Golf madness is killing the countryside
07 November 2008
These are hard times for the old-fashioned, money-making operations that were all the rage until a few months ago. It is now a time of doubt and questions for investors. Is the business plan sound? What effect will it have on the local environment? Does it have an unacceptably large carbon footprint? Will it face opposition from planners and councils?
The good news for entrepreneurs this week is that, if enough investment is promised, all these concerns will be cheerfully swept aside. Capitalism may have had something of a battering in recent months but, for all the talk of how personal greed has given way to new, prioritised and revived social awareness, money will still have the last word.
The born-again Scotsman Donald Trump has, predictably enough, been authorised by the Scottish Government to develop a stretch of wild coastland north of Aberdeen into a mighty golf complex, which will include two golf courses, 500 executive houses, a 450-room hotel, 950 holiday apartments and 36 “golf villas”. Economic and social benefits were said to have outweighed the importance of the landscape, which includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest, in spite of opposition from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others.
It seems that the SNP has decided that Scotland’s brightest future is as a golf course. Two days after the announcement that the two courses of Trumpland would be built, a further £15m golf-course development was given the go-ahead at Blairs Seminary, on the outskirts of Aberdeen. Nearby, at Stonehaven, another £40 million golf course is to be built. Rita Stephen, a spokeswoman for the local development quangos, boasted this week that the area was now “a Mecca for golf development”.
She is probably right. When environmental concerns are set against the power of the dollar, there is never any doubt which will win favour with politicians.
For all the hot air about energy, the Scottish Government has encouraged a development which will depend upon rich businessman flying from around the world to enjoy Trumpland.
For all the talk of sensible investment, it has granted planning permission for 500 “luxury homes” at the precise moment when the market for such properties has collapsed. The market for such homes in London, for example, reached a 32-year low last month.
For all the commitment to social benefits, it is to allow the rape of a much-loved, environmentally valuable landscape in order to provide facilities for one of the most exclusive and class-ridden sports in the world.
For all the warm words about local activism, it has ridden roughshod over the will of the local council. Those who have dared to speak against the development have been subjected to pressure, harassment and bullying.
There will be jobs, particularly in the short term while the development is being built, but it is ludicrous to argue that Scottish tourism will benefit. The majority of people do not visit the country in order to see a string of dreary, identical, environmentally dead golf courses, but to enjoy one of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes in Europe.
But in the end it has been another triumph for developers, another part of unspoilt countryside lost forever.
A thousand new golf courses are built around the world and most of them look – are designed to look – remarkably similar to one another.
By contrast, the scenery, wildlife habitat and ecosystems that are about to be destroyed are increasingly rare and under pressure.
Trumpland, and the many golf courses of Aberdeenshire will, according to Rita Stephen, “secure our long-term vision”. But what a sad, sterile, money-led vision that is.
Bees not the buzz word at Westminster
It is a bizarre fact that, although honey bees pollinate a third of what we eat and play an important economic role in human lives, there is no virtually no research currently being done into the varroa mite which threatens to wipe them out. This week, beekeepers donned their protective gear and marched on Westminster, asking that a mere £1.6m of public money should be invested in research. Sadly, the chance of an arrogant, urban government realising the importance of something as apparently insignificant as a bee – pollination by honey bees saves British farmers alone £825m – seems remote.
Two very different success stories
Those who dream of earning a living as writer could usefully contrast the careers of Michael Crichton and William Wharton, who have both just died.
Crichton was the brilliantly commercial author behind the bestsellers Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain.
Wharton was his professional opposite, and led a quieter life. He was first published at 53 and wrote under a pseudonym to protect his privacy – his real name was William Du Aime.
Money did not interest him, although his first novel, Birdy, earned a large advance, and he refused to play the literary game, preferring to live and work on a houseboatin France.
He distrusted competitiveness, explaining: “you lose control of your life. You find yourself doing things and not doing things which please other people… It leads to abandoning the responsibility of your own self-development.”
Wharton was unfashionably modest – “Not thinking of myself as a writer gives me the freedom to be one,” he once said – but his novels, particularly the strange and haunting war story A Midnight Clear, deserve to be read alongside the works of Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut.