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Campaign group wants answers over notable omission in Cairngorm masterplan

By Gavin Musgrove

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A campaign group is questioning why development in Coire na Ciste has been shunned in a second major report in as many years on the way ahead for Cairngorm Mountain.

CAIRNGORM: West Wall and gullies are closed to snowsports visitors towards the end of the 2019/20 season despite great snow cover.
CAIRNGORM: West Wall and gullies are closed to snowsports visitors towards the end of the 2019/20 season despite great snow cover.

A host of recommendations for the resort over the next 25 years are included in the long-awaited 61-page report "Cairngorm Mountain: Towards a vision and masterplan" unveiled by estate owners Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

It outlines plans to turn the resort into a year-round destination and key contributor to the local economy.

But conspicuous by its absence is mention of developing the Coire na Ciste side of the resort by consultants Jura Consultants and Threesixty Architecture.

Instead the report says that uplift should be focused on three existing stations – the Base Station and Day Lodge, Shieling and Ptarmigan.

The Save the Ciste group – which has come up with a series of costed projects for the ciste side of the resort – believes that the comments made for new uplift in the ciste have been purposely omitted from the final report.

Alan Brattey Save the Ciste chairman
Alan Brattey Save the Ciste chairman

Alan Brattey, STC spokesman, said: "The STC campaign was not in the least surprised to find that there is no mention of returning uplift to Coire na Ciste within the recently published visions and startegy document.

"We know that the consultants were told, by many people, that uplift must be returned to Coire na Ciste if Cairngorm is to have a successful future. These comments have been ignored and we suspect that they have been edited out by HIE.

"It's our view that the masterplan is a sham and it is being used to push HIE's agenda which centres on their vanity project which is the funicular railway.

"The capital costs that would be incurred to realise the various aspects contained within the draft masterplan are very substantial and very unlikely to be affordable.''

The report stresses that the resort should remain as a centre of snowsports – for as long as snow exists there. Uplift should be at the core and serve multiple activities year-round including snowsports, mountain biking and visitor access.

A spokesperson for HIE said the working document published on the HIE website includes several references to Coire na Ciste, including suggestions relating to the potential for cross-country skiing, facilities for campervans, vehicle charging points, wildlife viewing and habitat restoration.

He said: “The process to create a masterplan is drawing on open, public engagement as well as discussions with statutory bodies, organisations representing the community, businesses and sports enthusiasts, and published documents.

“These include the HIE-commissioned SE Group report of 2018 and 2019, the Section 50 agreement affecting Cairngorm, and several strategies prepared by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, notably the Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, approved in 2016.

“In the first online survey 1,504 submissions were received from individuals. Thirty-five of these submissions (2.2 per cent) made reference to Coire na Ciste.”

The only remaining uplift in the lower ciste is the West Wall Poma. The area is the best terrain at the resort for intermediate to advanced skiers and snowboarders.

The two chairlifts - The Ciste and West Wall – which used to serve this half of the resort were run down and mothballed in the mid 2000s as part of the core lifts policy to focus on the funicular.

Formation of the resort's masterplan is now at stage seven – the second consultation – of eight stages, the last being the final vision, key strategies and masterplan.

The blueprint will be the vision and guiding principles, key strategies and creating a zoned, adaptable masterplan.

These three elements will be the framework for guiding future economic, development and statutory planning decisions and activities at Cairngorm Mountain.

Some of the key findings within the draft masterplan report are:

* The report describes looking at the 'evolution' of the Section 50 Agreement and the Visitor Management Plan – better known as the closed system–which prevents people from exiting the Ptarmigan top station out with the ski season. It states: "During the consultation process, all the partners have confirmed they are open to re-evaluating this agreement.

"Together, they will review the visitor management arrangements at the Ptarmigan to investigate opportunities for improving the visitor experience whilst, critically, maintaining protection for the adjacent European sites."

* Creating a Scottish Centre for the Mountain Environment will place a new focus on education and research covering the environment, climate change and sports. As well as interpretation for the wider public, the base could also provide research facilities for schools, universities and the private sector.

* The report recommends that 'efficient and reliable' uplift is established and focussed on the three existing stations – the Base Station and Day Lodge, Shieling and Ptarmigan and all future activities should be centred around this system.

* Mountain biking should be established at the resort with the business fully engaging with Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland on the best way ahead. This would include agreement with Cairngorms National Park Authority and Forestry and Land Scotland for bikes leaving the Cairngorm Estate to connect with the Glenmore Forest.

* There is a whole range of suggested activities and proposals for further feedback in the report including integrated mountain coaster and zip-wiring, redeveloping the Ptarmigan, best in class beginner experience including user friendly uplift, developing cross-country skiing, becoming a venue for events and festivals, campervan facilities, wildlife viewing and offering discount rates for local residents.

One of the key assumptions throughout – to the dismay of some – is that the funicular railway will be returned to operation.

n The report and questionnaire is now live at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/cairngormvision

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