Aug 092013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  I hope everyone is enjoying a vibrant, dynamic, smart successful summer with lashings of connectivity.  Tartan Day in Aberdeen was good fun, and once again the gardens were used to good effect, even if they are a dangerous, dreary, dark hole filled with criminals.

There was a re-enactment of a highwayman’s trial in the Tollbooth; suffice it to say the accused didn’t get a lesser sentence for pleading guilty, his difficult childhood or drunkenness weren’t hauled up as reasons for leniency, and the sentence wasn’t a few hours of community service.

Old Susannah’s also been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which rightfully attracts talent and tourists from around the world. 

For the next few weeks Edinburgh’s intriguing private spaces, as well as public areas, will be given over to performances, workshops, a book festival, art/craft, food and drink.

I enjoyed a lovely meal in the Signet Library, which is transformed annually into the Pommery Champagne bar.  The public gets to see inside amazing venues like this, enjoy them for social occasions, and at the same time gets to appreciate the spaces Edinburgh has to offer.  Would that we could do that here, with our empty shops and interesting spaces.

The atmosphere is friendly; there is something for everyone, and people come from around the world. My hotel, the Caledonian Waldorf couldn’t have been more elegant or more service-orientated; a minor omission of an ingredient in a meal was more than made up for by complimentary dessert wine.

While I don’t often get to live it up, when I do so in Edinburgh, the Pommery and the Waldorf – and the local BrewDog bar for a bottle of new Electric India – are the places to be.  Sometimes you just need a little luxury.

It will be hard to write any form of satire this week that would be able to hold its own against the Salmond – vs – Aberdeen Council / Labour prose currently flying around town.  In brief, Salmond decided to spontaneously issue invitations to the press to witness his spontaneous visit to local Bramble Brae elementary school, coincidentally where a by-election was taking place.

I’m sure anyone who wants to wander into a school will be just as welcome

He, his team and the press thoughtfully bypassed the head teacher and Aberdeen’s Chief Executive, Valerie Watts, thus saving them paperwork and worry; they just went into the school, into the class and had a lovely visit, posing for photos.

For some reason, Valerie Watt took exception to this school visit, thinking that someone should have asked her first (she probably just wanted to get her photo taken with Alex).  She wrote to Salmond, and from there things got a wee bit messy, with accusations of ‘kamikaze’ councils and general name calling coming into it from Alex’s side.  Sexism got a look in as well with men only and women only golf clubs adding fuel to the fire.

Barney Crockett and Salmond have locked horns.  Watts should have realised that the First Minister can do whatever he feels like doing without checking with anyone; this is perfectly acceptable, and I’m sure anyone who wants to wander into a school will be just as welcome.  Clearly if other by-election candidates had been creative, they could have done the same.

Rhonda Reekie of the Greens should have marched into a school for a press call; Willie Young could have found a class full of students, rounded up their parents and the press for some handshaking, and none of the pro-SNP faction would have found anything amiss I’m certain. (What the class teacher thought of this visit and if/how they dealt with it would be nice to know).

Bramblegate reminds me of a lovely pro-granite web visit some school children had back in the day just before that referendum, which also went down well with parents.

Anyway, Alex can go into schools for press calls.  In contrast, it is very wrong for Councillor Martin Ford to speak to the BBC as a councillor while on Aberdeenshire Council premises. Word is that the Shire’s Chief Executive is still fuming post Panorama, and straining at the leash to give Ford a dressing down.

No answer is forthcoming yet to my email to Chief Mackenzie about where such a rule is written down, how many other councillors ask for permission for such meetings, and whether Mackenzie would then have an undemocratic power to stop such interviews/press calls as didn’t suit his purposes.  Thankfully, Mackinitupashegoesalong makes certain that all councillors follow the code of conduct.

surely no councillor could possibly owe us an explanation

He pointed this out in his letter to the Petitions Committee, saying how unnecessary any public inquiry into the Trump debacle would be.

Quite right too.  No doubt should any of the Shire’s councillors be found wanting in terms of obeying the code, they will be dealt with accordingly.  But surely no councillor could possibly owe us an explanation for his or her conduct – other than Ford of course.

All these arguments are splashing around the Press and Journal, which has given them another occasion to get comment from UK politics’ most heavy hitters.

Only a month ago they managed to find a window of opportunity in Kate Dean’s diary to do a three page spread, so we could benefit from her words of wisdom over the failure to get the web built (which ‘we will all regret’; ‘we’ll all remember where we were when the web got kicked into touch’, etc. etc.).  Now her little dog Toto, aka Kevin Stewart, has given a few words on the Alex Salmond-Barney Crocket-Valerie Watts tag team event.

Where does the P&J get these incisive commentators from?  Additionally, another City Council ex, John Stewart, now in Manchester running a parade or something, says “I’m so glad to be out of it now”, demonstrating his gladness by offering to comment from the sidelines in order to snipe at Crockett.  Many of us thought he was ‘out of it’ in one sense or another from time to time when he was still here.

All this fighting talk makes me think some related definitions are required, so without any further hesitation, here are some terms for this week’s definitions.

Circular Argument: (compound English Noun) An argument that is flawed by containing, as fact, the same thing it is attempting to prove, e.g. “The story I read in the Press & Journal is true because I read it in the Press & Journal.”

There are no circular arguments to be found in our part of the world, thank goodness.  But sometimes I wonder – if MEMAG didn’t exist, would it be necessary to invent it?

MEMAG wasn’t needed at all really; it wasn’t like Trump was going to go against the approved plan or do anything possibly detrimental to our environment.

MEMAG has authority to prevent damaging activities

But thankfully, MEMAG was put under the Trump organisation’s financial control.  Arguably, MEMAG was invented to keep the Trump organisation in check.

By holding the purse strings, by not showing up for meetings, and by in effect pulling the plug on MEMAG, the Trump Organisation was in control of several levels of the organisation set up to keep it under control.

The shire council’s Formartine Committee once had a report which read:-

“If permission is granted a section 75 agreement is imposed to ensure that the impact on the nature conservation interest is minimised and that no hard engineering works are involved in stabilising the sand dome and dune system and that MEMAG has authority to prevent damaging activities, that a rigorous landscape evaluation is undertaken and that no commitment is given to either the height of the hotel and holiday apartments or the eventual number of houses for sale, that a minimum of 40% of the energy requirement for the hotel, holiday apartments and homes is generated on site using renewable energy  technologies and that the employment benefits are derived locally with preference being given to those living within the North East and those attending the proposed university course.”

In the end, the now evaporated MEMAG group was about as effective in its remit as Father Ted was when holding up placards reading ‘down with this sort of thing’ and ‘careful now’

Old Susannah will find it hard to come up with any circular arguments; but in the mean time I leave you with this thought:  in order to prevent the Trump organization committing damaging activities, the Trump organization was in charge of an organisation called MEMAG which was in charge of preventing the Trump organisation committing damaging activities.

What could be simpler?


Aberdeenshire Council might be a little confused.  They’ve twice written to me to say :-

“Aberdeenshire Council have not authorised any restrictions on Menie Estate in relation to statutory access rights afforded under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.” (email to me of 7 August 2013).

Result!  Everything’s fine!  I’ll have to make sure to tell the Menie residents and visitors this.

However, the Shire’s outdoor access person also wrote to me on 26 March 2013:-

“As noted above we are aware of a number of concerns relating to outdoor access at Menie and are currently working to resolve the issues. It is my preference to utilise my time achieving the formal concerns already raised; I suspect these concerns are shared by the residents you note in your email. 

“As I hope you will appreciate the provision of access rights is not always clear and straight forward as much as we will continue to seek acceptable access rights for the residents of Menie and general visitors we also have to consider and balance the rights of the landowner to undertake their business and manage their land. 

“On a positive note I would say that the land managers at Menie have indicated they are keen to resolve concerns over public access and as such we are working towards a solution that provides a satisfactory level of access whilst taking into account the concerns of the land manager and their land management activities.”

On the one hand, the council didn’t authorise any restrictions relating to access rights at the Trump estate.  On the other hand, they are keen to resolve concerns over public access and want to provide a satisfactory level of access while taking in Trump’s concerns.

So – no restrictions are allowed, but the restrictions that do exist are being looked into, in other words. I trust that this shining example of clarity demonstrates that the council are completely clear, everything’s fine, and there is no need for a public inquiry.

Pre-emptive Strike: (compound English noun) to start an altercation or conflict in order to prevent being attacked.

The best defence is a good offence, and one of the high visibility adherents to this strategy is Alex Salmond. You might say he is very offensive at times.   But he is rather good at well-timed pre-emptive strikes.

Trouble over wining and dining wealthy American planning applicants?  Outcry at a pre-planned ‘impromptu’ visit to a school where your party is fighting a by election?  Scandal over legal advice taken over EU membership post independence?  Draw attention away from tiresome  trivial problems by launching an attack of your own.

