Donald Trump’s family firm has won permission to build a luxury housing estate beside his Aberdeenshire golf course despite record objections from local residents and anti-Trump protesters.
Aberdeenshire councillors approved the proposals by 38 votes to 24 on Thursday after planning officers said the Trump Organization’s £20m scheme to build 550 homes and holiday villas would boost jobs and tourism.
The proposal split the council after councillor Richard Thomson, the Scottish National party group leader, said it fell far short of Trump’s 2008 pledge to build a major £750m resort, including a 450-bed five-star hotel and time-share complex. He said it should be rejected.
“We were promised something transformative in this development,” he said. “I don’t think this is it.”
The decision is a significant victory for the Trump Organization, coming two days after councillors in a local area committee approved plans for his second 18-hole golf course close to the housing estate.
Nearly 3,000 people objected to the housing scheme last year – the largest number received for an Aberdeenshire planning application, with another 18,722 signing a protest petition organised by the 38 Degrees website.
Local community councillors had opposed the proposal, as had residents living on the boundary of Trump’s estate, fearing it would createurban sprawl close to Balmedie, the nearest village, overwhelming its primary school and clogging roads.
One of Trump’s critics on the council, councillor Martin Ford, provoked uproar when he said he could not take part in the debate or vote because he had previously accused Trump of racism, misogyny, incitement of violence and environmental vandalism. Ford then left the council chamber.
Councillor Sebastian Leslie, an independent, was later shouted down after he accused other councillors of a bias against Trump which “reeks of prejudice”. The housing proposal, he said, was marvellous. “I don’t think it is the job of this chamber in any way to question the good people of America. It’s their right to elect who they want.”
The scheme involves 500 luxury detached homes and 50 holiday villas for guests of Trump’s boutique hotel. Prices start at £295,000 for the cheapest two-bedroom cottage, while the luxury five-bedroom Balmoral has a starting price of £1.3m. The average price for a detached house in the nearest town of Ellon is £226,000 or £278,000 in Aberdeen.
The Trump Organization started marketing the houses before it won planning permission. It promised residents of the new Trump estate incentives including discounted membership to Trump’s golf club, access to the clubhouse’s restaurants and hotel whisky bar, and a new “Trump card”.
The card offers complimentary room upgrades, late room check-out and “personalised stays based on your travel preferences” across Trump’s worldwide chain of hotels, which includes the Turnberry golfing resort in Ayrshire.
Val Banks, whose home overlooks the area allocated for housing, said she was heartbroken at the decision. David Milne, another critic of the resort who lives nearby, said it meant more valued landscape and biodiversity would be lost. “It is destruction of the landscape for private profit,” he added.
Mairi Stewart, a planning official, said the council knew the proposal was a weaker version of the original proposal. However, it accepted the company’s arguments that the global recession in 2008 and oil industry slump in 2014 had hit the regional economy and made it impossible to deliver Trump’s original plan.
She admitted the proposal was a very unusual hybrid as it involved planning permission in principle for the full development and detailed approval for the first phase of homes. Councillors were told the full scheme could take up to 15 years to complete, with no guarantees it would be completed.
The Trump Organization has refused to include affordable houses in the first phase of the scheme, which involves 82 homes, five hotel lodges, 34 new suites for the boutique hotel on site and six shops for the resort. Council policy requires developers to ensure that 25% of a new housing scheme includes affordable homes.
Instead, the council will levy a £770,000 charge on the first phase of the home building to cover affordable housing elsewhere in the district. The Trump Organization has also promised an unspecified amount to fund extra primary school provision and health care facilities in the area.
Local community councillors and critics of the scheme question how Trump can afford to build the scheme: the Aberdeenshire resort loses more than £1m a year and he has lent it more than £41m.
Sarah Malone, who runs the Trump resort, said she was delighted to have won approval and insisted the company could afford it. “Every stage of this process has been financed by the Trump Organization. We have no loans. We have no mortgages. We have no liens. We have no debt. That is a matter of fact,” she said.