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Holyrood rivals clash over probe into Cairngorm Mountain


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.

Two candidates battling it out for the Strathspey seat at Holyrood have gone toe-to-toe over the merits of a public inquiry into the running of Cairngorm Mountain.

Scottish Conservative candidate Edward Mountain insists his SNP rival Fergus Ewing was wrong to dismiss the probe into the resort’s failures as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism.

Mr Mountain had called for a full public inquiry earlier this year to answer the questions that fell outside of Audit Scotland’s original report into the resort such as where the responsibility lies for the construction failure of the funicular railway.

But Mr Ewing rejected the call, describing it ‘inappropriate’ whilst there is ongoing legal action being taken on two fronts by Highlands and Islands Enterprise involving Cairngorm Mountain.

Mr Mountain said: “Fergus Ewing might want to brush this issue under the carpet and hope it goes away – but I won’t let that happen if re-elected.

“The people of Strathspey deserve to know why the funicular railway fell into disrepair and who is responsible for this failure.

“I will continue to press for a public inquiry if I am re-elected.

“It’s not ‘inappropriate’ as Fergus Ewing said – it is the right thing to do.”

Mr Mountain also said the offering at Cairngorm Mountain needs to be much better both in the summer and in the winter.

“At the moment it’s not and my fear is that HIE, who is driving this forward, is not listening fully to the community,” he said.

“The community need to have a buy-in into this because if they buy-in into it then they are going make it work and it’s going to become their resort.”

Fergus Ewing on a visit to Cairngorm Mountain last year, with Colin Matthew, the resort's operations manager.
Fergus Ewing on a visit to Cairngorm Mountain last year, with Colin Matthew, the resort's operations manager.

Mr Ewing has hit back saying that an expensive and protracted public inquiry is not what is wanted by most people who support Cairngorm Mountain, and whose livelihoods are linked to its success.

He said: “This will take up the time and effort of staff on the hill, in HIE and in Government.

“I believe they wish to see the repairs to the funicular completed, and that it returns to full operation for further decades.

“I am delighted to have worked in Scottish Government as cabinet minister for HIE to secure the necessary funding, alongside the agency and Cairngorm Mountain Ltd, to see delivery of this repair work.

“It was a major piece of work. The focus now must be on delivery – not a public inquiry.

“Moreover, since there is ongoing litigation, that means – as surely all candidates for public office must or should at least know – that evidence relating to that litigation is by definition, sub judice.

“That would limit severely the scope of what can be made available and made public, and render any inquiry utterly pointless.

“Furthermore, there has already been a independent and thorough examination of many issues by Audit Scotland, and HIE were found to have carried out proper diligence, and are learning lessons from the past.

“Any further questions will, of course, be fully openly answered but after we get the work done to get restart on Cairngorm and only after all litigation is concluded.”

The funicular has been out of action on safety grounds since September 2018, but is due to be repaired for the 2021/22 winter season.

More than £16 million of the funding will be used to repair the mountain railway.

The government is contributing £10.16 million while HIE will invest £10.35 million, including £8.5 million from the sale of the Centre for Health Science in Inverness to the University of the Highlands and Islands.

HIE said the decision announced last October to repair the funicular came after a detailed options appraisal that also considered replacing it with alternative uplift, and removing it entirely.


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