After Watts wrote to Salmond, he hurled in a grenade or two, calling our council ‘a kamikaze council’ for refusing to build his pal Ian Wood’s dream web.  If Salmond says we’re looking disreputable, we should definitely take his expert word on the subject, which he knows quite a bit about.  So the name-calling began, with Salmond using one of his favourite words ‘ludicrous’ in response to the Watts’ letter.

Old Susannah seems to remember that a Kamikaze pilot was basically a suicide bomber wishing to take out as many of the enemy as possible.  I don’t seem to be following Salmond’s use of the word in the context of Aberdeen City not having a web.

The ensuing name-calling and Crockett’s defence of his one-year old council are dominating the printed press.  Little issues like Alex’s own failings are being edged out of the limelight by this little contretemps.  So, what, if anything, might Alex like to deflect our attention from?

Well, there was that lovely visit to Bramble Brae.  Meeting Alex might have swayed people to cast their vote for him, and naturally, no other candidate was given equal time.

I guess the chance to meet Alex drove such concerns away

It might be worth asking which reporters were invited, and if they were more than just people following any story leads blindly and printing any press releases they get without question – whether any recipients to the SNP invitation contacted the opposition candidates to share this event’s details with them.

If, say, the BNP decided to drop in on the local primary children and their parents, and invited members of the press to join them on such a happy occasion, you might be forgiven for thinking that the reporter receiving such an invite might see the story differently, get in touch with the school/Watts and ask what was going on.   But I guess the chance to meet Alex drove such concerns away.

Getting back to issues which Alex might be a bit coy about, which his attack might overshadow, we do have the smashing idea of setting up a national body to oversee every child.  Not just children from broken homes, children with special needs, or children in need of supervision who have had brushes with the law – every child.

Some people are actually critical of this great scheme, and have foolish questions about cost, legality, human rights, potential for abuse and so on.  Better send the ‘Kamikaze’ attack out first.

We still don’t know how Europe would deal with the nascent Scotland; and if Alex has legal advice, we’re not going to get to see it anytime soon.  Currency, passport, border control, military issues are not thrashed out yet, and whatever side of the referendum debate you’re on,  you should be happy to just trust the government about all these minor details – what could go wrong?

Arguably, these are enough definitions for now.  Tally Ho!

PS – it’s not too late to get involved in the Butterfly and Moth count – which is pretty important considering all the green space we’re concreting over or clearing.  Details here –

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Aug 092013

By Suzanne Kelly.

In the wake of the Trump Organisation’s activities at the Menie Estate and its interactions with government, the impartiality of some of our public servants and representatives has been called into question.

Over 19,000 people have signed local resident David Milne’s petition requesting a public inquiry, which will be decided by The Scottish Government’s Petitions Committee.

Such an inquiry would put local and national government, Police Scotland and Scottish Enterprise and more under the microscope, and they don’t want that.

Despite the protestations of these organisations, the requested inquiry is not only about uncovering past activities, it is also about what is going on in the present, and making changes for the future.

Following Milne’s appearance, the Petitions Committee requested comment from SNH, Marine Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, Police Scotland and Scottish Enterprise Grampian. With concerns still emerging across all these bodies regarding past and present incidents, the case for an independent inquiry seems clear.

In a two-part story, here are the bodies’ arguments as to why the inquiry isn’t needed, and the reasons why there must be a public, independent inquiry.


Menie Resident David Milne created an online petition calling for a public inquiry into present as well as past public sector activities at the Menie Estate. The estate, once an unspoilt, sparsely-populated area on the North East coast of Scotland is to be transformed into two golf courses, a hotel and hundreds of homes, compromising two Sites of Specific Scientific Interest in the process.

Milne’s petition, signed by over 19,000 people was heard by the Petitions Committee at Holyrood.

David Milne’s petition, which can be found here, states:-

“We are calling on the Scottish Parliament, through the Public Petitions Committee, to urge the Scottish Government to hold a public inquiry into the way local government, Scottish Ministers and other relevant public bodies conducted themselves throughout their dealings with the Trump Organisation in relation to the Menie”

From the responses coming in from our government’s agencies, you could be forgiven for thinking the call was simply for a review of past activities. Generally speaking, almost all of the statements made to the press, and the official responses to the committee to date, claim that the agencies do not want this inquiry.

Those in the firing line are taking the position that the issues are in the past, and this was ‘the most scrutinised planning application’ in Scottish history.  Sarah Malone, VP at Trump Golf Links International Scotland told STV:-

“This has been the most scrutinised golf development in history. The project has already gone through a public inquiry and a very lengthy planning process.

“Mr Milne needs to move on. The championship course is now established and drawing thousands of golfers from around the world to the North-east of Scotland, as well as creating business opportunities and much needed jobs.”

Malone’s comments about the project have nothing to do with the full scope of the requested investigation. Indeed, the very act of calling the application in by a government which wined and dined Trump both sides of the Atlantic should perhaps itself be investigated.

There is little doubt Malone, married to Damian Bates of the overwhelmingly pro-Trump Press & Journal, wishes Milne and the rest of the residents would ‘move on’.

At one point a Trump operative pretended to be a private home buyer, and approached the residents, wanting to buy their homes on the false pretence that he and his wife ‘fell in love with the area.’

As for Malone’s claims that thousands are playing the course, this may be true, but it is far from booked to capacity according to the online booking form. Have the thousands of jobs materialised? Has the local economy received great economic benefits? Perhaps the investigation should include those questions in its scope as well.

Its minutes reveal communication issues, lack of site visits and lack of Trump employee attendance

The argument by those seeking to avoid an inquiry because of past scrutiny does not bear analysis. The planning application’s past history is assuredly of interest; there are still details emerging as to how individuals and institutions acted. However, there are many issues which were never explored, and some that were brushed aside.

There was no meaningful scrutiny of what went on behind the scenes before, during and after the planning permission was granted. There was never any scrutiny of the roles played by local and central government, Police Scotland, Scottish Enterprise or environmental groups meant to safeguard the area, including the dysfunctional, disappeared MEMAG, an environmental entity set up to watch over the estate.

Its minutes reveal communication issues, lack of site visits and lack of Trump employee attendance at meetings. Crucially, there are ongoing problems, and a public, independent inquiry would hopefully examine these in detail. This is what Milne is calling for.

As David Mine indicated:-

“This isn’t about me or anybody else against Trump, but an effort to try and ensure that those who were responsible for making numerous mistakes and breaches of the rules are held to account, and an attempt to prevent anything similar happening again in the future.”

On May 14 2013 the Petitions Committee heard Milne and asked questions about his request. They then called for the public bodies involved to respond. Predictably, the responses indicate that the bodies do not want an inquiry.  Surely, if everything was handled correctly, an inquiry should be welcomed by all sides to clear the air?

It is currently only Police Scotland that seems to admit any failings at all; at the time of writing, their submission to the committee is not available. As to the other organisations and quangos involved, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, commenting at the height of another high-level scandal ‘Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?’. 

Here are details of the Scottish Enterprise and Aberdeenshire Council submissions, with relevant reasons why they inquiry is needed despite their protestations.

Scottish Enterprise

Submission to the Committee by Scottish Enterprise Chief Executive, Dr Lena Wilson.

SE Comments on Scrutiny:

“Over recent years, our engagement with the Trump Organisation has been the subject of numerous FoI requests and as such this information is in the public domain. At all times we have endeavoured to provide a full and comprehensive account of all staff engagement and SE’s relationship and role with regard to the Menie Estate development.”

Highlights from the body of the letter:-

“In 2005/6 SE Grampian conducted a Feasibility Study of the Menie House Estate to assess the economic viability of a 5-star hotel and golf resort …also commissioned a promotional DVD to showcase the project to the international market and to promote and increase the profile of Grampian as an attractive inward investment location.  ..The Trump Organisation contacted the Menie Estate directly, with no involvement from SE… the Feasibility Study has been made public under FoI…  “

“Through our international arm, Scottish Development International we were alerted by a third party that the Trump Organisation was looking for locations in Scotland and Ireland for a prospective golf development. When we met with representatives of the Trump Organisation, the Menie Estate had already been identified by the organisation as a possible site.

“SE Grampian was supportive of the proposals for a golf development at the Menie Estate, given the economic impact it would have on the region.  SE Grampian (and subsequently SE) did not offer or commit funds in support of the proposed Trump development in Aberdeen.  In 2007, our former Chief Executive wrote to the Trump Organisation on the matter of the planning application decision.”


This response does little to explain the role Scottish Enterprise had in the successful planning application. It might refer to the contents of the 2007 letter Perry sent Trump, but the contents and implications should surely be subject to a public inquiry.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the determination of an unelected quango, whose head accompanied the First Minister to dinner with Trump, outweighed the legal status of SSSI land, and the wishes of Scottish Natural Heritage, the views of which never seem to have been sought when SE decided to market the Menie Estate.

Aberdeen Voice obtained the 2007 letter some months ago from a FoI request.

There are indications too that correspondence from SE to Trump, Aberdeenshire Council (and possibly other entities), which simply must have existed have been lost, discarded or not disclosed. More details to follow, and will appear in a separate forthcoming article.

letter also provides among other things a nice list of Perry’s pro-Trump lobbying efforts

For instance, SE claim that no correspondence took place between 2008 and the present between it and Trump.

