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Highland politicians call for answers over management of Cairngorm Mountain and future ownership

By Tom Ramage

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UPHILL ALL THE WAY: As these walkers on the Coire Cas headwall showed recently, dogged determination is required on the hill.
UPHILL ALL THE WAY: As these walkers on the Coire Cas headwall showed recently, dogged determination is required on the hill.

Questions long asked in the strath over the running of Cairngorm Mountain are now being asked in the House.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant raised questions in Holyrood last week about Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Natural Retreats over the operation of the hill.

She demanded to know from Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy Fergus Ewing what action the Scottish Government was taking regarding its dealings with HIE and the company.

She is pushing for the community to take over the running of the mountain, while Conservative MSP Edward Mountain wants to know how much is being set aside to help.

“Cairngorm Mountain is crucial to the economy of the strath,” the Highlands MSP insisted.

“The community have been expressing concerns for some time about the management by Natural Retreats and the flow of money. As this is a complicated web involving a public body and its interaction with private companies, can the Cabinet Secretary tell me what financial checks were made of both Natural Retreats and Natural Assets Investments Ltd both before they gained the management contact and while it was running?

“Were Cairngorm Mountain Ltd in breach of contract when they went into receivership? If so could HIE have cancelled the contract rather than have to pay the receiver to take it back into ownership?

“Given the community’s desire to own this asset, will the Scottish Government now look at transferring it to them, while ensuring that all monies owing to HIE and the government are recouped from Natural Retreats?”

Mr Ewing said he had asked HIE for a full account of the situation and would be meeting with them. He was “well aware” of questions being asked by the media and others in the community.

On the issue of any breach of contract and if public money could be paid back, Mr Ewing said these were “perfectly reasonable questions”, but stressed they were legal questions and it would be imprudent to answer off the cuff.

Highlands MSP Edward Mountain called for government investment: “I held a useful meeting at Cairngorm Mountain. It is clear the operators have some ideas for a new business plan and hope to offer an exciting family experience to replace the lack of a funicular railway. However, this depends on investment and to come up with a reasonable business plan you need to know how much you have to invest.

“So I’m deeply disappointed that the Scottish Government is unwilling to say how much money will be put aside to rebuild the resort. How can the new operators develop a business plan if they don’t know how much money is available?”

Kate Forbes MSP said: “From the very beginning, there have been questions about how much Natural Retreats knew or cared about the importance of the mountain to the local economy. I do believe that there are outstanding questions about Natural Retreats which will have to be answered within time.

“For now, there are two priorities – the first being to protect jobs and the second to turn the business on the mountain around so it has a sustainable future.

“I have nothing but praise for the experienced, knowledgeable and hard-working employees on the mountain who too often get caught up in the negativity and should be admired for their resilience and commitment.

“The greatest danger right now is that increased public negativity drives more potential visitors away.”

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