Aberdeen businessman Sir Ian Wood has warned of a bleak future for the north-east if the region fails to embrace the near £1billion investment represented by his Union Terrace Gardens plan and Donald Trump’s golf resort.
US billionaire Mr Trump received an honorary doctorate at Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Aberdeen yesterday in recognition of his business acumen and his plans to build a £750million golf resort at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.
He said it was “a great honour” to receive the degree, which he plans to have framed and put on the wall of his office at Trump Tower in New York.
Speaking after the ceremony, RGU chancellor Sir Ian said Mr Trump’s decision to invest so much money in the north-east was both “brave and welcome”.
Like Mr Trump, the Wood Group chairman has divided public opinion over his £140million city gardens project in Aberdeen, which would involve building a street-level square over Union Terrace Gardens, the Denburn dual carriageway and the railway line.
However, he said unpopular decisions had to be made to ensure the region had a future once North Sea oil ran out – or the area would be left with “no jobs and no young people”.
“We can’t not do things because they are going to be controversial,” he said.
“The world advances with people doing significant things and almost every major advance of any kind in the world has been controversial.
“I think there is perhaps a failure to realise in the north-east of Scotland just how big a challenge we face.
“A lot of the current generation have never known this area before oil and we are very dependent on one industry.
“It is not a good comparison, but Dundee fell flat on its face when jute died.
“Now we have a huge challenge. I think the Trump golf resort is one of a number of potential developments which will bridge the gap.
“I also believe the redevelopment and transformation of Aberdeen city centre is another of the building blocks which will help attract new industries. We are going to have to be competitive to win new industries.
“Otherwise, we are going to have a lot of heritage, but no jobs and no young people.
“It might seem a bit black and white but that is my prime driving force, both for Union Terrace Gardens and why I think the golf development is the right thing to do.”
Sir Ian added: “I’m not going to be here but some of you guys are and, if we don’t get it right, your kids will have to get employment elsewhere.”
Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bob Collier was among the invited audience at yesterday’s ceremony.
Last night, he echoed Sir Ian’s warning, saying: “We probably have 30 to 40 more years of North Sea oil and plenty of chance to anchor our unique expertise in this region for a longer timescale, but we need to start now to replace one sector with others.
“The Trump development provides a major leisure and tourism development of international appeal.
“Our universities have growing reputations for their research. Our workforce has transferable skills. And our businesses have the talent to succeed.
“However, none of this will fall into our laps and we’ll have to work hard to stay a prosperous region.”
Sir Ian added: “I do believe that this (the Trump development) will help attract other leisure and recreation activities.
“It is a very important diversification for our economy and it seemed very appropriate to recognise that by conferring a degree on the gentleman behind it.”
Mr Trump was made a doctor of business administration, but he told the Press and Journal that he would not be taking up his new right to put the honorary title of Dr before his name.
After receiving the honour, Mr Trump was again asked if he was going to run for the US presidency.
He said it was “too early” to say who his potential running mate would be and laughed when Sarah Palin, the former Republican candidate for vice-president, was suggested.
He said the golf course was “on perfect schedule” and added: “It’s even coming out better than anything we imagined, even in our wildest dreams. It’s going to be spectacular.”
The decision to honour Mr Trump has sparked some anger but there was just one protester and a dog waiting for him when he arrived at the university’s Garthdee campus for the ceremony.
“I heard there was going to be a big protest today and no one showed up,” he said.
However, about 20 protesters had gathered outside when Mr Trump left at 11.30am. They shouted that Scotland was “not for sale” as he climbed inside his car.
He flew back to New York last night after rounding off his three-day visit to the north-east. He is expected to return to Scotland early next year.