Magically, a ringing endorsement for the club by Jack Perry, SE, appears on the club’s website – a site that did not exist until after the planning go-ahead was granted, and after the December 2007 letter they mention.

It seems too that correspondence from Perry on the subject of Trump cannot be found, perhaps an inquiry can get SE to explain how so much happened with so little correspondence, or whether correspondence was definitely deleted – and if so why. Additionally, since Perry tells of writing to the head of Aberdeenshire Council ‘expressing dismay’, there should then be a letter to this effect somewhere.

The SE logo and Craw appear in a pro-Trump video shown at a public meeting, apparently taken from STV. SE, supporting Trump, had no problem in letting this go without complaint.  No doubt therefore that anyone is at liberty to use the SE logo, which of course implies SE endorsement, with impunity.

This December 2007 Perry letter also provides among other things a nice list of Perry’s pro-Trump lobbying efforts, all of course made possible by the public purse.

Here are excerpts from the 7th December 2007 letter Perry wrote to Trump:-

“You may or may not recall that I had the pleasure in October 2006 of joining you for lunch in the Trump Tower with the then First Minister, Mr Jack McConnell.  …We at Scottish Enterprise certainly shared your excitement over this project. As the project developed we believed and still do that the economic benefits to Scotland of this project were substantial.

“Accordingly, we were profoundly dismayed by the decision made by the Aberdeenshire Council Infrastructure Committee to reject the planning application for this project. I recorded that disappointment in a personal letter to Ms Anne Robertson, Leader of Aberdeenshire Council. As you know, since then the Scottish Government has decided to ‘call in’ the application. Rightly and properly, Scottish Government Minister’s [sic] will not now comment on the application but I regard their action as encouraging. We concur with the Scottish Government’s contention that this is genuinely a project of national importance to Scotland.

“I have taken the liberty of discussing the matter with the Chairman of the Scottish Parliament’s Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Committee to make him aware of our support for the project and to offer any evidence to him and his committee should they require [sic].

“While this Committee has no role in the approval process of your application, it is possible they may consider the repercussions of Aberdeenshire Council’s decision on Scotland’s tourism industry. I have also now spoken about this matter to the Shadow Enterprise Ministers from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties in the Scottish Parliament. I have tried to make it clear in these discussions that the impact of Aberdeenshire Council’s decision goes far beyond the immediate issue of the Trump development but has much wider implications for Scotland’s international image and reputation as a country which welcomes investment.

“I have been greatly encouraged by the unequivocal support from the Scottish business community which your project was [sic] attracted. I remain hopeful that Scottish Government Ministers will address this matter with speed. We shall continue to provide whatever evidence and support we can, should we be called to do so.

“For your information, I have also been greatly encouraged over the past few days by the support shown by the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum [ACSEF] whose chairman, Mr Patrick Machray, has been very public and very vocal in support of the Trump development. Patrick is also the Chairman of Scottish Enterprise Grampian. As Scotland’s principal economic development agency, we at Scottish Enterprise wish to see your development proceed. We will continue to do what we can to help.  “

CC (redacted), Lorna Jack, Patrick Machray

One of the glaring issues is the reference to Scottish Government’s predisposition to go ahead with this project, prior to the government reporters making their report. If the head of the government you worked for wanted a particular result, and if that knowledge was well known, viz public dinners and meetings with the applicant, lobbying letters from SE, etc., would you possibly be pre-disposed to doing what your employer wanted?

An inquiry should look at the lobbying admitted to and what repercussions this had in terms of creating pressure to press ahead with the Trump plans.

Quango watchers will not be surprised by the overlap between ACSEF and SE; both unelected, both lobbying for their own causes with public money.

despite the expert opinion of Sarah Malone, these issues were not examined fully

Both quangos seem convinced by the economic arguments; perhaps the robustness or otherwise of the economic case for the course made at the time should be re-examined in public.  Perry may have been dismayed by the Shire’s initial rejection; those who are interested in democracy may well be dismayed by Perry’s lobbying, dining habits and spending.

Was it proper for Jack Perry to send Trump such a letter in the first place? Should unelected, publicly funded quangos pressure local or central government and shadow ministers? Should SE as a quango have sought environmental guidance from Scottish Natural Heritage before committing public money, some £35000, on a DVD and one thousand copies extolling the virtues of building a complex on two SSSIs?

Perhaps a public inquiry should be asking these questions, for despite the expert opinion of Sarah Malone, these issues were not examined fully, and have definite implications for the future.

For further details of the ongoing FOI request and the questions and anomalies involved, see

Another article is in preparation concerning recently released Scottish Enterprise correspondence.

Aberdeenshire Council

Submission to the Committee by Shire Council Chief Executive, Colin MacKenzie.

Comments on Scrutiny:-

“I would suggest that any such matters arising prior to and surrounding the call-in by the Scottish Government in December 2007 have already been exhaustively considered and debated. ……I strongly believe that no further scrutiny is required of events leading up to and including the call-in by the Scottish Government and I can find no substance in any of the allegations made against Aberdeenshire Council during the subsequent period with reference to either elected members’ conduct or due planning process.”

Summary of letter contents:-

“[begins by mentioning many historic inquiries, omitting the quantity of information since released and the number of issues subsequently arising]…I would also require far greater detail in order to respond to any such inferences made [in the film You’ve Been Trumped and/or at the committee hearing]  in relation to the conduct of Aberdeenshire Council elected members. What I would say is that both officers and elected members of the council take very seriously any allegation that the rules detailed in The Councillors’ Code of Conduct have not been followed, being fully aware of their importance particularly when elected members are exercising a quasi-judicial role in regulatory matters… It is and has been Aberdeenshire Council’s position that procedurally elected members are not provided with the detail of the planning obligation and financial contributions in order that there is clear autonomy in the process. I would add that as part of a wider council review of developers’ obligations, the position is currently being considered here.

“It is misleading to say that all bar the original application at the Menie Estate have been retrospective. I can further confirm that with reference to the applications for full planning permission for further development at the Menie Estate, due planning process was and is being properly followed by the council in accordance with the relevant statutory guidance and legislation. … Also, where the council becomes aware of any breach of planning regulation which requires investigation, proper investigation is carried out with any appropriate follow up action taken. It is not the case that council officers are on site every week but only as required with reference to any statutory regulation whether in terms of planning or otherwise.

“… Unauthorised planning developments were not allowed to continue unabated at the Menie Estate nor was an unusual or different process adopted with reference to planning developments there. In 2012 there were 175 retrospective applications dealt with by the council. This represents only 4% of all applications submitted and of the 175, only 5 (less than 3%) related to the Menie Estate. The requirement to make retrospective planning applications is a common and consistent approach taken by the council to remedy breaches of planning control.

“With regard to some of the other points made during the hearing, I would explain that the clock at the entrance does have planning permission and there are a number of planning applications where the work is in accordance with the approved plans. The large marquee referred to was properly erected under the permitted development rights which allow for such structures to be in place for 28 days. The temporary clubhouse is in fact located as per the approved plans. It may be the case that reference is to its position indicated in the outline planning permission but that was only indicative which is perfectly competent. I can confirm that Aberdeenshire Council did previously investigate the use of the former Leyton Farm buildings and concluded that no unauthorised change of use of the buildings had occurred and that their use had been incorporated into planning permissions that had been approved. The council’s planning service is currently seeking a retrospective application for an area of bund adjacent to Leyton Cottage. Although the car park and lighting were not constructed in accordance with the original approved plans, a retrospective application has now been granted for the works as they have been carried out.

“There have been a number of complaints regarding outdoor access restrictions at the Menie Estate, only some of which are valid in terms of preventing access rights under statute. Our officers have met with a representative from the estate on a number of occasions and were working with the estate looking into various solutions which would resolve users’ access issues whilst taking on the concerns of the landowner/estate in relation to potential security risks and vehicle access. Menie Estate has recently instructed agents to act in this matter and the intention going forward is to correspond direct with them.”

Comments on Aberdeenshire submission.

It is hard to know where to start; the letter paints a picture of a correctly-behaving council and misguided residents and observers.

It is possible to take exception to almost every idea it puts forth, but rebutting a few of its claims and attempts at explanation should suffice in making the case for Aberdeenshire being a Council where there are leadership, accountability, procedural and communication issues, to say the least.

With regard to the use of figures to try and trivialise the number of retrospective planning permission applications needed at Menie, this is at best disingenuous. We could likewise make statistical analysis of the applications over the size of the shire, and see how many are localised at Menie.

We could ask how many of the total retrospective planning applications made were for areas with stringent conditions laid down by central government. We could ask how many of these retrospective applications were for properties with their own dedicated Environmental Clerk of Works.

We could also ask for an explanation of how the weekly visits to the site to ensure planning permission was adhered to are now being denied. In August of 2011 Aberdeenshire’s spokesperson wrote to me:-

“This development is well-scrutinised and the approved plans are being adhered to.

