A new documentary from the BBC Scotland has revealed that Donald Trump's Scottish golf resort may cause 4,000-year-old dunes to lose their conservation status as a result of damage from resort's construction. The resort is situated on part of the Forvan Links, a unique and historic sand dune system in Aberdeen, Scotland, that is classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Trump's organization has also been accused of not fulfilling business promises that would have offset the cost of potential dune damage.
Sarah Malone, the executive vice-president of Trump International Golf Links Scotland, disputes claims that resort damaged the dunes, saying the company had bought the property because of the dunes and asking, "Why would we do anything to damage them?" However, she also noted that the company does not care about a potential change in the SSSI status of the dunes.
According to the Woodland Trust, an SSSI designation means that a site is of "particular interest because of its fauna, flora or geological or physiological features" and that the area has "extremely high conservation value." The Guardian reported that the SNH has confirmed that it is reviewing the SSSI status of the dunes and that it will make a final decision next month, noting, "As expected, there are areas where there has been some permanent habitat loss, for example, where tracks, tees, fairways and greens, have been constructed."
Experts report that they would be shocked if the site retains its conservation status, noting that the golf resort profoundly affected the dunes. Jim Hansom, an expert in Coastal Ecology from Glasgow University, reveled in the BBC documentary that he would be “absolutely surprised” if the dunes maintained their status. “It’s been ruined from a virgin undeveloped wilderness site into something that’s relatively manicured," Hamson said.
Trump's company was initially given permission to open the Trump International Golf Links course on the specially-designated dunes site in 2008. The potential damage to the dunes from the construction of the golf course was deemed acceptable because of the business promises reportedly made by the Trump organization — promises which were supposed to provide economic benefits to Scotland that outweighed the cost of potential dune damage. As The Guardian reported, Trump's company had supposedly pledged to invest approximately £1 billion in the resort, committing to building a five-star hotel, two golf courses, housing and timeshare residences, and a sports complex — and creating up to 6,000 jobs.
However, according to The Guardian, thus far the Trump Organization has supposedly not followed through on these commitments. Indeed, as the paper noted, only one golf course, a boutique hotel, and a clubhouse have been built on site, which cumulatively employ around 95 people full-time. The Guardian also noted that the Trump Organization self-reported slightly higher numbers, saying that 150 people work on-site, though many of them are part-time or self-employed.
Malone, the Trump organization representative, reported via the the BBC that it has invested £ 100 million into Trump International Golf Links so far. She also reported that Trump had never intended to invest £1 billion immediately and that the site should be considered a "long-term investment opportunity." Malone further noted that the company had nixed its plans to build a five-star hotel on-site.
Jim Gifford, the leader of Aberdeenshire council, had originally supported the golf resort's construction, but told The Guardian that he believes the potential damage to dunes was not worth it, considering the company's apparent lack of follow-through on its promises. As Gifford put it:
For what is only there just now, no [it was not worth it], because the economic benefit hasn’t come through. But in the big picture that was put in front of us 10 years ago, it was worth doing ... I think they have an obligation to bring forward what they promised, it’s – that’s the bottom line of it. The difficulty we have is we can’t force them to do that.
The Trump Organization has already applied to build a second golf course on the resort. However, as The Guardian reported, in addition to already existent issues with Scottish environmental protection authorities, the company's supposed track record on promises made versus promises kept may make planners even more hesitant to approve this new course.