For Trump, a Major Win In the Homeland of Golf

Activists fear Donald Trump's huge $1.6 billion golf resort will destroy dunes along Scotland's northeast coast.
Activists fear Donald Trump's huge $1.6 billion golf resort will destroy dunes along Scotland's northeast coast. (By Jeff J. Mitchell -- Getty Images)
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By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 4, 2008

LONDON, Nov. 3 -- Scottish officials on Monday approved U.S. tycoon Donald Trump's controversial plans to build what Trump calls "the greatest golf course in the world" along Scotland's wind-swept northeastern coast.

Over objections from environmentalists who say local officials have been "blinded by the bling," government planners gave the go-ahead for Europe's largest golf and housing resort, a 1,400-acre, $1.6 billion complex of two championship courses, a 450-bed hotel, 500 private houses and 950 time-share villas.

"We are greatly honored by the positive decision and believe that the people of Scotland will be extremely happy with the final product," Trump said in a statement after winning a two-year battle in which his opponents portrayed him as a greedy outsider with little regard for the area's fragile ecosystem.

In a telephone interview later, Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland, said environmental concerns had been addressed, adding that "everyone's going to benefit" from the jobs and revenue generated.

But critics said Trump had "steamrolled" Scottish officials desperate for some good economic news. The project had in some ways become a referendum on the flamboyant New York real estate magnate's outsize personality, which grated on some local people when the multimillionaire came to visit.

"It's one set of rules for other developers and another for Trump," said Jonny Hughes of the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

The Scottish government took over consideration of the project last December after a local committee rejected it and Trump suggested moving it to Northern Ireland.

Hughes said Trump had "bullied" the government into accepting his entire project rather than a scaled-back plan that Hughes said would have provided more protection for vast sand dunes that the government has classified as a protected site.

"Scottish ministers were blinded by the bling -- the huge economic carrot that overwhelmed the planning system," Hughes said in an interview.

Scottish business interests and top government officials praised the Trump project as an important economic boost for Scotland. Trump has said the project would create 1,400 permanent full-time jobs and housing for 400 workers and would generate more than $100 million a year for the region's economy.

"It is entirely right and proper that the resources of the country are harnessed to boost one of our great industries, and tourism is a great Scottish industry," said Alex Salmond, the chief minister of the Scottish government, whose constituency includes the project site.

Finance Minister John Swinney, who oversaw the government's review of the project, said the investigation concluded that "there was significant economic and social benefit to be gained from this project."

Critics have complained that Trump's project would benefit wealthy golfers from overseas far more than local working families. Others said Trump's economic projections were far too rosy in view of the current global financial crisis.

"Trump's plan is to build luxury holiday homes for foreign visitors who may never come, a golf course that few will play and homes that few will be able to afford," Patrick Harvie, a Green Party member of the Scottish Parliament, told reporters.

"We can only hope that the current economic crisis tears a hole in his business plan and that he fails to get the money he needs to fund the project," Harvie said. "Even the credit crunch must surely have a silver lining."

Trump, in the interview, said he had not scaled back his project. It would be "a couple of years" before the golf courses open, he said, and then he would evaluate the economic climate and "see where the world is."

Trump said the project had adequate safeguards to protect the fragile dunes in the area, which are home to a wide variety of birds and other animals.

But Aedan Smith of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said the project would "cause the destruction of a dune system, with its precious wildlife, on a site that is protected by law and should continue to be available for future generations to enjoy."

"We, and the thousands of other objectors, consider that this is too high a price to pay for the claimed economic benefits from this development," Smith said.

Martin Ford, a local Aberdeenshire councilor, said he believed Trump was building a "vanity project" that amounted to a Scottish trophy for his real estate empire.

Trump shook off that criticism, saying, "Owning the greatest golf course anywhere in the world is a great trophy, and I don't mind saying it."

Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company