“Site inspections are undertaken on a weekly basis by various organisations to ensure that the development is being carried out according to the planning permission granted.”

This does seem just a little at odds with the newly-stated position that MacKenzie takes.

I can see why Dr Lena Wilson gets to speak for Scottish Enterprise; it is not an elected body.  Were the elected members of Aberdeenshire Council consulted as to the contents of MacKenzie’s submission, and should they have been?

MacKenzie’s letter puts a good deal of emphasis on the councillors and their conduct.

He is well aware that Councillor Gillian Owen was an outspoken supporter of Trump; her own newsletter (now taken down alas) had a photo of her with Trump, apparently taken at a visit to the course. Perhaps she accepted not so much as a cup of coffee; for nothing appeared on her register of interests. Again, this is somewhat at odds with MacKenzie’s sanctimonious offering.

It is also at odds with MacKenzie’s attempt to give Councillor Martin Ford a dressing-down for the crime of being a councillor giving the BBC an interview at council premises.  In terms of following procedure and precedent, it should be noted the council stood at all times by Dr Christine Gore.

The main focus of any inquiry should be Aberdeenshire planning.

The conduct of Dr Christine Gore has not been looked at critically by the government as yet. She famously sought advice from the Trump team, and wanted to know how to manage the public over the impending approval. When in 2009 Gore was to be the subject of investigation by her professional organisation, the Royal Institute of Town Planners, over potential collusion with Trump, the Shire defended her.

The Shire, aware of communication between Trump’s lawyers and Gore, issued a statement reading in part:

“It is very easy to throw around accusations in such a highly publicised case where misinformation by a number of parties always grabs the news headlines.”

As Rob Edwards wrote:-

“Trump’s lawyer, Ann Faulds, drafted a four-page report in Gore’s name justifying the evictions for submission to councillors, though it was never used. An email from Gore to Faulds in April requested at least a week’s notice of Trump’s application to help manage media interest.

“Thereafter ‘close liaison’ would be required, Gore wrote, ‘in order that we can have a managed approach to what is inevitably going to be a difficult and emotive reaction given that this new application will involve land outwith the applicant’s ownership.’

Marshall alleged that Gore ‘appears to have colluded with the developer’s solicitor’, and argued that her use of the word ‘emotive’ was pejorative. Her behaviour was in breach of the RTPI code of conduct requiring planners to act with integrity and to exercise ‘independent professional judgement’, he claimed.”

Gore has since been promoted and earns £109,827 per annum from the Shire.

The environmental clerk of works did quite some job; despite the many conditions put on building in this previously-protected area, a giant bund of earth now separates the Munro household from its former views of the water, blocks their light and has caused actual property damage as the sand and dirt blows off it into their yard, garden, cars and home.

This has never been looked at, nor indeed has the last-minute change in a retrospective application concerning this bund.

How precisely this giant mound of earth was allowed in the first place should perhaps itself be worthy of an investigation; to ignore this kind of planning debacle on such an unprecedented development will do nothing for the current residents, and ignoring the issue bodes very  badly for future developments.

The status of this giant mound of earth changes within the planning department documentation so often that it seems to be moving from an unplanned structure of considerable height causing damage to a mere blip worthy of retrospective approval. Still, Mackenzie tells the Petitions Committee that all is fine in terms of retrospective planning permission.

Outdoor access is still in contention, despite claims to the contrary, and other issues with how the Shire’s officers handled the development past, present and future are worthy of perhaps their own separate investigation.

Perhaps if MacKenzie spent as much time worrying about the planning department, the environmental clerk of works, Gore’s interaction with Trump, and so on as he does about Ford speaking to the BBC, an inquiry wouldn’t be required. As things stand, whatever he might write – clearly in inquiry is needed.

Part 2 of this series will look at further submissions to the Petitions Committee, and will supply questions that should be asked at an inquiry. If any Aberdeen Voice readers would care to submit questions for consideration for this list, please get in touch. 

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Jul 262013

By Bob Smith.

Martin Ford wis teen ower the coals
Fer spikkin tae yon Panorama
Seems the chiel’s opinion fae
Cooncil offices canna be on camera

The stushie fae the ‘shire cooncil
Tae North Koreawis mair suited
Wull aa future cooncil policy
Tae Kim Jong-Un be re-routed

A thocht we bade in a democracy
An war alood tae say yer bit
Cooncillor Ford gied his opinion
An some cooncillors hid a fit

His Trumpie got sic a grip?
Are cooncillors jist Trumpie goons?
Feart tae challenge The Donald
On onything tae dee wi dunes

A nivver thocht a’d see the day
Growen fowk aa rinnin scared
Fae a mannie full o bluster
Like the Menie Yankee laird

Lit’s curse aa coordly vratches
Lit them hang their heids in shame
They’ve selt fowk doon the river
As they play “King” Donald’s game

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

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Jul 132013

A new freedom of information request reveal Police Scotland incurred costs of £8,000 when Donald Trump cancelled a visit to the Menie Estate.  Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly is seeking clarification of information police supplied, which she feels is self-contradictory.

Arrivals of Donald Trump and/or his family to Aberdeen Airports seem to be media events,  meriting photos and articles in local newspapers.

Police are often shown in pictures of Trump arriving, travelling or staying at his estate.
The police also intervened in a land boundary dispute at the Forbes Farm, normally a civil matter.

Is Trump getting policing above and beyond what any other visitor would get?  If so, what is the cost of this police protection?

On the one hand, the police have this to say about how they treat Trump, his family, and staff:-

“No extra police protection is provided to Mr Trump, his family or staff etc beyond that which would normally be afforded to any other member of the public.”
– letter from Mrs Jody McKenzie, Compliance Manager, Information Management Unit, Grampian Police to Suzanne Kelly, 2 July 13.

However, the same letter which makes this claim continues to say:-

“On one occasion, when Mr Trump had to cancel a planned trip to the area at short notice, an exercise was carried out to estimate what the cost to the force was. An estimate of the officer and staff time was £5200.”

This figure was later revised upwards:-

Having checked the details, I note that I provided you with only the estimated cost to Aberdeen division, which was £5200, but the total cost including Aberdeenshire officers was £8192.  I apologise for this oversight.”
– email from Mrs Jody McKenzie  to Suzanne Kelly of 11 July 13.
I believe these two claims to be contradictory, and have asked the police to explain how someone who receives no additional police cover or protection could at the same time cost the police – ie the taxpayer £8,200 when they cancel a visit.

To explain their position, Mrs McKenzie wrote:-

“Although costs were calculated in regard to the cancelled trip, this was done at the time of the cancellation and involved a member of staff speaking to individual officers to find out what their shift changes were and what overtime or re-rostered rest days they were entitled to, in order to come up with an estimated figure. 

“We also had to ask those involved in planning how long they spent on these tasks – such detail would not be routinely recorded and was provided based on the officer/member of staff’s recollection.  Clearly this was easily done due to the fact that task was recent.  If we were to approach officers and staff now to recall how long they spent on a piece of work 2 or three years ago, it is unlikely they would accurately recall. 

“Furthermore, this would amount to the creation of new information and there is no obligation on authorities to create new information to answer a FOI request.  Only recorded information held by an authority should be provided in response to a FOI request.”

I have asked for the police to conduct an internal investigation into how my request was handled.  I believe payroll records and other captured data could easily be matched to Trump visit dates (or to cancelled Trump visit dates) and the information requested could then be supplied.

Updates will be made to this story when further information is available.

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Jul 122013

By Bob Smith.

The Donald wis on Panorama
Spikkin tae BBC’s John Sweeney
Aboot aa the gyaans  on
At his placie ower at Menie
The Sweeney hints tae Mr Trump
6000 jobs hinna cum tae fruition
The Trumpie lot war fair pit oot
An treated aa iss wi derision
Donald roared – Git rid o aat hoose
Tae the “P&J” editor’s wife
Says she it micht cause a stir
An reap ye lots o strife
Faa cares the mannie gabbit
A sure can dee fit a wint
It’s on ma lan quoth Donald
Tae the puir dementit bint
The hoose belangs tae David Milne
A chiel Trump disna much like
Bit David stuck twa fingers up
An said Trumpie tak a hike
A billie fae the Royal Toon Plannin
Thocht Trumpie’s case it wis unique
In aa his ‘ears in the plannin game
He’d seen nithing tae cause sic pique
Oor First Minister an The Donald
War eence on spikkin terms
They’ve hid a bit o a faa oot
Ower the plans aboot winfairms
Trump wis qizzed aboot his dealins
Wi a mannie fae the Mafia mob
Syne he up’s an leaves the interview
Hintin The Sweeney didna ken his job
Noo in the pages o “P&J” we read
Business pallies tae his rescue hiv rode
Eence mair tryin tae kid us aa
In the Nor’east the mannie is loed.
Birds o a feather flock tigither
A mynd aboot iss  auld sayin
Bit maist o us chiels ken they’re aa feels
Faa dunce tae the tune Trumpie’s playin

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013
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Jul 122013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

With the warmer weather, all sorts of undesirables are on the move in our area.  Recently these dodgy types somehow infiltrated the otherwise inaccessible Union Terrace Gardens, and havoc reigns.  Some of these people are so out of their heads on Ribena and Cola (‘coke’ to give it its slang term), that they have taken to lying down on blankets for hours, enjoying what they call ‘grass’ and ‘sun’.

