Housing plan tied to Trump treasury secretary met with universal public opposition

A trust with ties to one of Donald Trump’s most senior cabinet members and his Scots wife is facing universal public opposition over its plans for a housing development in one of Scotland’s most sought after neighbourhoods, with authorities warning that it would flout numerous policies and impact on the local environment

Donald Trump chose Steve Mnuchin as Treasury secretary in 2016. Picture: Shutterstock
Donald Trump chose Steve Mnuchin as Treasury secretary in 2016. Picture: Shutterstock

The Rockshiel Trust, listed by Steve Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, among his global portfolio of property holdings, has applied to build a cluster of luxury townhouses and apartments in a conservation area of Edinburgh.

Since the revised plans were lodged in January, the proposed development has attracted 41 public comments to date. Every single one has registered an objection.

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Scotland on Sunday revealed last August how the trust was behind the contentious plans in the west Murrayfield area.

The Rockshiel Trust is listed among US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin's assets in his filings to the US Office of Government Ethics. Picture: Alex Wong/Getty Images

While the original application - which aimed to build ten townhouses and seven apartments - was withdrawn, revised blueprints were lodged with the City of Edinburgh Council in January.

They envisage eight terraced townhouses and nine apartments, to be built in the grounds of a property in KInellan Road.

The plans have yet to be ruled on by councillors and there is no indication of when they might do so, given the widespread disruption caused to local authorities by the coronavirus crisis.

However, as well as public objections, the trust’s project has also met with resistance from the council’s housing department, which stressed that the trust “has shown no commitment” to providing affordable housing as part of the venture.

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Planning policies in the city stipulate that a quarter of the housing in any new development with 12 or more units must be affordable.

Kyle Hunter, a housing development officer with the council, has written to the planning department, noting that he has asked the trust to provide more information.

The trust’s attempts to create the high-end development have already drawn the ire of elected representatives. Sarah Boyack, the Lothian MSP and Scottish Labour’s local government spokeswoman, said the development “perfectly illustrates the economic inequalities facing our city.”

She added: “Across the board, we’re seeing inappropriate developments which don’t address the issues people face. It is residents who are paying the price of the financialisation of Edinburgh housing by international investors.”

The council’s environmental protection department has also said the 37 car parking spaces planned for 17 units is “excessive,” particularly in an area with good transport links, and that as a result, it “will not be able to support this application due to the likely adverse impacts the proposal will have on local air quality.”

John Lawson, the council’s archaeology officer, has also recommended that excavation work be carried out on the site, currency home to a large 19th century ornamental pond which may be associated with William Playfair, the celebrated architect. If the link is ratified, Lawson said, the pond would be of “national significance.”

The trust is listed by Mnuchin in his filings with the Office of Government Ethics, a US government agency set up to root out conflicts of interest in the executive branch.

Mnuchin’s disclosures include several other properties in Edinburgh worth up to £8m.

However, the US Treasury said he has no financial interest in the trust, and its inclusion in his OGE filings is because of his wife, Louise LInton, the Scots actress.

Mnuchin and Linon have become one of the highest profile couples of the Trump administration and, say their critics, totems of its brash, wealth-focused culture.

A spokesman for the Rockshiel Trust previously told Scotland on Sunday that Linton is a beneficiary of trust - which is domiciled in the UK - and that she is not a trustee, and has no involvement in the administration of the trust.

The trust did not respond to enquiries about the latest planning application.


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