10 December 2007

On Foregone Conclusions

Of course John Swinney will, after following the processes set out, approve the Trump plans for the mega-golf resort. This outcome will have absolutely nothing to do with Alex Salmond's constituency interests, though (mind you, perhaps Nigel Don, an SNP Regional MSP for the area involved would have made a better point of contact, and could have a 'local representative' hat but no 'Minister' hat to wear, unlike the FM himself, though Mark explains why the FM is not able to affect matters anyway). In fact, Alex Salmond could be the MSP for Dumfries and the outcome would be the same.

Why? Simple: John Swinney is the Finance Secretary, and Trump's proposals will guarantee a very large boost to the local economy. If I were the First Minister, and my Finance Secretary rejected any proposal that would do that, I would sack him on the spot, citing gross incompetence. Indeed, the probability of Swinney being stupid enough to throw the plans out is about 1 in 10 to the power of ten million, not just because of the financial aspect, but also because tourism is a function in his department as well, and rejection would make Jim Mather - the Minister responsible - a very unhappy chappie.

But would another Minister be in a position? How about the Communities Minister? No, he's also Minister for Sport, so he'd have to say yes - this is a golfing resort, after all.

The Environment Minister? He'd be duty bound to say no - owing to the environmental impact.

And why would any other Minister touch planning?

So, no Minister is really in a position to make an impartial decision. The Councillors themselves had to consider both the economic and the environmental impact of the plans, which probably explains why the vote was tied, and it came down to a casting vote in favour of the status quo.

But consider this: surely the local environment would be one of the selling points of a resort in Aberdeenshire? Surely, therefore, a man with the business sense of Donald Trump would want to make the resort fit into that environment rather than spoil it? On that basis, you'd think it was an open and shut case, but then, I don't live in Aberdeenshire, and the proposals obviously had planners uneasy enough that they rejected the application, even on a casting vote.

Having said that, there is one compelling reason why, unless the Finance Secretary were involved, I would personally take a decision to reject Trump's plans. It's not financial, or environmental, but it has to do with this Venn diagram based on my own personal experience (OK, it's based mostly on various male relatives and teachers at school, but still) - with a margin of error considered of course:

Now, I'm not saying that every golfer is a complete and utter twat - otherwise the 'golfer' circle would be completely within the other one - and there must be exceptions even if I have yet to discover one. But there is a enough of a link for me to be uneasy about anything that attracts golfers. Invite the golfers, and you have to face an influx of complete and utter twats to Aberdeenshire. No one should have that on their conscience.


Scott at loveandgarbage said...

My view on the application is equivocal. I feel I don't know enough about it, but would be unhappy if one of the first SSSIs was damaged by a development (but there are ways around this as the infrastructure committee of the council recognised).

My problem is with the manner of call in. The rules require notification of any planning application impacting on an SSSI to the Executive. From that point there is an opportunity to call in. Brian Adam last night indicated the decision to call in was only taken when the council leader in Aberdeenshire stated that the decision of the infrastructure committee could not be overturned by the council. Accordingly, the council had decided, and the government call in is based on there being no decision letter. However, while for other matters in planning a decision is made when the letter is issued, the council have dealt with the matter - insofar as they can - and the exercise of the power to call in seems to exceed the powers granted to ministers under the statute. The call in seems challengeable legally.

In planning generally the developer is in the position of power. The developer can appeal against rejection and have the matter heard again at a higher level (not an option for objectors if a decision is granted - as they have to show there was something untoward in the decision making process and raise a judicial review which is much more costly). The ball was in Trump's court. Any appeal would have led to the result that is likely now - that a public inquiry will hear the case. However, by calling in, in highly questionable circumstances, the government may have damaged the application - because if the decision to call in is challenged on judicial review (and various bodies, the RSPB, Scottish natural Heritage &c, have title and interest to do so) they are unlikely to do so immediately but will raise during representations at any hearing and then subsequent to any decision by ministers. Further, given planning obligations to take the environmental impact assessment into account, I would imagine a planning reporter will find it difficult to give unqualified support to the decision, meaning that (as with the M74) ministers risk being seen running roughshod over the views of planning experts (if, as I suspect is right, they take the view you anticipate).

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

This Trump thing still ongoing?

Roger Thomas said...

Was blogging as applied planetary engineering early in year. But due to a long story Alex had left Celtic Lion Ltd unregistered at Companies House, and the domain names. It's such a lovely name hope I can do it justice.

Can agree with your golfing view, but here's my concerns.

I find the entire development and issues surrounding it uncomfortable. In 2002 DEFRA recommended me to the UK Cabinet Office to advise on the sustainable development aspect of the UKs legislative process involving Regulatory Impact Assessment.

I am looking at this development in terms of localised ecoonomic, social and environmental factors.

These relatively short term, in an overall strategy for Scotland, set against global trends and development.

What may only result in a short term local gain for the North East in the economic factor, offset by a loss in social and environmental areas could result in a loss across economic, social and environmental factors for Scotland as a whole in a long term strategy.

The dragging down of Scotland, as a whole, affecting the North East and negating any benefits they think they may achieve.

The complexities of full sustainable development seem to have been ignored in the rush for the ‘quick fix’ $

Very worrying.


Julie said...

This development includes ownership of the beach, which I don't like. You might not think this is a big deal, but this is Aberdeen, there's oil offshore and it does matter who owns the beach up there and who has landing rights. I think they should have said no, and I don't think the councillor should have been sacked for saying no; it sets a bad precedent.

Richard Havers said...

I wonder if, once the housing development is finished and the golf course too, locals and tourists will be able to wander freely across the area. The right to roam is something that cowboys understand; let’s hope the Donald does too.

For the rest....


Roger Thomas said...

Just Googled Trump and this appeared tonight, don't remember seeing it before. Check it out!