Salmond trumped by wind farm

American tycoon Donald Trump has given evidence against a wind farm off the Scottish coast, to be built within sight of his controversial Menai Estate golf course.

Donald Trump has given evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Energy Economy and Tourism Committee on behalf of the Trump Organisation. The company has been highly critical of wind power, particularly the proposed European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), an offshore wind power test centre for new turbines.

The tycoon accused Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond of “betraying” him at a hearing on Wednesday, after he claimed that reassurances made during a business dinner in New York, USA, that a wind farm would not be within sight of his £750 million Menai Estate golf resort in Scotland, which he bought in 2006 and controversially partly built over an ecologically important SSSI dune system. Despite heated opposition from residents and environmentalists, and an initial refusal of planning permission, the decision was overruled by Salmond.

Salmond claimed that economic benefits outweighed the environmental importance of the site, and allowed the development to go ahead. However, a sleighted Trump revealed in his evidence that Salmond had attended a dinner at the businessman’s expense in New York in October 2007 in front of witnesses to discuss the projected golf and leisure complex. During the dinner, Salmond apparently "scoffed" at the idea that planning would be approved for the wind farm, and said that the MOD had voiced concerns that shipping lanes and radar would be adversely affected by the turbines. Salmond was recently exposed as willing to lobby on behalf of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for the proposed BSkyB takeover, during the ongoing Leveson inquiry, a fact that Trump used as evidence against Salmond’s character in his statements.

“I was certainly led to believe there would be absolutely no wind farm,” the tycoon said in his testimony. “So after I’ve invested this tremendous amount of money, all of a sudden this really obnoxious and ugly wind farm appears. It’s going to look like a bad version of Disneyland. I felt betrayed … [Salmond] is denying everything.” The tycoon gave evidence that their discussions had resulted in him investing 100s of millions of dollars in Scotland, only for him to be let down after ministers broke their word. Trump also stated that Scotland would lose out to wealthy investors after the current controversies. First Minister Salmond and his Labour predecessor, Jack McConnell, also implicated, both refute Trump’s claims.

The American billionaire appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy and tourism committee on Wednesday 25th. Parliament is which is assessing Salmond’s plan to generate all of Scotland’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. Mr Trump dismissed the concerns of SMPs and warned that Scotland’s economy would be damaged. Asked for evidence that wind farms would destroy the Scottish tourist industry, he said: “I am the evidence. I am considered a world-class expert in tourism.”

The RSPB, which is broadly supportive of wind energy, believes that we need to urgently cut our greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the effects of climate change, a major threat to wildlife. On and off shore wind energy provides a proven source of renewable power and will be a critical part of our energy strategy as we move towards a reduction in carbon emissions.

Wind turbines and wind farms can be harmful to birds if located in sensitive areas, and the society opposes the most damaging proposals robustly. However, our experience from the development of wind farms in Britain over the last couple of decades is that, with careful siting and design, most wind farms do not pose a significant threat to bird populations.

RSPB Scotland has been working with the developers of the EOWDC to try and reduce its impact on birds to an acceptable level. Significant progress has been made and the current proposals have much improved those that were initially put forward. However, some additional work is still required to show that the wind test site won’t harm a number of important bird species that use the area. As a result, the RSPB currently has an objection to the proposals, although we hope to ultimately be able to withdraw that objection if it can be shown there will be no significant threat to birds from the scheme.

The approach of the Aberdeen Bay wind farm developers contrasts sharply with that of Trump in relation to his Menai Estate golf course. RSPB Scotland raised major concerns about the damage the golf resort plans would cause to the nationally important Foveran Links SSSI. RSPB Scotland also commissioned a well respected golf course designer to produce an alternative plan that would avoid damage to the SSSI and still deliver a leading international golf course; the Trump Organisation refused point blank to listen to the concerns and look at the alternative design, which would have protected the most important parts of one of Scotland’s best examples of mobile sand dunes in Europe, whilst still allowing the golf resort to proceed.

Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm developers, on the other hand, have been extremely accommodating, and it is encouraging that they are making considerable efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of the development. The golf course will open in July, but the construction of planned hotel and holiday homes is currently on hold.