Fairways…and foul

Aside from looking as if a sporran, or some other Highlands rodent, has taken up residence on his head, there was never much to tie Donald Trump to Scotland, before his battle, reported in yesterday’s Guardian, to take over Michael Forbes’ coastal landholding 13 miles north of Aberdeen.

Mr Trump wants to build 1,000 homes, a 45-room hotel and a golf course on the site. The houses are regrettably necessary as a cross-subsidy for the nine-hole golf course, which is presented as a good thing in itself (and a saviour of the dunes, rather than, as Scottish Natural Heritage see it, a destruction of important natural heritage). Mr Trump’s sensibilities are particularly offended by the state of Michael Forbes’ property: “… the area is in total disrepair. Take a look at how badly maintained the piece of property is: it\’s disgusting. Rusty tractors, rusty oil cans.”

It sounds a mess, but the countryside isn’t neat. The countryside can be beautiful, alarming, calming and depressing. It can smell beautiful or rank, and can be muddy, sandy or soft. But it is rarely neat. Modern farmyards are some of its least appealing features: lean-to sheds, decaying farm machinery, scraps of blue plastic sacking and strange rivulets of chemicals vie to disabuse us of any pastoral fantasies. This, the shambolic yards seem to say, is a productive place, not a pretty place.

Golf courses, on the other hand, are neatness incarnate. Flying into Heathrow or Gatwick, you get a privileged, if not particularly sustainable, view of these made-up meadowlands, which pepper south-eastern England with their curiously pock-marked landscapes. Golf courses may be neat, but they are a whole barrel of ugly too: privatised green spaces, permitted within the green belt on the basis of being a \’leisure\’ use, but bearing as much relationship to the countryside as Mickey Mouse does to the rodents under my floorboards.

With the rising demand for land for housing, and insistent questioning of the sustainability of green belt policies, we might be tempted to follow the example of the Mayor of Caracas, who suggested seizing golf courses to house the city’s poor. Even at a fifth of his proposed density (5,000 people per course), we could use England’s 1,800 golf courses to house nearly two million people, which must go some way meeting the Government’s annual target of 200,000 new homes.

If that turns out to be a touch controversial – as it may – here is another modest proposal. We could simply reclassify golf-courses as previously developed ‘brown field’ land (which they surely are, given the earth moving and ersatz planting that goes into their creation), and let the housing market do the rest as land values rose.