US tycoon Donald Trump yesterday clashed with the outspoken councillor who almost sank his £1billion plans for a golf resort.
It came at the end of a four-hour grilling on day one of the long-awaited local public inquiry when Martin Ford accused him of showing “little understanding” of certain details of his application.
And Mr Trump responded by saying: “No one has ever told me I don’t know how to buy property before.”
But the tycoon refused to budge from his corner and confidently reiterated his belief that the course must be built on protected sand dunes to ensure it is the best in the world – and that it must be funded by building homes on land next to the resort.
Mr Trump plans two golf courses, a 450-bedroom hotel, 950 holiday homes and 500 houses on links north of Aberdeen at Menie Estate.
Part of the course would be on sand dunes designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which has angered environmental groups.
After an introduction yesterday by Scottish Government reporter James McCulloch, Mr Trump stepped forward and faced questions throughout the day from environmentalists.
Lib Dem councillor Mr Ford told the billionaire he was “a bit surprised” that seemed unsure the dunes were designated as SSSI when he bought the land.
Mr Trump insisted he knew “every inch of the site”.
“I know the site, for example, far better than you do,” he said.
“Details come later, you don’t say, ‘Let me spend a couple of years studying it’ – it doesn’t work that way.”
Responding to questions from David Tyldesley, of the RSPB, Mr Trump was forced to admit he had not read several of the environmental statements submitted on his behalf to inquiry officials – while claiming he was an environmentalist at heart.
Mr Tyldesley also accused Mr Trump of claiming he would create the world’s greatest golf course to justify building it on environmentally sensitive land – a claim he vehemently denied.
When Dave Morris of the Ramblers’ Association quizzed him on the legal rights of the non-paying members of the public to walk on his course, Mr Trump demonstrated a misunderstanding of the law, passed by Scottish ministers in 2003.
The tycoon, who spoke for around four hours, said he did not know how many people walk the site but he never saw people there and it seemed “pretty desolate”.
He added: “Before, no one knew what it was. Now they are saying ‘Menie, it’s the greatest’.”
Mr Trump repeatedly insisted his development would help protect the dunes.
And he said his decision on when to build houses would depend on global market conditions – but insisted there would be no development without the houses.
During further questioning, Mr Trump claimed his development would serve to “improve on nature”, and described the current condition of the land as “a killing field” for wildlife and a dumping ground for rubbish.
Later at a press conference, Mr Trump said the questions from his opponents “weren’t very good” but he “really enjoyed” the experience.
“The questions were fair, the answers were 100%, everyone’s saying we really knocked it out of the box,” he maintained.
“I listened to the questions from the few opponents we had, and honestly, the questions weren’t very good.
“Right now we would be 75% complete. It is unfortunate, but often I find great things take more time.”
The application went before Aberdeenshire Council’s infrastructure services committee in November, and former chairman Mr Ford used his casting vote to knock back the proposals despite recommendations for approval by planning officials.
It was then called in by the Scottish Government.
The inquiry is set to continue at the Aberdeen Conference and Exhibition Centre until July 4.
The reporter will advise ministers – but the ultimate decision rests with Finance Secretary John Swinney.