Billionaire Donald Trump says he will stop at nothing to save his luxury Scottish golf resort from the curse of wind farms.
Donald Trump is almost (but not quite) yelling down the phone from his New York offices in the 58-storey tower that bears his name, as do most things he owns. “I’m trying to save Scotland!” he cries. “If I don’t speak out, Scotland will go broke! I don’t need this hassle; I’m a very rich person. But someone has to defend Scotland’s unspoilt wilderness from the curse of wind turbines before it’s spoiled forever.”
It is early and Trump, 65, is busy. His assistant is busy and his assistant’s assistant is busy – but some things are more important than buying property and developing property and selling property and being mega-rich and writing books about being mega-rich and presiding over the boardroom in the transatlantic version of The Apprentice. More pressing, too, than marketing Trump Ties, Trump Vodka, Trump Fragrance and Trump Steak.
And, of late, the billionaire is proving one almighty thorn in the side of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond over proposals to erect 11 giant wind turbines a mile off the Aberdeenshire coast, where Trump is developing his Trump International Golf Links resort on the Balmedie Estate, near Menie.
The golf course, which he, unsurprisingly, claims is “the very best in the world” will open in late June. But the rest of the planned £750 million development, comprising a hotel and holiday homes, has been put on hold and will not go ahead, he insists, unless the turbine plans are withdrawn. He has even donated a £10 million fighting fund to anti-wind farm campaigners. “I was told that there would not be a wind farm opposite the course, and so I went ahead with construction, otherwise I would have gone to Ireland,” he says. “I don’t know what Alex Salmond’s problem is. He will destroy Scotland.”
In Trump, the oleaginous Salmond has met a world-class adversary, with an international media profile and virtually bottomless coffers. The fact that the First Minister was previously accused of being a little too cosy with Trump, and of having entered into something of a Faustian pact with the high-end developer, sacrificing an area of scientific interest for economic reasons, adds piquancy to their spat.
From the outset there has been disquiet over the fact that after a “love-in” with Salmond, Trump was permitted to acquire a disputed stretch of sand dunes, despite objections from local councillors concerned about the environmental impact.
But in an angry letter recently fired off to Salmond, Trump made it clear that their special relationship was over. “I have read your recent statements concerning so-called ‘wind power’,” he wrote. “For the record, taxing your citizens to subsidise wind projects owned by foreign energy companies will destroy your country and its economy. Jobs will not be created in Scotland because these ugly monstrosities known as turbines are manufactured in other countries such as China. These countries, who so benefit from your billions of pounds in payments, are laughing at you.”
There are plans for a great many more turbines around the Scottish coast, following a Scottish Executive-endorsed study which suggested that harnessing just a third of the country’s offshore wind by 2050 would generate enough electricity to power Scotland seven times over. Trump however, remains convinced that such predictions are hot air. Well-known for his flamboyant lifestyle and outspoken views, he claims a moral dimension to his crusade. It is not solely about 64-storey-high turbines spoiling the view from the greens. “My mother Mary MacLeod was born in Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis,” says Trump, whose father was a second-generation German immigrant born in the US. “She was a great woman, a strong woman. Like her, I see things through. I decided to do Scotland a great favour, and build the best golf course in the world there, as a tribute to my mother. Now I’m doing her homeland an even bigger favour because I’m going to stop the desecration of its precious coastline by these ugly wind turbines.”
Trump is convinced that all of Scotland is behind him. Not so, counters Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, which represents around 300 organisations. “Surveys show that people in Scotland and across the UK support the development of wind power, and are increasingly aware that the sector employs thousands of people and has attracted hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in the last 12 months.”
But Trump, the self-styled saviour of Scotland, is impossible to ignore; his profile in his native America is stratospheric. Popularly known as The Donald, after his first wife, Czech-born Ivana Trump, referred to him as such in an interview, sources close to him say he is worth an estimated £7 billion. He is on his third marriage and is apparently irresistible in the flesh, having modestly observed that: “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”
His wife is the stunning Slovenian ex-model Melania Knauss, 41, who sells her jewellery collection on the QVC shopping channel. When Trump toyed with running for president, US headlines included “Would Melania Trump Be the Hottest First Lady Ever?”. They have a six-year-old son, Barron, together (his fifth child).
With so much to occupy him at home, Trump is none the less determined to stand his ground. He rejects claims that this dispute has been manufactured to provide a face-saving opportunity to withdraw from his ambitious project. “Look, this is a small job for me,” he says. “I’m in there for close to £100 million, and I haven’t got any mortgage on it. I would love to start the hotel but not if those ugly turbines go ahead; I don’t want my guests looking out on those.”
He has threatened legal action against the Scottish government. Given that he once said “I don’t make deals for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it”, Alex Salmond should prepare for a clash of titans as the government body Marine Scotland makes its decision on the siting of the turbines.
“A few commentators have been saying that I’ll just shrug my shoulders and move on,” concludes Trump, in ominously soft tones. “But I’m not leaving. I’m going to fight this one out.”
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