Government Minister says Cairngorm funding will secure resort's future for next two decades
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The government minister who signalled the go-ahead for more than £20 million of funding to repair the funicular and improvements to Cairngorm Mountain has said the investment will secure the resort’s future for the next two decades at least.
Fergus Ewing 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 with contractor Balfour Beatty moving on site later this month.
Resort owner HIE said the decision announced on Friday to repair the funicular was taken following a detailed options appraisal that also considered replacing it with alternative uplift, or removing it entirely.
But critics claim the business case is flawed, with figures used in such a way to make the funicular repair the most attractive option on paper.
Mr Ewing, Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary, said the funding had been secured “after a long period of careful work by HIE and the Scottish Government”.
The Strathspey MSP said: “Without it, Cairngorm would not have had a secure long term future – but with it, its future is now secured.
“The funicular will enable summer visitors and the development of the potential seen in Nevis Range, for example, where snowsports forms a minority part of its revenue...
“This investment gives a chance to sustain wintersports and extend summer activities for a further two decades or more. It also paves the way for further investment once the repair works are completed.”
Mr Ewing said the Snowfactory snow-making equipment was a ‘game-changer’ and hinted the closed system at the top of the funicular should be re-examined.
He said: “The visitor management plan has been amended and I believe further relaxations can and should be considered to enable the full potential for recreational use to be achieved.”
The minister hit back at critics of the business case and said consulting on its detail could have left the resort in limbo for another year.
He continued: “Some say the money should have been used for other things. The response to that is straightforward. The estimated costs of removal would have been about the same as repair. Had we not decided to repair, we would have been required legally to remove it.
“So there would not have been any ‘new’ money to spend on other matters.”
He added: “For the past 20 years a few people and pressure groups have made it almost a full time job to attack the funicular...
“My own view is that there is very strong support to fix the funicular amongst people who live and work locally, and in many cases whose livelihood are linked to Cairngorm.
“Surely now it is time to move on and put past differences behind us.”
HIE said that the business case was 'a totally objective examination by contracted specialists of the detailed costs and impacts of different options for the funicular'.
A spokesman said: “An extensive amount of due diligence was undertaken to inform the decision as to whether reinstating, removing or replacing it would deliver the best outcome for the business and the local area.
“Removing it would create no lasting economic benefit and incur significant cost. Replacing it with a dual cable gondola system, the gondola system considered most appropriate for Cairngorm conditions, was examined rigorously.
“However, removing the funicular and replacing it with such a gondola system would cost around £50 million – more than three times the cost of reinstating the funicular – and offer no additional economic benefits.”
The executive summary of the business case can be read here