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Call for breakdown on bill for repair of Cairngorm funicular

By Gavin Musgrove

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The funicular railway has been out of action since Autumn 2018 because of concerns over the integrity of its concrete pillars and bearings.
The funicular railway has been out of action since Autumn 2018 because of concerns over the integrity of its concrete pillars and bearings.

A Highlands and Islands MSP has criticised the lack of clarity over the public funding arrangement to repair the Cairngorm funicular railway.

Edward Mountain (Scottish Conservative) pressed for more details on Highlands and Islands Enterprise's budget for the work at the latest session of Holyrood's Rural Economy and Connectivity committee.

Committee chairman Mr Mountain called on Rural Economy and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing to provide more information on the funding arrangements for HIE to carry out the project.

He asked at the committee's latest sitting on Wednesday: “On HIE’s budget, have you allowed in there any costs for the repair of the funicular railway?

Mr Ewing responded: “We certainly have worked through this with HIE very carefully to deliver the budget that is required.”

He added: “The additional £4.7m comprises £3.9m for the reinstatement of the funicular and £0.8m for investment in green jobs through the Green Jobs Fund.”

Mr Mountain then asked: “On that basis there will be a requirement to find somewhere in excess of £10 million in the following year for the funicular railway because the overall repair cost is estimated between £15-£20m.

"Would that be made available earlier… if the repairs were completed earlier?”

The Cabinet Secretary answered: “We have worked with HIE to ensure the sufficiency of the budget to deliver the funicular railway as quickly as possible.

"We all want to see that that work is done as quickly as possible. I’m very pleased that the contractors, Balfour Beatty, actually began the work very promptly indeed.

"But I don’t believe there’s any budgetary issue.”

Mr Ewing then promised to write to the REC committee with the full budgetary arrangements for the repair of the funicular railway.

Mr Mountain then said that around 50 per cent of HIE’s budget increase for 2021/22 will be allocated to the funicular railway, stating: “I’m concerned that the HIE budget is not quite as rosy as you paint it, Cabinet Secretary.”

Mr Ewing responded: “Let me provide the committee with the full answers as it is quite a complicated issue. There’s many aspects to it.

"I would prefer just to give a copperplate answer.”

Following the session, Mr Mountain MSP said: “Fergus Ewing couldn’t say for certain when the funicular railway repairs will be completed or what the funding arrangements for those repairs are.

“HIE will only receive £3.9m this year for repairs but what about the additional £10 million that is still required?

“Given his lack of clarity, we now know why Fergus Ewing doesn’t want a public inquiry into the funicular railway.”

The MSP believes a full public inquiry is now required to answer the questions that fell outside of Audit Scotland’s original remit, such as where the responsibility lies for the construction failure of the funicular railway.

Mr Ewing, who is also MSP for Strathspey, has dismissed launching such a public inquiry as 'inappropriate' at this time.

Signalling the go-ahead for more than £20 million of funding to repair the funicular and improvements to Cairngorm Mountain last Autumn, Mr Ewing said the investment will secure the resort’s future for the next two decades at least.

He also hit back at claims the decision to fix the mountain railway – out of operation since September 2018 on safety grounds – was a fait accompli.

The ailing resort is receiving £10.16 million from the Scottish Government and £10.35 million from Highlands and Islands Enterprise to revive its fortunes.

More than £16 million will be used to get the funicular back into service by winter 2021/22.

Contractor Balfour Beatty carried out preliminary work at the end of last year.

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