Which did you prefer - Dallas or Dynasty? This article is about a series that is quite outwith the realms of eg Take the High Road or Eastenders - but the principles are the same. To fully appreciate each episode you have to know the background. Sometimes, if you do, you realise what you are being shown is a tad ridiculous, and wouldn't happen in real life.

For the past 15 years what we have had in the Cairngorms is our very own soap opera. This time, if you know the full story, yes it is a tad ridiculous, but yes, it is for real. As we put pen to paper for the next instalment of the Cairngorms Funicular Railway (with apologies for the unglamorous title) I am as ever struggling to adequately set the scene whilst at the same time bring you up to date with "what has just happened". I've been helping run, or should I say record, this series as a theme in NEMT's newsletters since Winter 1986. In that issue we have an article entitled Planning Conditions for Ski Developments and it starts

At our AGM complaints were made to the Trust that planning conditions for ski developments often seem to be breached.
The term Sustainable Development may not have been invented then, but the principle of not destroying what we came to enjoy certainly had. The real trouble is that the new wave of politicians (and for this we mean the Scottish Parliament which is in ultimate control of our heritage) is in no way up to speed with the full story and there seems no way of making them so.
They seem to have missed the point that more sustainable alternatives for developing ski-ing in the Cairngorms are available but are just being ignored.

However back to this episode - what has happened? To set the scene readers will be only too well aware the Millennium Dome is now acknowledged by most as a national financial disaster. Politicians are struggling to defend the extra, non-budgeted, £179 million the Millennium Commission has had to pay to keep this initiative open. How that money could have been better spent is almost as popular as talking about what you would do if you won the lottery. But what has the "Dome problem" been? -

The problem has been vastly over-estimated visitor numbers.

Parallels are now being drawn between the Dome and the Funicular. Mountain Views has already documented how independent surveys, made by well qualified individuals, were able to so refute the forecasted visitor numbers put forward by HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise - owners of the land on which the funicular is being built) that they had to be re-done. Readers will recall HIE had a new forecast carried out.

This is where in true soap style we had to close an issue - just when something mind boggling had happened - the public were refused access to the re-forecasted figures! If the original figures, which were know to be the minimum required to make the Funicular viable, were too high, then the new figures have to be lower. It would appear the scene is well and truly set for the Funicular to create financial and environmental ruin. The main problem is that we are talking about the centre of the Cairngorm Mountains here - soon to be Scotland's second National Park. The payoff to keep this initiative afloat (ie attracting enough visitors) is going to be environmental as well as financial - Greenwich is not known for its wilderness qualities.

But every good soap has its characters- what has been going on here? Don't worry the plot is well and truly up to standard in this respect.

For the next happening we have to run the tape back until last summer when we were just welcoming in the new Scottish Parliament. Do you recall that, because the Highland Council had pledged to underwrite the Funicular by a "last resort" £1million, the application had to go before the brand new Parliament? Remember - it was all signed and sealed and passed on its merry way whilst the new politicians were all out on their first summer recess. OK, so we now record this £1 million has already been officially called in to assist fund the project. There is still another year's building to go so how long will it be before requests for the unplanned hand-outs start coming in?

And talking about unplanned handouts - more news has broken even since I started writing this piece. NEMT now have a copy of a letter dated 1st September, written by the Cairngorm Chairlift Company, to SNH. Let me quote:

May we (Cairngorm Chairlift Company) ask you (Scottish Natural Heritage) to consider, given all the public comment and evidence of use, to take an approach to visitor management which permits the Company to commence operations next year with a closed system that incorporates the following:

Does this not make a complete mockery of all the bellyaching SNH went through before it finally lifted its objection to the Funicular application - on the condition no one was allowed out of the Ptarmigan Restaurant. If SNH do allow the "year around access and exit by non funicular users to the Ptarmigan" then the Cairngorms National Park has about as much protection as Duthie Park.

As a closing scene we have NEMT deciding how to let SNH know that, in the eyes of the thousands who value the Cairngorms, they are in danger of blowing their credibility as a government agency capable of protecting our heritage, if they let go of the reins on this one.

Jennifer A Cook, September 2000

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