The political furore over Donald Trump's plans to build a 500m golf course on the north-east coast of Scotland deepened yesterday after the councillor who cast the deciding vote to reject the scheme was sacked by his colleagues. Aberdeenshire councillors voted by 26 to 10 to remove Martin Ford from his role as chairman of the infrastructure services committee.
The rejection of the Trump golf course has enraged the business community, who fear it will send out a signal that Scotland does not want foreign investment. Mr Trump has vowed to build the course elsewhere possibly in Northern Ireland if he is repeatedly blocked from constructing the resort in Scotland.
Environmentalists and many local residents have campaigned against the proposals for the Menie Estate near Balmedie, saying they will ruin an environmentally fragile area of the Scottish coastline, including one of the most spectacular dune systems in the region.
The removal of such a key figure in the council's original decision to reject the planning application will add to the growing speculation about the handling of the project by public bodies and elected officials.
Last night, Mr Ford reacted angrily to his dismissal, saying it sent out the "wrong message" about the integrity of the planning system. Mr Ford's deciding vote last month came at the end of a heated debate lasting two-and-a-half hours when the infrastructure committee rejected the application for the Trump International Golf Links after councillors were tied 7-7.
But the final decision over the billionaire US businessman's golf dream now rests with the Scottish government after it took the unusual step earlier this month of "calling in" the planning decision. It argued that it should decide whether the course goes ahead because the investment is of national significance.
That decision has led many opponents of the course to cry foul and accuse politicians of meddling in planning applications because of the sum of money involved. Yesterday, a coalition of 14 environmental groups, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust and RSPB Scotland, sent a letter to the Scottish government calling for an independent public inquiry to make the final decision on the scheme, not politicians. The letter said: "This will help to allay any public concern that there has potentially been too great a level of political involvement in this case."
Mr Ford is not the first councillor who voted against the plans to have come unstuck in recent weeks. Last month, Debra Storr, one of the seven councillors on the committee who voted against the planning application, claimed she was assaulted on her doorstep by a woman shouting abuse at her for siding against the course. Last night, Joanna Strathdee, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist group on Aberdeenshire Council, defended the authority's decision to sack Mr Ford. She said: "Aberdeenshire Council needs to restore the confidence of the business and wider community in the planning process and show the world that north-east Scotland really is open for business and serious about inward investment. As chair of one of the most important and powerful committees in the council charged with the economic development of the north-east, it was clear that Councillor Ford's position was untenable."
Mr Trump's plan includes two championship golf courses, 950 holiday homes and 36 villas to be built on the Menie Estate.
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