DONALD Trump’s corporation has let Scotland down by failing to deliver its promised £1 billion boost, according to a former consultant on his course.

Dr Thomas Dargie has been mapping the country’s sands and machair for 50 years and spent three years advising Trump International at Menie in Aberdeenshire at what is now Trump International Golf Links.

During that period, he warned the US leisure giant that the planned course – which was to come with a £1bn investment – posed a “very significant threat” to the protected dune system there, a mass of dynamic shifting sands that had been designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

But Dargie’s request to have the course moved inland and away from Foveran Links was rejected and the controversial development finally approved by Scottish ministers despite widespread conservation fears.

On Wednesday national agency NatureScot confirmed some of the sands have now lost their protected status because many of the “special, natural features for which they were designated” have gone.

Experts there don’t believe there’s any chance of remediating the dunes, which are now static. Trump International accused NatureScot of singling it out in a “highly politicised” move.

But Dargie says the “unique” and “desert-like” sands could shift again – if Trump was to leave the course and allow up to two years of restoration work to take place. And he said the case is evidence that the planning processes must change to give more weight to ecological concerns.

The Dornoch man told this newspaper developers working in areas “with habitats which need to be protected” should provide a fund “which will enable compensation elsewhere for the damage they are going to do”.

“They should have to sign up to deliver what’s in their proposal,” he said. “That’s where the Trump Organisation have let Scotland down. They have not delivered in terms of their economic promises. That frustrates both sides of the debate.”

Trump International had pledged to build a five-star hotel with 450 bedrooms and 950 flats and create 6000 jobs in the north east. It says it has spent big in Scotland and will spend “hundreds of millions more” in the years to come. But the resort has not been profitable since it opened and last year it was reported that the spend at Menie totalled £100m, with around 650 temporary and permanent staff in place. A second course has now been approved.

The original approval was granted on the weight of the promised economic benefits, which were at a level of national interest.

DARGIE, who gave evidence at the public inquiry into the development, left the project when he learned his budget for mitigation work had been cut to around 40%. He says granting permission was correct under planning rules, but “wrong” in hindsight because “the Trump Organisation hasn’t delivered”. “It was an excellent ecological site,” he says.

“You could restore it, but you would have to stop the golf and then try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The NatureScot position is that golf is not going to go away and therefore they have to look at the area from the way in which it’s currently protected. In a way, I agree with them.

“The nature of the site as a whole dune system starts to fall to pieces if you put a golf course within it. Its whole nature starts to change.

“There are golf courses which are being abandoned. If Trump [did] that, then restoration would be possible.”

Dargie, 73, had been set on a career as an economist before a teenage trip to the Faroe Islands. He believes the “rapidly changing” ecological crisis means the Scottish planning system must undergo a radical reset, in light of learning from the Trump case. Dargie believes developers should be required to put up a bond of as much as 50% of their projected investment to “focus them” on “having everything bankrolled and ready to run”.

“That would give a government confidence in making the right decisions,” he says.

“We have to think very, very carefully of how this links in with the climate crisis. Our national approach to all of this has to be rethought.

“The socio-economic balance has to be rewritten in the context of the biodiversity crisis which is very rapidly developing. That crisis is the sum total of thousands of individual developments.

“At the moment, a lot of planning permission is legalising biodiversity destruction.”

Dargie’s experience at Menie helped fuel his successful opposition to a similar bid at Coul Links, near Dornoch, which also went to a public inquiry. In that case, the potential economic benefits from the golf resort proposed by US businessman Todd Warnock, were too small to override environmental concerns.

The dunes at Coul have higher protection levels than those at Foveran Links did, though part of that site retains its special status. The remaining reduced SSSI there will be merged with the adjacent Sands of Forvie and Ythan Estuary SSSI next year.

“There would have been several adverse impacts at Coul,” Dargie says. “It was bound to happen. I had to stand up against it.”

He became chair of the Not Coul opposition group, but as a third party organisation, it struggled to be heard. “Third party views don’t have a big voice in the Scottish planning system,” he says. “We have to work very hard to put evidence in front of agencies like Sepa [the Scottish Environment Protection Agency] and just get them to look at it. That should change.”

THE Scottish Government has defended its actions over Menie, saying: “In 2008 the Trump International Golf and Leisure Resort development was subjected to a great deal of scrutiny through a full and independent Public Local Inquiry. Following a significant amount of careful thought, the economic and social benefits of the development were considered to outweigh the environmental impacts.

“As the relevant planning authority, the primary responsibility for ensuring compliance with any planning conditions rests with Aberdeenshire Council. Scottish ministers have not been involved in any planning issues at the site since 2008.”

The Sunday National asked Trump International to comment for this article. No response was received.

However, on the NatureScot decision, its executive vice-president, Sarah Malone, said “millions of pounds” had been spent on the management of the site and accused NatureScot of having “ignored and neglected the dunes under the previous ownership”, saying: “Many attributes of the SSSI have flourished since the golf course was completed.”

She went on: “Trump International’s level of investment and ongoing care of the site far exceeds just about every other SSSI site in the country.

“And yet NatureScot singles us out and prioritises this decision during a global pandemic when the tourism and leisure industry is at its most vulnerable and is contending for its survival.

“We will continue to maintain the site to the highest standards.”