The Trump Organisation is planning to build swathes of housing and luxury villas on hundreds of acres of land next to its loss-making Turnberry resort, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
The firm, owned by US president Donald Trump, is urging officials to greenlight the major development across a vast tract of farmland in the remote corner of South Ayrshire.
Neither the Trump Organisation nor Trump Turnberry have made public the controversial plans, but Trump’s second son, Eric, has been personally overseeing the project for the past ten months.
Ralph Porciani, general manager of Trump Turnberry, told Scotland on Sunday the Trump Organisation was “excited” by the plans to develop the land, which he said was used only for “the odd bit of cattle grazing.”
Trump has previously boasted of having the right to build “at least a thousand houses” at Turnberry, and while Porciani expressed hope the venture would be “welcomed,” the 72-year-old may yet become embroiled in another battle with authorities in his mother’s homeland.
South Ayrshire Council’s planning service caution that Trump’s housing plan would result in the loss of “prime agricultural land” and have “significant visual impacts.” It also says the benefits of expanding Turnberry’s accommodation are “unsubstantiated.” However, a final decision has yet to be made.
While Trump’s purchase of the world-renowned golf course and hotel in April 2014 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.
Spanning around 200 acres along the rugged Firth of Clyde coastline, it consists of agricultural land, outbuildings, and a disused runway which formed part of RAF Turnberry during both World Wars,
Now, the Trump Organisation has enlisted Covell Matthews, an Aberdeen-based architectural practice, in the hope of convincing the local authority to let the land be used for what it called a “logical extension” to Turnberry.
It promised that if two adjoining sites are included in the council’s new local development plan (LDP2) - a planning framework which decrees which sites will be developed, and which will be protected - Trump’s company will seek full planning permission for the housing and villas shortly after LDP2 is adopted, which could be as soon as late 2019.
Under the Trump Organisation’s proposals, some 87 houses would be built, extending the southern boundary of Maidens, a small coastal village with just 262 dwellings.
Correspondence sent to the council by Covell Matthews, obtained by Scotland on Sunday via the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004, states that the properties would reflect “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 in support of the extension to the Turnberry resort, located east of the A719, states: “The proposed site represents a logical extension to Trump Turnberry’s current hotel and leisure complex, expanding out from the existing villas whilst maintaining a connection to the golf courses.
“The vision for the site is to develop more villas to support the operations of the hotel and provide customers with alternative accommodation options.”
In both letters, Covell Matthews point to the Trump Organisation’s “excellent track record of investment in the area,” and claim that the undisclosed number of new villas would “create an obvious requirement for Trump Turnberry to employ more staff, which would be very positive for the area.”
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Porciani, who has been general manager at Turnberry for 15 years, said previous owners of the resort had tried and failed to develop the land, but he expected the Trump Organisation would prevail.
“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,” he said.
“We’ve still got at least 12 months of renovations to do at our villas, the spa, and leisure club, and then we need to add on some more venues. That’ll take us another 12 months, so it’ll probably be at the end of that [period] that we actually start to do more in depth meetings and plans.
“But definitely, does Turnberry want to it? 100 per cent yes. The Trump Organisation have it in their radar and are quite excited.”
He added: “It’s land that 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.
“You look at some of the amazing golf courses in the Home Counties which have nice housing around them. I think it would add on an amazing opportunity for people in the area to move closer to Turnberry if they wanted to do that. It’s not often great housing in Turnberry comes up for sale.”
In a June 2016 interview with Reuters, Trump boasted that he had the right to create a major housing development at Turnberry, but stressed his focus was on politics.
He described his network of 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.
“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 grand reopening of Turnberry after a major refurbishment, 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.”
However, Trump’s presumption appears misplaced, at least in light of the criticism reserved by South Ayrshire Council’s planning service for his plans to make some of the biggest changes to Turnberry in its 112 year history.
It said the “large scale proposed development” for housing would result in the “loss of prime agricultural land and likely significant visual impacts,” adding that the landscape is “highly sensitive to new development.”
It described the land proposed for the luxury villas as an “extremely large” and “insensitive” site suggestion, with “poorly defined boundaries.” It added: “Potential for economic development but any benefits unsubstantiated.”
However, with the proposed LDP2 yet to be finalised, Trump’s plans remain very much on the table.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “As we have no settled position in terms of a proposed plan at this point, nothing has been definitely included or excluded at this time.”
Since taking over Turnberry - a four-time host of the Open Championship - Trump has yet to turn a profit. SLC Turnberry Limited, the firm behind the resort, ran up losses of £3.38m last year. Under his ownership, its losses now total close to £33m.
A source at Trump Turnberry said the development was seen as integral to stemming the heavy losses, but Porciani denied the project was being pursued for that reason.
He explained: “I’ve been given the job of getting Turnberry into the black. 2018 was always the year that I personally guaranteed we’d break even.
“We’re still working on renovating bedroom stock. We’ve renovated 150 [bedrooms] at the top of the hill, and we’re about a quarter or a third of the way through 86 bedrooms at the bottom. I’ve still got major renovations going on. My goal at the moment is to break even, then next year get it into profit, and thereafter to build that.
“The strategies are there to get Turnberry solid and into the black without any of that development.”
In a strategic report accompanying its latest accounts, published last month, Eric Trump, a director of the firm alongside his brother, Donald Jr, expressed confidence that the resort “will return to profitability in the short to medium term.”
It made no mention of the proposed housing or holiday villa plans, adding only that “further redevelopments are ongoing.”
Covell Matthews is currently working with Trump’s firms on £150m plans for a new mixed use development adjoining Trump International Golf Links, his inaugural Scottish resort. A planning application before Aberdeenshire Council proposes 500 homes and 50 ‘hotel cottages’. It has attracted thousands of objections to date.