Some of them are barely dressed, wearing shorts and sleeveless tops.  The sooner we get a web under construction, the sooner these miscreants will leave.

Thankfully, just as King Arthur will return to the people one day, Kate Dean has resurfaced.  Her triumphant return to the public eye surely presages her return to public life. 

The Press & Journal gave her a cover photo, and several pages to admonish us for not having the web of granite.  She is quite right in saying we will remember where we were on the day the web died.

As to me, I was in the city council chambers, listening to the likes of Jennifer Craw baying like wounded banshees when the web was kicked into the long grass.  Then I accompanied several other granite web refusnik  nimby-types, and celebrated with a few beers.  Where were you when Kennedy, Elvis and the City Gardens Project died?  If it’s not too emotionally distressing to share your Web memories, please do write in.

There was also a striking photo of Kate petting a cat, which in no way put me in mind of Ian Fleming’s Blofeld character.  Kate tells us she is now working for/with Remploy.  Many Remploy factories are set to close across the country; perhaps this is the time for her to campaign to help those with special needs and abilities to fight for their support services…

After months of research and interviews covering all sides of the Menie Estate saga, the BBC’s Panorama aired on Monday this week.  I joined a dozen or so people in a local pub to watch the programme’s first airing together.

Personally, I was very disappointed.  I’ve spent most of the past 5 months waiting for this programme, wondering what Sarah Malone Bates would be wearing on camera, and how her rapier-like wit would deal with reporter John Sweeney’s questions.  Alas!  I don’t think we got to see her at all!

What’s the point of being the Vice President if you don’t get to be on telly?  I wonder if the catch phrase ‘You’re Fired!’ ever enter her mind when she thinks of her TV star boss?

We can all learn a few public relations tips from his Panorama performance

First, it was awfully good of The Donald and his Mini Me to find time to talk to the Beeb, in between trips to Africa to kill leopards and dangerous elephants, hacking bits off  the carcases for lovely trophies.  I’m not the only girl to have swooned at the footage of the Trump clan braving the jungle to kill critters.  A woman sitting next to me turned very pale at the images of the dead things and severed tails in the Panorama clip; it must have been because the guys were so macho.

We can all learn a few public relations tips from his Panorama performance.  In case you missed it on Monday, here’s a handy link for future viewing:-  Inevitably, this week’s definitions are connected to the show.

Bromance: (modern English) Term used to describe a close friendship between two men.

Alex and Donald; Donald and Alex.  They met, they started a transatlantic bromance over lobster, oysters, champagne and planning permission.

North East Scotland was going to get 7,000 jobs (Trump says in the interview with John Sweeney) and a billion pound golf and housing complex.  In exchange Salmond was going to over-ride environmental protection and protocol.  Hand in hand they romped over The Great Dunes of Scotland (aka the Menie coastline).

It was all too good to last.  They broke up, and the dirty linen hit the headlines.

The bromance between Don and Alex has died; and no love is lost between Local Hero and Top Scot Michael Forbes and the Donald, either.  in the recent past Trump has called Forbes ‘a porker’ – heaven knows what precisely that means.  Let’s assume it means Forbes is not as physically pleasing as Trump – but then again, who is?  When John Sweeney asked Michael Forbes how he felt at being called a porker, Forbes responded:

 “that was pretty good coming from a clown.”

Sadly, I see no bromance brewing there, either.

Don’t look for a budding romance between Anthony Baxter and Donald Jr either.  Baxter was accused of being a criminal by Junior, quite understandably.  Film maker Baxter went (as directed) to Trump’s site office to discuss the loss of water to the properties; the Trump people accidentally broke a crucial water pipe and accidentally left the residents without water for 7 days.

Junior says Baxter went into a house uninvited with a camera over his shoulder.  That house was the site office, and Baxter was told to go there by Trump staff, all captured on film.

Quite rightly the police then busted Baxter and his pal on the Trump site manager’s say-so.  Now Junior says Baxter is a criminal; Baxter for some reason seems to think Don Jun is a liar. ( No valentines this year then).

To Read: (English – infinitive verb) to look at printed words and digest their contents.

The arguments between Salmond and Trump were at the height of acrimony on two topics:-

Did Salmond ask Trump’s support over the release of the Lockerbie bomber?  Did Salmond promise there would be no offshore wind farms?  The answers seem to be yes and no respectively.

Donald seems to have proof that Alex wanted a letter of support from Trump.  Trump tells us this would have hurt his popularity (as if such a thing were possible).

But what of Trump’s continued cries of foul over the offshore wind farm?

Trump states in his unabridged copy of the Panorama interview that George Sorial was present when Salmond promised not to allow offshore wind farms.  As unbiased a witness as one could wish for, it is a pity Sorial or someone in his office didn’t read the part of the 2008 Scottish Government Reporters’ planning report that referred to the wind farms.  For alas!  If our First Minister did make such a promise, it didn’t register with the government reporters; their report which gave approval for the golf complex reads in part:-

“21.106 “No particular concerns are raised about the coastal path network, landscape impact, links to the airport or the proposed offshore wind development. It was agreed that the only particular issue for the city council was whether the proposed housing would have an effect on the traffic in the city,  such as at the Bridge of Don…”

Colour me over-cautious, but if a government report on my multi-million pound project came out, I’d have one of my legal guys read it.

If such a report made reference to ‘the proposed offshore wind development’ when I thought my pal had promised there was not going to be an offshore wind development, I’d probably look into it before building bunds, bulldozing the place and locking the gates shut.

I’m no lawyer, I’m no town planner, I’m no Donald Trump – but to me a report referring to a proposed offshore wind development would make me wonder if there were a proposed offshore wind development.

Easy mistake.  Perhaps the Trump people should hire some experts going forward to look at documents and legalities.  But clearly Team Trump wasn’t going to make any further mistakes, and so he decided to film the film makers.

Media Bias: (modern English) a condition of television/print media/radio to have a particular stance on issue or issues, demonstrated in the contents of its publications/broadcasts favouring one side of an issue. (Aberdeen residents won’t know much about media bias, but thankfully that left-wing, biased, socialist bastion which is the BBC provides one).

The Trump Organisation had a brilliant idea – Trump made his own video tape of John Sweeney interviewing him, and posted the ‘uncut’ interview footage on YouTube.  This would let the world see how biased the BBC is.

It may be a hard concept for Press & Journal / Evening Express readers to grasp – but sometimes news reports can be slightly skewed to play up or play down particular stories at the whims of owners, or even editors of media companies.  The Donald wanted, per usual, to make sure he captured the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Trump videotape begins by explaining that John Sweeney has a ‘lousy reputation’.  I’m sure the BBC are really sweating it now.  I’m sure if someone posted on a public website that Trump had a lousy reputation, Donald would just forgive and forget, and not launch any nasty lawsuits.  I guess we’ll see if Sweeney is as magnanimous as Trump.

No doubt the BBC created a wholly one-sided Panorama programme.  This is evidenced by the extensive interviews Panorama held with father and son.  Obviously, the only reason these gun-toting, slightly aggressive gentlemen look bad is because of how the BBC edited them.

So what does this video show?  What devious  Machiavellian twists of the BBC are laid bare?

The tape begins with Donald explaining how his mom / grand mom loved Scotland (aww), and how the only logical tribute to this love was to put up a few hundred homes and a golf course or two on The Great Dunes Of Scotland.  The interview was going swimmingly; I was starting to warm towards Trump myself, then bang!  The aggressive interviewer had the temerity to ask about a massive lawsuit and possible mafia entanglement.  Oh dear.

Unfortunately the Trump team’s camera failed to record this mafia/Ft Lauderdale section of the interview; the screen went black.  Mr Trump then had to leave immediately to go see a group of people, quite understandably.  The Trump-recorded tape ends with a black screen with text inviting the viewer to ‘notice the reaction of the producer in the back ground who expressed her disgust with Mr Sweeney’s unfair and biased interview.  Quite right.

As if Mr Trump having leased his name to a now-failed Ft Lauderdale development with over 40 people now filing lawsuits has any bearing on his ability to create a development here.  You’d almost think the poor man has a bad track record.

Some spoilsports who objected to granting permission for the development at Menie had expressed concerns with the Trump organisation’s track record and reputation.  But this wasn’t going to get in the way of his company being deemed suitable to have its way with The Great Dunes of Scotland.

Back in the day, the government reporters’ report referred to some of these objections:-

“We were passed some letters of objection from the public that contain offensive remarks about the applicant and his business; inappropriate comments directed at others; defamatory and personal comments about councillors involved in decision making in Aberdeenshire; and political statements favouring one party over another.

“None of these matters has any bearing on the planning merits of the case and such comments have been discounted from our consideration which is concentrated on those issues that are relevant to deciding an outline planning application.”

