Fyson on ... Approval for luxury golf complex

Approval for luxury golf complex reveals government's failure to stand up to the super-rich.

Explanations for the poor Scottish National Party performance at last week's Glenrothes by-election did not place much blame on the controversial approval two days earlier of American billionaire Donald Trump's golf complex in Aberdeenshire. The beneficiary turned out to be Gordon Brown, improbably credited with a Labour victory brought about by his sudden global reputation as a financial guru, albeit one who connives at the demise of HBOS.

Every development decision in the relatively peripheral world of sports and recreational resorts has to balance conservation and economic advantage. But there are disturbing aspects of the Edinburgh government's decision, not least its apparent readiness to surrender to arrogant wealth. Scottish first minister Alex Salmond seems to have been dazzled by the "powerful argument" of 1,500 permanent jobs in a new 800ha coastal resort boasting two golf courses, a hotel, nearly 1,000 timeshare flats and 500 exclusive homes.

There will be some planning gain in the form of a new primary school and about 150 low-cost and starter homes. But no-one, least of all the local planning authority, has ever identified a golf centre on this scale as an investment priority, especially one that is environmentally intrusive to the point of being partly built on dunes that are a designated site of special scientific interest.

The business community seems unable to see past the dollar signs that illuminate one person's whim to the environmental quality issues. It seems to prefer a development that might be acceptable on the crowded parts of Mediterranean Spain but which in its isolation will dominate and alter its surroundings irrevocably for the worse.

Creating the "world's best golf course" hardly ranks in importance with building power-generating facilities or meeting housing needs. Even the job-creating potential is subject to the exaggerated fluctuations that always afflict tourist facilities. Without the world's best weather, the fate that has befallen the once-vaunted Scottish skiing industry might yet puncture Trump's conceit.

Of course, no expense will be spared. Trump's uncomprehending sneers about the untidy farm that he could not buy for any price and must now build around presage a manicured sort of US glamour that only really works when it is warm and sunny. Protesters will take no satisfaction from the possibility that another super-rich egotist may waste vast amounts of his own money. Perhaps Aberdeenshire's planners should prepare to handle his next application - for the world's first fully glazed golf course.

- Anthony Fyson is a freelance writer on planning issues.


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