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Aviemore businesses accuse Highlands and Islands Enterprise of abandoning them over Cairngorm Mountain funicular railway fall-out

By Tom Ramage

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road to nowhere
road to nowhere

Alarm over “ghost town” fears have set Aviemore businesses against Cairngorm Mountain owner Highland and Islands Enterprise, which they accuse of “abandoning the town to its unenviable fate”.

A spokesman for Aviemore Business Association confirmed this week a survey of local business, which has been left reeling after a series of winter setbacks, had been carried out to establish a clearer picture of the problem facing the local snowsports and tourist economy. “It’s quite clear, from the evidence provided by 30 different businesses, that HIE are anonymous around here.

“There were some soothing words when the funicular failed and some ‘talking shop’ meetings – and that has been that. Aviemore has now been abandoned to its unenviable fate.”

One of the survey team, Alan Brattey, said: “Business owners were quite open in their condemnation and several asked why it wasn’t HIE which was going around and asking how it had been over the winter and what they could do to help?”Businesses covered by the questionnaire included major retail outlets and long-established accommodation providers, including, Ardlogie Guest House, the Old Bridge Inn, La Taverna, Blacks, The Coffee Corner, The Coffee Pot, MacDui’s Restaurant, Walkers, The Aviemore Laundry, Ellis Brigham and Nevisport.

Mr Brattey said: “In all this time of the survey we haven’t found any business which has had contact with HIE. But they all remembered that HIE spoke of one-to-one advice and the possibility of providing loans to help businesses through the winter.

“We haven’t found anyone who even knew that, far less anyone who took out a business loan via HIE.

“One company told us their occupancy rates were about 80% down.”

The association had contacted local MSP Kate Forbes wanting to know what the Scottish Government proposed to do to help “given that their development agency has failed to do so.”

Ms Forbes told the Strathy: “There’s no doubt that the past six months have been extremely challenging for local Aviemore businesses, not only because of changes on Cairngorm Mountain, but also because of a significant lack of snow.

“Support is available through HIE, but it is useful that Aviemore Business Association has been alerting local businesses to available assistance – and I recognise concerns that more could be done to communicate with businesses. Anybody is welcome to get in touch with me as the local MSP.

“I have spoken to Fergus Ewing and I know that he is following developments closely. HIE are working hard behind the scenes to turn the business on the mountain round. Of course so many businesses rely on the success of the mountain so it is critical that the business is a success.

“We have to be very careful not to spread negativity about Aviemore because that only turns more visitors away. Clearly the funicular’s closure has had an impact, and I am not seeking to downplay that, but we also need to ensure that skiers further afield do not think that Cairngorm Mountain is closed for good. That would be disastrous.”

A spokesman for HIE said: “We fully appreciate the impact the funicular problems are having on local businesses and share the frustrations around that. We are acting as fast as possible to find a solution.

“When the funicular was taken out of service by the previous operator, HIE set up the Funicular Response Group to bring together local stakeholders and agree actions.

“Aviemore Business Association (ABA) has been a key member of the response group since the outset, so it is very surprising that its members appear unaware. This is something we will raise at the next meeting.

“As agreed at the first meeting of the response group, Business Gateway has been leading on local business support, with support from HIE.

“Business adviser sessions took place at the end of October and beginning of November in the Community and Leisure Centre. These were to encourage businesses to think about their sustainability and future growth, recognising a priority for some of our micro businesses is visibility through the digital platforms. Support was also provided on a one to one basis by the Investment Manager at Highland Council.

“Follow-up workshops were held in February and March. These focused mostly on digital marketing as that is what most businesses had expressed interest in. Both Business Gateway and The Highland Council are also represented on the response group, along with ABA, and Business Gateway provides business support updates as part of the agenda.”

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