 We should all thank those unbiased government decision makers, not least the Aberdeenshire planning officers who brushed away these petty concerns.  Trump may not have brought the 7,000 jobs or the houses or the hotel yet, but that’s surely nothing to do with his track record.  It’s only the wind farms stopping us from having the world’s greatest golf course.

Next week’s definitions:  unaccountable, back-tracking, deceitful, scheming, exaggeration, manipulation – and other planning-related technical terms.

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Jul 052013

Since the arrival of the Trump organisation at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, the provisions of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code have been at best selectively enforced, at worst ignored.  Security and greens keeping staff stop residents and visitors, gates have been padlocked shut, excluding anyone who wishes to exercise their rights but who has mobility issues.  Suzanne Kelly contacted the Shire’s access officers in February to remedy this problem, to no avail, leading to her complaint to the SNH, which is responsible for the Code.

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code gives everyone the right to access the countryside for recreational purposes, so long as they respect property and abide by the code, closing gates securely behind them, ensuring litter is taken away, and so on.

Particular rules for golf courses specify behaviour such as ensuring dogs are kept on short leads, and play is not interfered with.

The Code should be viewed and understood by landowner and visitor alike.

It is accessible here:

Its cornerstones are:-

  • take responsibility for your own actions;
  • respect the interests of other people;
  • care for the environment.

Whether the Trump organisation or its local Vice President Sarah Malone-Bates, wife of Press & Journal Editor Damian Bates, have taken the Code on seems doubtful.

The catalogue of incidents where this code has been blatantly disregarded is a large one. Highlights – or rather lowlights include:-

  • Photographer Alicia Bruce being so threatened by staff she had to call the police;
  • Local residents have been stopped, forced to provide ID and details of their plans by Security;
  • A local resident was taken to the Clubhouse and not allowed on his way walking until the head of security agreed;
  • Permanently locked gates on at least three areas have prevented access, including stopping resident Michael Forbes from his previous right of way to the water with his boat.

Attempts to have the Code enforced since February produced no effect. The two Aberdeenshire access officers were put on notice that if there was no improvement by the end of June, a complaint would be lodged, which has been done both with the Shire and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Gated Community

Two gates on Leyton Farm Road remain locked at all times; one by the large gate between the Trump parking area and the road, and one at the other end of the road slightly set off the road on the West.

A long-standing right of way used by residents of the Forbes property was locked shut permanently as well, preventing Michael Forbes from taking his boat to the water, as had been allowed for decades previously.

It is understood Forbes was threatened by the police should he make any attempt to use this gate.

Additionally, there seem to be deliberate attempts to plant gorse on rights of way as documented by others.

Earlier this year, one of the access officers indicated they were meeting with local residents; but as it transpired, such meetings excluded the very residents who have been harassed while trying to exercise their rights.

A form was provided to be used for visitors and residents to make complaints; the form asks for details of whether the complainant contacted the Trump organisation.  It would be a brave soul indeed who would confront an organisation fronted by one of the world’s most litigious billionaires, whose employees have acted in an manner considered intimidating on occasion.

Clearly there is something amiss with this procedure and philosophy.

Why a form should be needed in order to complain about situations such as locked gates – situations which could easily be verifiable by relevant officers – in order for the Code to be enforced is a mystery, and in this set of circumstances it is unacceptable.

Using this form would make a person, particularly a resident, feel even more exposed – yet the people who are breaking the Code in the first place are free to do so with no apparent appropriate intervention.

A detailed set of questions and comment from the officers can be found here:

The last contact with the Aberdeenshire officers on 11 June; they were advised that if there were no improvement by the end of June a complaint would be made.

The Shire council spokesperson has commented:-

“We can confirm we have received a complaint regarding public access on land at the Menie Estate.

“Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, the public have the right to take responsible, non-motorised access to cross over the golf course. This excludes the tees and greens and should not prevent play.

“Discussions will continue with the Trump Organisation about public access through the estate. This will include concerns about unauthorised vehicular access and locked gates.

“We will investigate the complaint in line with our usual procedures and will respond as appropriate.”

Aberdeen Voice will keep readers advised of any progress.

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Jun 102013

How the unelected quango that is Scottish Enterprise, with ACSEF’s blessing, put business before our environment and won the day for Trump is the question. However, getting information about what happened is a bit like pulling teeth.  Suzanne Kelly reports on her recent bids to obtain information from Scottish Enterprise about its engagement with Trump.

Scotland is well and truly open for business.  We will wine and dine with you, fly you round our protected environment in helicopters, create feasibility studies at taxpayer expense, and give support recommending existing environmental protection is overlooked.

Well, we’ll do that if you are a foreign billionaire.

Much has been written about the relationships between Scotland’s First Ministers McConnell and Salmond, Scottish Enterprise and Donald Trump.  There have been dinners both sides of the Atlantic with these key players.

The Ministerial Code prohibiting such blatant support for pending planning applications was certainly bent if not broken.

New information has come to light through Freedom of Information requests.  A letter from Scottish Enterprise’s Jack Perry to Trump following their dinner is the sort of love letter that would have made Dame Barbara Cartland blush. The new FOI requests have also raised some important questions.

Anomalies between the disclosed information and the facts do not always seem to add up.

Love-letters Straight from the Heart

Scottish Enterprise – an unelected, taxpayer funded quango provided support to the Trump organisation.   It is clear the organisation should deal with foreign investors.  Why, however, it should have recommended – and successfully so – overriding environmental protection status to create a golf club is a mystery.

Another mystery is why the taxpayer should have spent over £30,000 on a feasibility study, or provided £40,000 helicopter flights over Menie to a billionaire.

After meeting in New York for dinner with Trump, this is what then head of Scottish Enterprise, Jack Perry wrote a letter to the Donald, which can be found here:

The letter raises a few points as well as raising the bar in obsequiousness. In order of appearance, these include the following.

1.  Perry put pressure on the head of the Shire council in the form of a letter ‘registering his profound dismay’.  Scottish Enterprise could either have suggested new potential, less contentious locations for a course.  It could have stayed out of the political side of things. It chose to write to the head of regional government to ‘register dismay’.

2.   More importantly, Perry puts it on the table:  The Scottish Government favoured the plans.

“We concur with the Scottish Government’s contention that this is genuinely a project of national importance to Scotland.” 

The rejected planning application was called in by the Government, who had let its support of the plan be known in December of 2007.  With this predisposition noted by close government quango head Perry, how could there have been any chance of a fair outcome?  What exactly was this partiality based on?  Was it the extremely favourable business projections – which now seem rather unrealistic to say the least?

3.  Perry lobbies the other parties’ shadow ministers.  As he put it:-

“I have tried to make it clear in these discussions that the impact of Aberdeenshire Council’s decision goes far beyond the immediate issues of the Trump development but has much wider implications for Scotland’s International image and reputation as a country which welcomes investment.”

Is it really part of the remit of Scottish Enterprise to not only lobby, but to lodge a veiled threat that saying no to this project would have ‘wider implications’?

The head of a multi-million pound quango and the influence of ACSEF, Scottish Enterprise’s Regional Advisory Board – itself unelected but taxpayer funded – could be very intimidating indeed.  Indeed, Patrick Machray, then head of ACSEF, was singled out for praise in the support he lent to the Trump project, and was copied on this letter.

Perry closes his letter:-

As Scotland’s principal economic development agency, we at Scottish Enterprise wish to see your development proceed. We will continue to do what we can to help.”

And indeed they did.

Do we really want to be funding unelected bodies, Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF, to act in a manner that sidesteps or pressurises our elected officials?  It seems we do.

Freedom of Information Conundrums

Getting information should be easy, and responses to FOI requests accurate and complete.  The recent replies received from Scottish Enterprise raise as many questions as they answer.  Here are some issues arising.

1.  Hospitality

A fairly comprehensive question was posed as to any hospitality/gifts that might have been received from the Trump organisation:-

“3.  Details of any hospitality (event, gift, accommodation, etc.) offered to any member of Scottish Enterprise or Visit Scotland  from Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”

The answer sounded reasonable enough at first:-

“In accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, I can confirm that Scottish Enterprise holds no information relating to any gifts or money received from Trump International, or the other related parties listed.    To comply with Scottish Enterprise’s Code of Conduct, the organisation maintains a register of gifts and hospitality received by employees from companies.   I confirm that a search of the register has been undertaken and no entries relating to gifts or hospitality from Trump have been registered.”

However, Jack Perry’s letter to Donald Trump opens as follows:-

“You may or may not recall that I had the pleasure in October 2005 of joining you for lunch in the Trump Tower with the then First Minister, Mr Jack McConnell….”

Who exactly paid for this lunch?  While much has been written about the subject, it is not at present clear whether the taxpayer paid for the lavish meal (steaks and shrimp in Trump Tower are not exactly inexpensive), or whether Trump did.  If it was the taxpayer, how extremely generous of us, particularly when McConnell should not have been there anyway.

