The Trump Organisation’s plans to build hundreds of upmarket houses next to its inaugural Scottish golf resort have been dealt a blow after an economic expert at Aberdeenshire Council described the scheme as a “weak substitute” compared to original plans approved by the Scottish Government a decade ago.
A memo prepared by Douglas Rennie, a senior business development executive at the local authority, describes the proposals by the US president’s firm as “disappointing” He said they were “weighted very heavily” towards building private housing instead of improving the region’s tourism infrastructure.
But in a staunch defence of its ambitions, Trump International Golf Links Scotland dismissed Mr Rennie’s remarks as “naive at best” and said they “take some believing.”
With councillors in Aberdeenshire set to descend on the site of the mooted Trump Estate development next month for a pre-determination hearing, the lukewarm analysis will likely count against the chances of it being greenlit.
The initial planning application, which was submitted in March 2007 and ratified on the basis that its economic benefits would outweigh the environmental harm of building on part of Foveran Links, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), provided for 950 holiday homes, a 450 bed hotel, and 35 golf villas.
However, none of those elements have been delivered, and Trump has yet to turn a profit on what he promised would be the “world’s greatest golf course.”
Accounts filed with Companies House show the firm behind the resort, Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited, has run up losses totalling more than £8.46m since it opened six years ago.
As part of its plans for Trump Estate, which have attracted thousands of objections to date, the Trump Organisation has said it will spend £147.2m creating 500 private home and, 50 so-called hotel cottages, as well as various leisure and retail units and community facilities.
But in his memo, which will be considered by councillors as part of the planning process, Mr Rennie cautioned that although the plan “fits well” with the regional economic strategy and would “generate an increase in economic growth for the local economy,” it was not so favourable when compared with the original planning application, which was backed in November 2008 by the then finance secretary, John Swinney, after a contentious public local inquiry.
“The previous planning application indicated that the phasing of the residential element would come after, and not before, the holiday accommodation,” Mr Rennie wrote in his memo. “From an economic development perspective, the phasing of the development the other way round, is not so attractive.”
He added: “This current proposal would normally be considered by economic development as very welcome. However, in light of the context, it is a weak substitute for what should be in this phase of the development.
“The current proposal is weighted very heavily towards residential housing whereas the earlier proposal was weighted very heavily toward developing tourism infrastructure. Therefore, from an economic development perspective it is disappointing to see this proposed departure from the original plan.”
In a statement, Trump International Golf Links Scotland told The Scotsman that the council acknowledged the resort’s significant and ongoing contribution to the local economy, and said the newly filed plans had not deviated from Mr Trump’s initial vision.
It explained: “The plans are entirely consistent with the original vision and objectives of the project, but also reflect the significant changes in the economy and markets which have evolved in the past ten years since the council set out its preferences for phasing.
“The application represents a change to the phasing of the development rather than its content.
It added: “Given the significant unknowns in the current economic content, any suggestion that a £150m investment is not attractive or weak takes some believing. The remarks are naive at best.
“We are extremely confident that this next phase of development will further enhance the reputation of the site as an exemplar and world-class destination and will build on the international reputation of the golf course which is already ranked among the top courses in the world.”
As part of the planning application, the Trump Organisation has also sent the council an economic assessment report, prepared by 4-consulting, which claims the construction of the new village alone will stimulate £250m of output in the region and support close to 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs.
The document asserts that over the longer term, the development will add 268 jobs and “£29m of output to the Scottish economy,” adding: “Most of this will be captured within Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire where an additional 244 jobs and £25m of output will be sustained.”
The resort currently has 84 employees, down nine on the 2006 staff roll, according to Companies House records.
Marketing material for the Trump Estate venture promises prospective homeowners “exceptional country living,” with houses on sale for as much as “several million” pounds.
A pre-determination hearing into the Trump Estate plans is due to be held in Ellon on 11 December, preceded by a site visit to the Menie estate by councillors. The planning application will then come before Formartine Area Committee and the full council.