Decision on future of £20m Cairngorm funicular is expected soon
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The owners of Cairngorm Mountain have said that an announcement on whether the repair of the £20m Cairngorm funicular will go-ahead should be made soon.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise has also defended itself against claims that the decision has already been made to carry out the work.
It comes after four conservation groups called for greater transparency in the decision-making process for the repairs which are expected to cost around £10m if they do get the green light.
The group – consisting of Cairngorms Campaign, North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland and Scottish Wild Land Group – believes it is crucial that any future plans should evaluate two scenarios – one with and one without the funicular railway to ensure full value for public funds which are being invested in the area.
The mountain railway has been out of operation for two years because of concerns over the integrity of the concrete viaduct which carries the two kilometres of track from the Base Station to the Ptarmigan near the summit of Cairn Gorm.
An HIE spokesman said: "We recognise and share the very strong desire expressed by many different groups to achieve an outcome at Cairngorm that is both environmentally and economically sustainable and will generate significant benefits for the area and its business community.
“We have shared the Cairngorm business case with Scottish Government, and are now close to finalising it. Once this is done, we will publish as much detail we can, including costs.
“This is a complex and thorough technical exercise that includes examining in detail the full range of options for dealing with the funicular, namely removal, replacement, or reinstatement.
“In 2018 we commissioned a major study of lift infrastructure, led by international consultants SE Group, who consulted widely with local and national stakeholders.
"Their reports concluded unequivocally that the funicular is a unique asset at Cairngorm with particular appeal to non-skiing visitors.
“At the same time as progressing the business case, we have held two rounds of public consultation this year to help shape a new vision and masterplan for Cairngorm.
"This has been a completely open exercise, attracting a great deal of input from local residents and business people, public agencies, national sports and outdoors groups and other interested parties.
“The first round of consultation was an open call for views and suggestions, which attracted more than 1500 submissions. The second round, which concluded last week, sought comment on the suggestions that had been received and gathered into a vision and strategy document.
"This time, more than 300 people and organisations completed online questionnaires. These are currently being analysed and we expect to publish the resulting masterplan later this year.”
The coalition of outdoors organisations wants the plans drawn up by HIE to be made publicly available prior to a decision by the Scottish Government as to whether to fund the proposals.
In response to recent written Parliamentary questions, Strathspey MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing has stated that a decision on the repair of the funicular is expected shortly.
The group said this points to there being no period between publication of the business case and a decision by Scottish Ministers for a public discussion.
Dave Windle, of North East Mountain Trust and representing the group, said: “Skiers have been deserting the mountain since well before the closure of the funicular.
"It’s now clear that the funicular is not even needed to attract summer visitors given the number of tourists flocking to the area this summer when it wasn’t working.
"HIE’s plans must get things right this time or more public money will be wasted, and downhill skiers will continue to go elsewhere.”
The group is calling for a sustainable skiing operation to be created along with summer activities which are compatible with an environmentally sensitive high mountain environment.