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Trump faces critics of $2 billion golf resort

Donald Trump argued his case Tuesday for the construction of a $2 billion golf resort on a stretch of coast in Scotland after months of acrimony between the billionaire  and local residents.
Image: Donald Trump
U.S. property tycoon Donald Trump appeared before a public inquiry Tuesday over his controversial plans to build a golf resort near Aberdeen, Scotland. His proposed $2 billion complex has run into opposition from environmentalists and a local farmer who refuses to budge.Ed Jones / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Property tycoon and showman Donald Trump brought brash corporate hard-sell to Scotland on Tuesday as he defended plans the build a $2 billion golf resort on an environmentally sensitive stretch of coastline.

The American billionaire known for his New York developments, his shellacked hair and his television show, “The Apprentice,” was in a bullish mood as he countered environmental concerns from a panel of planners and lawyers at a public inquiry.

“The Donald,” as he is sometimes called, told the inquiry that his development would be “the world’s greatest golf course” — better than the Royal & Ancient at St. Andrews; better than Turnberry, Carnoustie and Troon, all in Scotland; and better than Pine Valley in New Jersey, which he called the best course in the world.

“People won’t play a course if it is environmentally harmful,” Trump said. “They don’t like it, they don’t feel good about it and they won’t play it.”

Trump cut an imposing figure as he brought his distinctive brand of showmanship to the sedate surroundings of a formal Scottish public inquiry.

He blustered, he warned, he cajoled — and he left everyone in no doubt that it was his way or the highway.

“If you reject this, there will be a terrible blow to Scotland,” Trump said.

Trump wants to build the course at the Menie Estate, 12 miles north of the oil town of Aberdeen. The development has divided opinion in Scotland and embroiled the country’s first minister in a dispute about overstepping his jurisdiction in planning law.

The plans to create a course on a legally protected site of scientific interest have met with opposition from local environmentalists and a landowner who steadfastly refuses to sell his property. Local fisherman Michael Forbes became famous after he refused the Trump Organization’s offer of $690,000 to sell his family’s run-down farm in the center of the estate.

The proposals — which call for two golf courses, 900 timeshare apartments, a 450-bed hotel and 500 luxury homes — were narrowly rejected by Aberdeenshire Council late last year. Local residents and conservationists had said one course should not be built on the Foveran Links, a stretch of shifting sand dunes that is home to some of the country’s rarest wildlife, including skylarks, kittiwakes, badgers and otters.

But local business leaders, tourism agencies and Scotland’s nationalist first minister, Alex Salmond, support the development, which could bring-much needed jobs and money to the area.

Trump used Tuesday’s hearing to make a last-ditch appeal to push through the golf complex. The panel will meet until early July and draw up a conclusion at some point after that.

David Tildsley, representing the Scottish Wildlife Trust, told the billionaire that he had ignored his own consultants on environmental issues.

Trump drew snickers from the audience when he said he knew more about the environment than his consultants do. He acknowledged he had not read environmental reports that he commissioned.

“I would consider myself an environmentalist in the true sense of the word,” Trump said.

Trump said the sand dunes would benefit from having a golf course on them, as they will be stabilized and not blown away in a storm.

Trump, whose mother was Scottish, acknowledged that opposition in Scotland had put him off.

“This has not been an easy development for me and there have been times when it has been frustrating and I wondered if it was worth it,” he said.

Trump revealed that he purchased the 1,400-acre site with cash four years ago and called the enterprise “high risk.”

He told the planners: “If you don’t approve it I will sell the land and make a couple of dollars.”

Trump locked horns with local lawmaker Martin Ford, whose casting vote against the plan spoiled the proposal last year.

Ford, who has portrayed himself as a mild-mannered David fighting the Goliath of the Trump organization, put it to Trump that he did not check the site properly before he bought it. “You have little understanding of the property you bought or the environmental status of it,” Ford said.

Trump fired back: “You know, nobody has ever told me before I don’t know how to buy property; you’re the first one. I have done very well buying property. Thanks for the advice.”

After the hearing, Trump remained cheerful despite the three hours of tense cross-examination.

“I think we did well,” he told The Associated Press. “We slayed them.”