If it was Trump, then the cost should have appeared on Jack Perry’s hospitality details:  Scottish Enterprise are saying no hospitality had been registered.

2.  Funding

An excellent article on this meeting can be found in the Scotsman at

It mentions two helicopter flights paid for by Scottish Enterprise– the Scottish taxpayer picked up the tab.  The Scotsman article reports:-

“The billionaire’s golf company was lavished with attention. Two memos released by SE show that – at a cost of £4,800 to the public purse – the agency paid for two helicopter tours of Scotland, taking in the golf course site, as they showed off the country to their deep-pocketed American friends.

“A further e-mail shows they offered to meet the £40,000-50,000 cost of a feasibility study into the Menie Links site. Trump’s people were impressed, “raving” in August last year about the way enterprise agency officials were courting them. All was set fair for a deal.”

However, when asked a fairly clear question about funding:-

 “2. Details of any funding applied for, granted, or rejected for Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) which pertains to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland) by Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise.”

The reply ignored these flights:-

“I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.   SE has not received any applications for funding, and has not granted, or rejected any applications for funding for Trump International, or the other related parties listed.”

It seems fairly evident that supplying flights worth c. £40,000 would have constituted funding granted.  Money was spent in connection to the Menie Estate.

3.  Time Warp

A FOI question pertained to the quote from Jack Perry appearing on the Trump website.  This quote reads:-

“As Head of Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s main economic, enterprise innovation and investment agency, I welcome the progress on Trump International Golf Links’ development in Aberdeenshire. The overall aim of Scottish Enterprise’s Tourism strategy is to achieve higher value add through the development of such premium resorts and experiences for visitors.

“We value the commitment which the Trump organisation is demonstrating by commencing work on the site at Menie, as this type of new resort development, will deliver modern, high quality accommodation and facilities to Scotland. This is critical to our ambition to help Scotland realise more value from our tourism assets. The development will attract higher spending visitors from across the UK and overseas and will further support Scotland’s position in the global market as the Home of Golf.”

“Jack Perry, Chief Executive, Scottish Enterprise”

The website did not pre-exist the course.  The quote refers to work commencing on the site.

Scottish Enterprise would have us believe, however, that no correspondence took place between it and Trump. The FOI had specified that correspondence from 2008 onward was being requested.  Bearing in mind the pre-approval letter from Perry to Trump was from December 2007.  This was the FOI question:-

“1.  Copies of correspondence to and from Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise on the one part and Trump International (including Donald Trump, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, Trump International, and The Trump Organization) on the other part, pertaining to the Menie Estate, Balmedie, SSSIs, setting up business in Scotland, environmental laws, finance available for golfing ventures in Scotland).”

In February this was the answer to that question:-

“We have carried out a search of our files and can advise, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA, that Scottish Enterprise holds no information within the scope of your request.”

As it seemed unlikely that a quotation from Perry got onto the Trump website with no correspondence taking place; a new FOI was launched.  The question SE was now asked included the quotation taken from Trump’s website.  This simply could not have been made before 2008 – not with the reference to work commencing.

The December 2007 letter to Trump from Perry was before the subsequent government approval of the scheme.  It was time to ask Scottish Enterprise to explain, and the following questions were sent;-

“2.1 Given the answer supplied below, that no correspondence took place between Scottish Enterprise and the Trump Organisation, please explain how the above text was sent to the Trump organisation, under what circumstances, and at whose instigation.

“2.2 Please also explain the apparent inconsistency with your previous reply that there had been no correspondence between the two entities.

“2.3 If it now seems that there was correspondence between the two entities, please now submit such correspondence.”

When thus virtually cornered, SE replied:-

“Following an extensive search of files, I can confirm, in accordance with Section 17(1)(b) of FOISA that SE does not hold any information to respond to your question.  Any communication officers that could have dealt directly with the Trump Organisation have since left Scottish Enterprise and, in accordance with our retention policy, we would no longer hold files which would allow us to confirm how the quote referred to above was provided to the Trump Organisation.

“Your previous FOI requested information held from 2008 onwards.   The response provided was therefore accurate within the scope of your request.

“Please find attached a letter from Mr Perry, former CEO of SE, to Donald Trump dated 7 December 2007.    I confirm that this is all of the information held within the scope of your request.”

The correspondence ends with the statutory advice that an investigation of how the FOI request was handled can be requested.  It is a fair bet to assume it will be.

If an organisation like this quango doesn’t keep correspondence – including that sent on behalf of its CEO – then accountability simply doesn’t exist.

Does Scottish Enterprise have carte blanche and a blank chequebook?  We could be forgiven for thinking so.

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Jun 072013

The press had been invited to a press conference by Trump Golf Scotland. They will have heard what he has to say about his golf course, the proposed windfarm, plans for his second golf course, the popularity of his golf course, how much money he is pulling in ‘for Scotland’…. and just how wonderful he thinks he is. Sue Edwards writes.

Trump says he has the greatest golf course in the world.  No, he has a golf course on what are some of the greatest sand dunes in the world.

He has torn the heart out of a rare, dynamic dune system so important that part of it had the designation ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’, the rest designated a SINS – a Site of Interest to Natural Science.

What was once a wild and untamed area is now constricted by the tarmac roads, the vast turfed and seeded greens and fairways, fertilised to a bright vivid green in comparison with the gentle soft green of the original marram grass. 

Perhaps it is a good golf course, but it is definitely in the wrong place.  Nature is fighting back – strong winter winds from the beach blow sand over the whole area as they have for centuries.  Trump will find he has a real fight on his hands!

What you won’t hear from Trump is the lengths he has gone to make life difficult for some of the residents.

From the start he tried to purchase some of the homes using subterfuge – first by sending a minion with a false name to say how much he would love to live in their home and offering a paltry sum, then he himself came clean, pretended to be a friend and made insulting offers.  Things turned sinister when he tried to persuade Aberdeenshire Council to obtain these homes for him by compulsory purchase.

Eventually all his attempts failed, but then he turned nasty.

Sand and earth bunds were built in front of homes so that they couldn’t be seen from his precious golf course. Trees were planted to further screen their properties.  Security vehicles were set to watch homes at all times of the day and night. The residents and their friends and family were stopped and questioned by Trump security – and worse.

As a neighbour Trump should be handed an ASBO. He submits planning applications, gets planning consent, then builds just whatever he wants.

the owners now look onto the back of a weed-laden sand and earth bank, imprisoned by Trump’s arrogance

The car park, for example, bears absolutely no resemblance to the planning consent he was given by the council.  He has submitted at least six retrospective planning applications for work he has carried out but has no consent for, and there are further examples of development carried out without planning consent even being sought.

If you want to see examples of this, go behind the big wooden gate at the end of the clubhouse car park. Squeeze round the gate (as residents with long-standing access rights now have to do) and see how Leyton Cottage has just been blanked off.

From having glorious long views across the dunes and farmland as far as the eye can see for decades, the owners now look onto the back of a weed-laden sand and earth bank, imprisoned by Trump’s arrogance.

Sand blows off the bund into their house, water is channeled by the bank down their track to settle around their low-lying property, and lights shine into their property from the car park lights built far too close to their home. Trump staff strim the grass on the golf course side of the bund close to Leyton Cottage, but they do this on Sundays causing a noise nuisance.

The bund was never on any planning application but he went ahead and built it and now the council has caved in and will allow it to stay. Just think for a moment how you would like it if this had happened to you.

Trump once stated that he was a great environmentalist. How would he explain the rubbish heaps he has lying hidden about the estate?

Piles of rubbish are burnt regularly, and heaps of grass cuttings have plastic chemical containers buried in them. Attempts have been made to cover the evidence with sand.

Fertilisers appear to have been spread around water courses causing wild plants and weeds to spring up and thrive further downstream.

The water then carries on out to sea possibly having an effect plants and animals in the marine environment.

The local newspapers – the Press and Journal and the Evening Express – won’t say a word against Trump and his development. Could the fact that the P&J editor is married to Trump’s office manager here at Menie have some bearing on this?  

Nevertheless, many folk locally have the measure of Trump and know about the way he deals with things. Yet, so many are still blinded by his ‘celebrity’ and accept just what he says as gospel truth.

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Jun 072013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Interesting times in the Granite City of Culture; there have been two notable photography exhibitions.

On Friday 1st June a group show of hundreds of images of Aberdeen was launched in the City of Culture HQ (formerly known as One Up).  It was a good event; the Lord Provost made an upbeat speech and promised we would have a year of culture, regardless of the city’s city of culture bid.

A show of photography work at St Machar’s Cathedral by the River Don group was very impressive.

With the help of award-winning photographer Alicia Bruce, the group spent time shooting along the Don; the results are stunning (more on that elsewhere in Aberdeen Voice).

The only fly in the ale was last week’s outing by local CAMRA group, holding another real ale festival in Pittodrie.  I’d been several times over the years, going on different dates, but never experienced the shortage of cask ales that my friend and I encountered Saturday afternoon.    Paying full price to get in with no warning they’d run out of nearly half the advertised beers, disappointment was in the air and then some.

