Fisherman thwarts Donald Trump's plan

Fisherman’s stand against the property tycoon Donald Trump pays off as council rejects golf links plan. By Karen McVeigh and Severin Carrell.

The billionaire is not used to losing, but he got a bloody nose on November 29. In a surprise decision, Donald Trump’s plan to build a GBP1bn golf resort on a rare and vulnerable stretch of sand dunes on the coast north of Aberdeen, eastern Scotland, was thrown out by the local council.

After the project was voted through by the council’s Formartine local area committee, the meeting of the council’s infrastructure committee, on November 29, was seen as a formality.

At the time, George Sorial, Trump’s managing director for international development, had hailed that decision as vindication of the care and thought the Trump Organisation had given to the planning application.

But later, a bitterly disappointed Sorial said that Trump was “very shocked” by the decision. “It’s not just a loss for us but for the people of Aberdeen and the shire. The members of the council’s infrastructure committee have chosen to protect a pile of sand.”

Concerns over the proposed resort, which included two championship golf courses, a five-star hotel, a golf academy, nearly 1,000 holiday homes and 500 private houses, centred on the fact that part of it would be built on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) containing sensitive sand dunes.

Asked if he might move the golf course from the dunes, Sorial said: “No. We’re not that sort of developer. We have some of the largest residential buildings in the world. We think big.”

Sorial defended accusations the Trump team had been “arrogant and patronising” in its approach.

“There’s a view we are arrogant. We are not arrogant. We set certain standards. It may be incomprehensible to smaller minds, but we have always set high standards. We presented them with a plan and hoped they could open their minds, but it was too much for them.”

Complaints to the council surged this year after a row erupted between the property developer and Michael Forbes, a fisherman who refused to sell his land despite spiralling offers of up to GBP373,000. During a press conference, Trump described Forbes’s property as a “disgrace” which was in “total disrepair” and which had damaged his visionary scheme for an award-winning resort.

The ruling was closely run, with a 7-7 deadlock after two and a half hours of heated debate, but the casting vote by the committee chairman, Martin Ford, ensured Trump’s vision would have to be carried out elsewhere.

Mickey Foote, of Sustainable Aberdeenshire, said: “The council has been involved in a very lengthy and contentious debate over the economic benefits versus national heritage.

They chose to protect the national heritage, which is what drove Mr Trump to the area in the first place. They have chosen not to indulge an over-ambitious property developer.”

Foote said that Trump, who conducted a three-year charm offensive among local business leaders and politicians, was the “architect of his own downfall” with his outspoken views on the locals.

“When you move into a neighbourhood, you should seek to get on with your neighbours. But he chose to ridicule the lifestyle of someone who was quietly getting on with his life. People around here don’t like that.”

Forbes said: “Hopefully, Trump has now got the message that we’re not a bunch of cabbages up here. We’ve managed fine without him up to now and we’ll get on just as well without him.”

The defeat will come as a blow to many in the business community who supported Trump’s plans. The conservation lobby had focused on the damage the golf course would cause to the rare dunes.

@ Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007