Donald Trump has said he might leave the US if he loses the White House to Joe Biden next month. If so, he has just been handed the perfect place to eke out his final days – by playing golf on a new course in Aberdeenshire, his second in the area.
If Trump does choose such an option, he can expect a robust welcome from conservationists, however. They say last week’s decision by Aberdeenshire council planners to approve the course could have a catastrophic impact on the area’s delicate environment.
Trump International Golf Links Scotland built a course on the Menie estate, north of Aberdeen, in 2012, and its construction has been blamed for badly damaging the spectacular dunes system at nearby Foveran Links, an official site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
As a result, conservation experts had urged Aberdeenshire council to withhold planning permission for the second golf course at Menie that Trump had asked to build. But in September last year, local councillors ignored their warnings and recommended the proposal be given the go-ahead.
Since then, campaigners had pressed Aberdeenshire council planning service to overturn that decision but on Friday it announced it had decided to go ahead and grant full planning permission for the new course. It claimed the new course “will contribute towards the significant social and economic benefits expected to be delivered by the wider development proposals within the Menie estate”.
This optimism is not shared by conservationists. They say that the decision means Foveran’s SSSI status – given because of its unusual shifting sands and diverse plant life – will have to be removed completely in the next few months.
“This decision gives a green light to the Trump organisation to further vandalise and destroy Scotland’s natural heritage,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. “Aberdeenshire council and the Scottish government have ignored the objections of Scottish Natural Heritage about potential further damage to world-famous sand dunes that are supposed to be protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but which have already been partially destroyed by the building of the first golf course.”
The new 18-hole course will be known as MacLeod course after Mr Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, who was born and brought up on the Hebridean island of Lewis before emigrating to New York. The course will be built to the south and west of the original one.
Trump originally won approval for his “Trump estate” encompassing the protected dunes because he pledged to create up to 6,000 jobs by building a five-star hotel with 450 rooms, shops, a sports complex, timeshare flats, two golf courses and housing estates. However, so far he has constructed only one 18-hole course, which is open seven months a year, a practice range, and a small clubhouse with a restaurant and shop; he also converted Menie’s manor house into a boutique hotel with 16 rooms.
With just over a fortnight until election day, the chances of Trump spending more time on his golf courses appear to be increasing. His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, leads by 17 points in the latest Opinium Research/Guardian poll. More than 18 million votes have already been cast.
As well as leading in the national opinion polls, Biden is also consistently ahead in a series of crucial swing states. Last week he even won the ratings war – more Americans tuned in to see his Q&A session on ABC than Trump’s version on NBC.
Aberdeenshire residents may be seeing Trump soon, win or lose. According to www.trumpgolfcount.com, Trump has played more rounds of golf as president than any other White House resident. He has visited his golf clubs 280 times during his presidency, playing on 140 occasions.