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Outdoors groups call for transparency on Cairngorm plans to ensure best use of public funds

By Gavin Musgrove

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The funicular has been out of operation for two years now because of concerns about the integrity of its concrete viaduct.
The funicular has been out of operation for two years now because of concerns about the integrity of its concrete viaduct.

A coalition of outdoors organisations is calling for plans drawn up by Highlands & Islands Enterprise to be made publicly available prior to a decision by the Scottish Government as to whether to fund the proposals.

The four organisations are concerned that public money may be wasted on 'costly and unsustainable proposals' for the mountain’s ski area, including the fate of the funicular railway which has been closed since September 2018.

The group – consisting of Cairngorms Campaign, North East Mountain Trust, Ramblers Scotland and Scottish Wild Land Group – has said it is very concerned about the lack of transparency and public accountability on decisions about the future of Cairngorm Mountain.

They believe 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.

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.

From the moment the funicular ceased operation, the group believes that HIE decided that the funicular should be repaired and discarded other options.

They say, of equal concern, is the likelihood that a decision to repair will be made by the Scottish Government without any opportunity for parliamentary or public scrutiny of the financial details.

Mr Windle commented: “It will be totally unacceptable if the Scottish Government takes a decision before allowing MSPs and the public to consider the rational for, and the costs of, the case presented by HIE.

"Of particular concern is the fact that future costs will not be limited to the £10m-£15m estimate for the repair of the funicular but will need to include new ski uplift as well, probably a high speed chairlift, whether or not the funicular is repaired.

"In addition, there is a large backlog of maintenance of the infrastructure, including the Day Lodge and the Ptarmigan buildings.

“On top of that, all previous operators have lost money. Things need to be different this time, which is why HIE and the Scottish Government need to be open and transparent. Local skiing enthusiasts have better ideas on how to get skiers back to Cairngorm.

“The business case for supporting the repair of funicular must be made public now before a decision is taken.

"Only in this way can people and businesses in Badenoch and Strathspey, skiers and those who are concerned about the mountain be assured that repair of the funicular is the best option and that public money wouldn't be better spent on a different model or on supporting struggling businesses elsewhere in the area.”

In response to recent written Parliamentary questions, Fergus Ewing (Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy) has stated that a decision on the repair of the funicular is expected shortly.

The business case will be published shortly too, which the group suggests means there will be no period between publication of the business case and a decision by Scottish Ministers.

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