The Sunday Times (London)

October 25, 2009

Edition 1;


Critics claim council 'too close' to Trump

BYLINE: Mark Macaskill


LENGTH: 510 words


ABERDEENSHIRE council has been accused of being "too close" to Donald Trump after a senior official suggested working with the tycoon to handle an expected backlash against plans to evict homeowners standing in the way of his £1 billion golf resort.

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show that Dr Christine Gore, the council's senior planning officer, told Trump's lawyers that "close liaison" would be needed to "manage" any negative publicity.

The move came after Trump notified the council in February this year of his intention to seek compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to buy four properties on or near his 2,000-acre Menie estate. Details of the tycoon's plan to extend his development did not become public until May.

In Gore's letter, dated April 7, she writes: "In terms of public relations and management of the inevitable media interest, I would request that we be given at least a week's notice of your intended submission date. Thereafter, close liaison will be required ... in order that we can have a managed approach to what is inevitably going to be a difficult and emotive reaction."

The letter has prompted accusations of a "conflict of interest" from Spinwatch, a Glasgow-based body which monitors public relations.

It has threatened to lodge a complaint with the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if the council fails to carry out its own inquiry.

The documents, obtained by Spinwatch, include e-mails and letters between Gore and Ann Faulds, an Edinburgh-based solicitor with Dundas and Wilson, a law firm hired by Trump. They show that in February, Faulds drew up a report justifying why compulsory purchase orders might be needed to acquire extra land on and around Trump's estate. It was drafted in Gore's name for distribution to council members, however the local authority says it was never used.

David Miller, professor of sociology at Strathclyde university and head of Spinwatch, said the documents raised serious questions about the council's relationship with Trump. He said they showed the council knew of the possibility of forced evictions at least three months before the proposed move became public.

"The question of probity and governance is raised by these documents," said Miller. "The council is supposed to protect the public interest, not the private interests of a major corporation. These documents suggest Aberdeenshire council is too close to the Trump Organisation."

Trump plans to create the "world's greatest golf course" on the estate, and hopes to be given permission next week to begin planting marram grass to stabilise ancient sand dunes on the coastline.

However, the owners of the four properties on the estate have so far refused to sell their homes to make way for the development, despite several lucrative offers.

Sarah Malone, a spokeswoman for Trump, dismissed Miller's accusations as "mischief-making".

A spokeswoman for Aberdeenshire council denied any wrongdoing and said early discussions on the issue of CPOs had to be in private out of respect for the residents who might be affected.