised, however, that it “meets the requirements of other key policies.”.
Under the terms of the original masterplan, which was rejected by Aberdeenshire Council before being approved by Scottish ministers on appeal, the Trump Organisation was only allowed to build private dwellings after tourist facilities were in place.
Mr Archer said that while changes to the phasing of the development “makes it less attractive economically by providing more residential housing before tourism infrastructure,” the latest application “must be treated on its own merits.”
He added that the planning service “considers flexibility to be key to ensuring the deliverability of the full resort development over time,” explaining: “It is acknowledged that the original phasing would have been the desired long-term plan for the resort but given the change in circumstances with regard to the downturn in the economic climate, as well as the hotel industry, the proposed development seeks to provide a net economic benefit to the area.”
But Mr Ford said: “The current planning application for a housing scheme is completely different to the proposal for a golf resort that was granted planning permission in 2008. It is clear nothing resembling the original resort proposal will ever be built.
“But the 2008 planning consent is now being used a Trojan horse – just to establish the principle of development – in the hope of persuading Aberdeenshire Council to accept a large housing scheme in a location that would never normally be considered for housing.
“It is true that 500 houses were included in the permission for a golf resort granted in 2008. But those houses were justified as a cross-funding mechanism for the tourism and resort elements of the proposal. Now the Trump Organisation wants the housing without building the resort development it was supposed to fund.
“Of course, that would be hugely financially beneficial to Mr Trump, but it is surely not in the public interest and risks creating a precedent other developers might wish to follow.”
He added :”If Aberdeenshire Council ultimately does give approval to the Trump housing proposal what we will be left with is a large housing scheme in an inappropriate location justified as a cross-funding mechanism for a golf resort that was never built. That would represent a major failure of the planning system and by Aberdeenshire Council as the planning authority. Councillors can and should prevent that.
“When Mr Trump was promoting his 2006 planning application for a golf resort at Menie, numerous claims were made of investment and job creation on an enormous scale. In fact, ten years after the outline permission was granted, very little of the proposed development has been built and actual investment and employment are a tiny fraction of what was promised. “Effectively, people were conned. We know that now. So there is no reason to believe Trump claims about the current housing application and Aberdeenshire Council will look ridiculous if it falls for the Trump sales pitch a second time.”