“Every beer I’m getting tastes the same” John said

“… as a token gesture I’d have accepted a £ reduction” Stephen said

“*%£!!”N S £”!~*$%%^*!!” Paul said.

Well, the beers that were left were, er – probably not stored or shipped very well.  They were the last turkeys in the shop for a reason.

Without shaming the breweries involved, one was immediately spat out, the others bar one half (we got half measures in more ways than one) were poured out.  And for comic effect, one with a ‘citrusy hint’ was so acidic that I gave a few people a good laugh as they watched my face as it hit my taste buds.

Hint of citrus?  It was as much a ‘hint’ of citrus as the scene in Public Enemy where Jimmy Cagney smashed a grapefruit into Mae Clark’s face.

I was wearing a Brew Dog teeshirt, having just left their alternative beer festival.  80% of the Pittodrie crowd commented that they’d be heading to the dog soon.  The thing is, I genuinely respect CAMRA; they helped me a decade ago stop some small pubs from closing.  I feel like a favourite pet has bit me.

The first five minutes were spent poring over the long list of available beers; we decided what we’d have.  Rounding the corner to where the casks were, we saw disappointed faces and hardly any casks.  The word ‘FINISHED’ hung on signs on at least 40% of the casks.

We’d gone back to the guys who sold us full price admissions less than 10 minutes after we arrived.  We explained we were not happy.  They explained they usually drop the admission price when the stocks get low.  What they were waiting for remains a mystery.  They told me I could ‘write an email’ if I wasn’t happy.   I told them I’d write an email and a bit more.

 The original newsletter for Councillor Owen is no more to be found!

By way of contrast, a meal in Golden Square’s Granite Park took an overly long time.  A talk with the manager about this and a minor issue or two, and the matter was amicably settled there and then.

The beer wasn’t the only disappearance last week.  Alas!  The original newsletter for Councillor  Owen is no more to be found!

Visitors instead receive a message ‘This user has elected to delete their account and the content is no longer available’.  I understand that copies of the lovely photo of the Councillor with Donald Trump senior and his hairpiece can be obtained by ebay, or at the Snappy Snaps near Little Belmont Street – feel free to ask.  If only there were some way to see the cached evidence of this newsletter.  Hmmmm.

And while ‘this user’ expunged her newsletter, making it disappear, a new Register of Interests appeared on Aberdeenshire’s website.  The Snappy Snaps job is now registered.  I couldn’t find the previous version on the Shire’s site, but happily I do have a copy saved.

Last week said councillor took time out from their busy life to comment on my column to say:-

“I object to the serious implication you make that I have or will receive or accept bribes. I refute entirely your allegations and put you on notice that I consider these defamatory and therefore actionable. I request that you desist from repeating them with immediate effect”

Old Susannah is a little confused at Gillian’s mode of attack.  She seems to be telling me that I’ve been a bad girl and could be in trouble, and is backing her statement up by…. taking down her newsletter and updating her register of interest.  Of course, this potential threat of my writing being ‘actionable’ is deeply distressing to me.

So much so that I’ll have to calm my nerves with a half or two of Jackhammer, Dead Pony and AB13.

Finally, spare a thought for 62 year-old Isle of Wight woman Dawn Martin.  She either lost or ended a short-term lease and somehow wound up with nowhere to go.  The Council are investigating, but the story is that she was given temporary accommodation in…. a tent.  I think there will be a tax issue – it is a three-person tent.  How this will sit with the bedroom tax officials remains to be seen.

This week the beer at Pittodrie was gone despite my paying full price to taste it; Gillian’s newsletter faded into the ether; and there have been other disappearances and losses to related to these .  Time for some topical timely definitions on the things that have disappeared

Sense of  Humour Loss: (compound English noun) a failure to find humour in a joke, prank or situation.

They can’t say we don’t have a great sense of humour in Aberdeen.  We’ve elected kerb-crawlers, teenagers, plumber’s mates and embezzlers to Council – and they were the more serious element.  The latest Aberdonian stunt to hit the nationals will no doubt impress those City of Culture judges.

Merry pranksters Jack Hearns, 20, and Owen Petrie, 21 played a hilarious joke this week; they attacked HazelheadAcademy during a school day with paintball guns.  How teachers, parents and pupils would have laughed as two strange men drove to the school and started brandishing guns and firing.

Alas, some crabby parents, teachers and law enforcement officials seem to have lost their sense of fun, and arrested our pranksters.

I can’t for the life of me see what’s wrong with making kids and adults think they were under a gun attack at a school; it’s not like that could ever happen.  Perhaps we’ll see another sly joke from this pair when they appear in court, probably pretending to be filled with remorse, telling tales of how tough their lives have been and that they’ll never do anything like this again.

Now that would be funny.

Evidence: (noun) tangible proof indicating an event or crime has definitely or likely taken place.

Spare a moment for the Scottish Police; they have managed to lose evidence in a few instances which hit the news this week.

Firstly, evidence seems to have gone walkies in the case of Seal slayer Graham McNally.  He was found guilty of using nets designed to drown seals near his salmon cages (some would define this as a salmon farm; these installations are as much a ‘farm’ as a cage in the zoo is a lion or tiger farm).

At the end of May, evidence proving such acts occurred must have existed, but now:-

“John Robins, of the Save Our Seals Fund, said that McNally originally pled not guilty to setting illegal nets between August 2009 and August 2011, based on evidence that seals had been entangled and drowned in such nets.

“Robins has written to the COPFS asking if the charges were amended in return for a guilty plea or for any other reason, asking why the reference to the killing of seals was removed from the charges.”


Could this be a case of plea bargaining?  Quite possibly.

Next we have claims from one golf course owner, one Mr Donald Trump.  He told the media on several occasions that there had been acts of vandalism and theft at the Menie Estate.  Did the protesting rabble had damaged Mr Trump’s property.?

Interestingly the police were keen to arrest film- and trouble- makers Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney; they were charged with breach of the peace on the say-so of Trump’s site manager.  The calm, reasonable, level-headed arresting officer was caught on film.    However, the police  were keen to make photographer Alicia Bruce’s complaint against a member of Trump staff disappear.  Bruce had called the police while being threatened – but the police seemed  more interested in getting her to forget the incident, saying a prosecution would be hard on the accused.  Again, evidence of wrongdoing seems to have gone astray.
In a Freedom of Information request (more details of this FOI in the future), the police revealed the number of cases of vandalism against Trump.  That number is – zero.

Evidence of damage to property belonging to David Milne and to Michael Forbes exists, but alas, the police have problems finding it.  This includes a videotape of vandalism taking place which Milne offered to them.

To lose one piece of evidence is unfortunate.  To lose a half dozen or so pieces looks like carelessness.  To refuse a piece of evidence of potential crime on film looks like something altogether different.

Here is part of a recent exchange between the police and Old Susannah (my questions in bold):-

How many claims/complaints of vandalism, theft, trespass and/or damage have been made by the Trump Organisation and/or its employees since 2010 involving the Menie Estate?

Vandalism (Damage) – 4
Theft – 3
Trespass – 0

How many of these claims/complaints of vandalism, theft, trespass and/or damage made by the Trump Organisation and/or its employees were dropped due to lack of evidence?

No crime report has been ‘dropped’ – however, the figures in brackets below indicate those that are currently closed, having been investigated to their conclusion.

Vandalism (Damage) – 0 (4)
Theft – 0 (3)
Trespass – 0 (0)”

All of which is a bit odd. The Trump organization claimed in 2010 that £50,000’s worth of vandalism occurred – to vehicles, fences and the all-important marram grass, which is stabilizing the dunes so effectively and ‘preserving them’ in such an environmentally friendly manner.

in June of last year the Evening Express wrote:-

“VANDALS caused thousands of pounds of damage at Donald Trump’s Menie golf course just weeks before it is due to open, the Evening Express can reveal today. A police investigation was launched after gardening equipment on the Menie estate near Aberdeen was targeted.  It came after a vandal attack last month when paint was thrown on to part of the course. 

“A spokeswoman [but presumably not the chief spin doctor Malone] from Grampian Police said up to £10,000 of damage was caused as a result of the latest incident.  The vandalism of equipment used to cut the grass on the estate took place between May 30 and June 4.”

Well, we’ve got fences, grass, grass cutting equipment, trucks vandalised and items stolen.  But no evidence to bring to trial.  Presuming any of this was reported to insurance companies, as would normally be expected possibly required, it does make you wonder where the evidence has gone.

Surely you wouldn’t cry vandalism or theft without evidence?  As to the allegations of paint spilled on the course, I wonder if anyone will be charged with the turquoise colour now evident on most of the greens.

Unfortunately other than Michael Forbes being accused of stealing the white border flags worth a staggering eleven pounds or so, I can’t find any news items relating to anyone stealing from the Donald. Perhaps we can charge the North Sea with vandalizing the course at Blairton Burn early this year.  Other than that, the claims of crimes against the course have, well, disappeared.

More on evidence of crime at Menie will be coming in the weeks ahead….

Time to disappear down to BD.  Tally Ho!

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