Planners recommend approval of repair work to £20m Cairngorm funicular
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Planners are recommending that the go-ahead should be given to repair works for the £20 million Cairngorm funicular tomorrow despite some strong objections.
Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) planning committee members will consider the application by resort owners Highlands and Islands Enterprise at their latest planning meeting, which will be held by teleconference and webcast due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The public agency wants to carry out engineering works to strengthen the two kilometre-long funicular viaduct to reinstate the attraction.
Gaining planning consent would be the first step on this road.
The mountain railway has been out of action since September 2018 on safety grounds because of concerns over the integrity of the concrete pillars and bearings supporting the track.
The proposed works to the viaduct will involve the installation of reinforcing props and concrete bases beside many of the existing support piers.
Construction material for some piers could be flown in by helicopter from a temporary helipad in the Coire-na-Ciste car park to minimise the impact on the environment.
No cost has been given for the work.
A total of 13 objections to the application have been lodged by the public and groups including the North East Mountain Trust, Mountaineering Scotland and Cairngorms Campaign.
The main issues raised include:
* the lack of accuracy of the application details;
* the bid is pre-mature to the findings of the community consultation on the Cairngorm masterplan;
* insufficient information on environmental assessment including on restoration works, construction methods and impact on ecology; and
* there is no business case to support the repair of the funicular; its contribution to the local economy or viability.
Some objectors want the suspension of the application’s consideration until there is an economic recovery from Covid-19.
But CNPA planning officer Stephanie Wade states in her report: “The relevant issues are solely related to the development proposed and its impacts.
“The funicular railway on Cairngorm already exists and is not a matter for review in this application.
“The costs of the strengthening works and people’s opinions on the value for money or use of public money are matters for the applicant and are not relevant to the determination of the planning application.
“The principle of development – which is related to the continued safe operation of the main winter uplift infrastructure and sole summer uplift capacity of the long-established Cairngorm ski centre – generally complies with policy, providing environmental impacts are acceptable.”
She said landscape and visual effects would be localised.
On the masterplan issue, she states there will be no introduction of any new facilities on site: “It is the officer’s view that the application does not prejudice any future development or management of the ski centre that the masterplan may set out.”
Ms Wade said delaying or refusing planning permission due to the lack of a masterplan would be unreasonable.
She added a separate safety report from regulators would confirm that the strengthening works meets required standards.
Objector Dr Gordon Bulloch, of Grantown, claimed in his submission the Cairngorm ski resort is in terminal decline.
He went on: “Unless something is done to improve the ski uplift and associated facilities it is likely to close within five years.
“Repairing the funicular with all the associated costs will do nothing to reverse the terminal decline which was already very apparent in the years before the funicular closed.”
Alan Mackay, of WinterHighland and Save the Ciste, submitted a 16-page report laying out objections.
In it, he said: “It is clear that funicular railway is not the economic success and importance that HIE proclaim in the supporting statement rather the funicular has been a financial millstone around the neck of the operators that has directly contributed to the run down and derelict nature of the built environment on CairnGorm...
“More pertinently in planning terms, if the proposed repairs go ahead it will result in greatly increased ground disturbance, difficulty and inflated final costs of the ultimate removal of the failing funicular viaduct.”
The Cairngorms Campaign stated in their objection: “For many years now skiing on Cairngorm has absorbed significant sums of public money and this application will require more without stating how past losses will be addressed.
“To add to these problems we are experiencing two hugely life changing events – climate change and Covid-19. Not only does this application fail to cover the area of the hill affected by it but it is also entirely lacking any strategic context.”
Former CNPA planning committee member Dave Fallows said: “Attempting to use planning law to force a determination on this single option at this stage, and without the backing of an agreed masterplan is an affront to democracy and should be withdrawn by HIE.”
Gus Jones, chairman of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, said: "It is premature to determine this application. HIE has lodged it before Audit Scotland has provided its report regarding the funicular; and before even the results of the public consultation on a masterplan have been made public, far less any masterplan having been produced by HIE.
Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency have not objected to the bid.
A spokesperson for HIE said: “HIE has always been clear that our ambition is to reinstate the funicular, subject to a full options appraisal, a robust business case and, of course, planning permission.
“Detailed work on the options appraisal and business case is ongoing, and the outcome of Friday’s meeting will be a key factor in determining the best way forward.”
More details on the application including the planning report and objections can be found here