Donald Trump is a busy man. Even with his farcical bid to become President at an end, he can still be found bellowing his heart out in all eleven series of the American Apprentice and, breaking new ground, the tycoon became a feature of American profressional wrestling in 2007. No, really. Despite much of his wealth being inherited and Trump related companies filing for bankruptcy four times, he seems to resonate with people as a symbol of entrepreneurialism and the brilliance of capitalism. It should come as no surprise that his 2006 announcement that Trump was going to create “the greatest golf course in the world” in Scotland has never been free of controversy.
This month, Anthony Baxter’s new film ‘You’ve Been Trumped’, telling the story of the development, premiered in Aberdeen. The film has already picked up the Green Award at the Sheffield Doc/Fest and is being held over for additional screenings in Aberdeen due to extremely high demand. For those of you who’ve lost touch with the issue over time, this article is designed to give an overview of what’s happened so far, drawing on Andy Wightman’s recent report and the ‘Tripping Up Trump’ campaign website. All claims, unless otherwise indicated, are attributed to these sources.
The application for planning permission began in November 2006, once the land had been purchased, with the application for planning completed in March 2007. It was here that the real trouble started, which at least provided us with a sign of things to come. As you may remember, the Infrastructure Services Committee initially refused permission for the development on the grounds that the application did not comply with some housing and environmental policies that were in effect at the time. While presumably this move was made with the view that Trump would either appeal to the Scottish Ministers or re-submit the application with appropriate changes, Trump has never been one for convention. Instead, he threw a tantrum and threatened to move the project to Northern Ireland. The Scottish Ministers, clearly unnerved, ‘called in’ the application and approved it.
Having successfully obtained the planning permission – on land that he had not visited before purchase and had not understood was a site of scientific and environmental importance – Trump got started on his neighbors: the number of houses on the estate that have refused to sell.
On Michael Forbes land, the precise borders of which are subject to dispute, the Trump organization have uprooted and destroyed his salmon nets, without any apparent effort to resolve the issue. Regarding the Milne’s nearby property, Trump quickly decided that their house (Hermit Point) was too ugly to be seen form his golf course. First, the family were asked to demolish their garage because it allegedly infringed the on Menie estate. Then, the Organization built a shoddy fence around Hermit Point (to demark the boundary) and billed the couple for £2, 820 for doing so. Starting this year, Trump has resorted to blocking of the area around the house with 4 metre tall trees.
Compared to what Trump’s Plan A, however, the residents getting off rather lightly. In May 2009, It was revealed by an Aberdeen newspaper that Trump had, in March that year, applied to the Council for Compulsory Purchase Orders to get rid of these people altogether. Had this not been leaked and subject to swift action by local campaigners, these Orders would in all likelihood been granted in October that year. The Trump Organization have since denied that the requests ever took place, and promised that they never will be.
Trump has also used heavy handed security teams to, in some residents’ view, intimidate his opposition. Among those arrested or harassed on spurious charges are the filmmakers responsible for the documentary above, although all charges have unsurprisingly been dropped. A particularly cruel turn of events has also potentially bankrupted an 86 year old widow who was denied legal aid for questioning the Council’s decision, and thus faced with the full bill for both her and Trump’s legal bill, amounting to an estimated £50 000. Trump’s intolerance of others’ concerns spreads beyond existing residents. He has also opposed a range of local developments, such as a proposed wind-farm and a kennel and cattery for harm they would do to his golf course.
As for the economic benefits that his project will bring to the area, Paul Cheshire, an economics professor at the London School of Economics has questioned whether the development will really bring work to the area, calling the 2008 report from Strathclyde University predicting between 4 7000 and 7000 jobs “wildly optimistic”.
It emerged this week that Trump’s plans for the luxury resort were going to be postponed due to the financial crisis. The golf course itself is still apparently going to open next summer. It’s not clear quite what the implications of this will be in the long run, and one wonders if it will simply mean yet another project lying unfinished in Scotland. Looking at the whole picture however, what emerges is both infuriating and familiar. This is hardly the first time that Scottish communities have been subject to bullying landlordism but what makes this time particularly grim is that it came with the SNP’s seal of approval. This wound will be deepened if Trump gets his wish and Sean Connery and Alex Salmond end up opening the resort. Hopefully, Baxter’s film will draw some national attention to the question and re-energize the campaign against Trump.