The word “douce” sits easily alongside a place like Balmedie, but would never be seen within a million miles of Donald Trump or any of his enterprises. Yet this pleasant coastal village a few miles north of Aberdeen is at risk of forever being associated with America’s pantomime president and the locals are aghast at the prospect.
Last week planning officials at Aberdeenshire council signalled their assent for plans by the Trump Organisation to build a sprawling housing estate comprising 550 homes and golfers’ chalets on farmland adjacent to the US president’s exclusive golf facility a little further down the coast. The plans will now go before a full meeting of the council in April.
The planners have chosen to ignore a record number of objections from local people. More than 3,000 of them objected formally to the plans while almost 20,000 more signed a petition organised by the website 38 Degrees. A point of particular contention is that the council appears to have given Trump a rare dispensation to sidestep rules that require a quarter of the homes in new developments to be affordable.
“We have enough luxury houses being built. It’s affordable housing that is the desperate need throughout Scotland. If the council give permission for this then they are not doing their jobs properly,” says Margaret S on the petition website. Another, reflecting a more universal view, says simply: “This ‘man’ is a rogue; horrible, horrible excuse for a human being.”
The housing plans are merely the latest chapter of a long-running feud involving Trump, the Scottish government, the local authority and a robust cast of stubborn local people who could give the US Democrats some lessons in how to oppose a sitting president. Many of the objectors to Trump’s plans are residents of Balmedie. Curiously, they include some who had backed Trump more than 10 years ago when he was seeking planning permission for his golf resort. The course of this change in attitude probably tracks the behavioural extremes of Trump since he annexed the White House in 2016.
In Balmedie’s White Horse Inn, the hub of this tight community, the bar manager, Deborah Barnshaw, is cautiously supportive of the Trump plans. “Look, you can’t get away from the fact that a development like this could be good for this community and bring much-needed business to outlets like ours. Also, I get the feeling that if this was being proposed by a local developer there wouldn’t be a problem. Trump’s personal conduct since becoming president has made him a toxic brand and I think that even if he were offering to put millions directly into this community a lot of people here would refuse to accept it.”
Many locals will not easily forget Trump’s behaviour when he was trying to overcome local objections to his golf course. This included his targeting of some individuals whose homes lay inconveniently in the path of Trump’s modifications to the landscape to make way for his fairways. They had steadfastly refused to have their properties primped and upholstered for the mere purpose of being eye candy for Trump’s millionaire golf customers.
Martin Ford, a local councillor, and one of Trump’s leading critics in this neighbourhood, reflected on the difference a bizarre spell in the White House has made to local opinion. “In 2007, association with Mr Trump’s celebrity status and the perceived popularity of his resort proposal were seen as powerful political arguments for overturning planning policy and granting planning permission. Now Mr Trump has the reputation of an international pariah, and his proposed housing scheme is evidently unpopular – hardly reasons to extend special treatment to his planning application this time.”
Along the coast at Menie, objections to Trump’s golf course formed around the desire to protect a spectacular system of sand dunes fostering a unique constellation of wildlife. Last year, documents revealed that Scottish Natural Heritage was finally acknowledging that the site has sustained serious damage since the course opened seven years ago.
Morning dawned clear and sharp yesterday on this stretch of the Aberdeenshire coastline where a honeycomb of boardwalks bears you across the grass to mountainous dunes and an unspoilt beach beyond. A few miles out in the North Sea stand the dozen or so wind-farms that Trump claimed spoiled the views from his prized greens. Their presence caused Trump to sue the Scottish government but lying in the still waters today they seem strangely benign. The prospect of these pastures being violated by a large detachment of bricks and mortar on the other hand seems inconceivable.