Trouble on the Mountain - Issues at Cairngorm Ski Centre

Dave Windle & George Allan

Natural Retreats took over the management of the ski area on Cairngorm a couple of years ago on a long lease but do they know what they are doing? In the last edition of Mountain Views, we reported on their plans to rebuild the base station. These have now been abandoned in favour of revamping the existing structure. Secondly, the company still has to produce plans for the business and what further activities they hope to develop. All that has been said is that they hope to make what is provided more family friendly and 'weather resilient'. There is talk of mountain biking, as summer is when the opportunities for increased income are greatest, but concrete ideas have yet to be put forward. Thirdly, and alarmingly, they failed to obtain planning consent for some aspects of work they have undertaken. This has led to considerable anger amongst environmentalists and has, rightly, received negative responses in the press. When representatives of NEMT, the Cairngorms Campaign and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks met with staff from Natural Retreats soon after the company took over the management of the ski area, reassurances were given that the company was well aware of its responsibilities towards a controversial and environmentally sensitive area. Despite this, work has been undertaken without planning approval and considerable damage has been caused.

Planning permission was granted to replace the shieling tow with a rope tow, replace the shieling rope tow and to re-profile the slope. So far, so good. However:

There must also be questions about the legal status of other work carried out beyond the areas given consent.

At the time of writing, the Park Authority is considering a retrospective planning application by Natural Retreats to keep the new track. Beyond simple convenience and a cost saving in not having to remove the track, NEMT can see no good reason for this new visually intrusive track and has submitted an objection. NEMT also sees this as something of a test case regarding the Park's resolve in protecting the environment and not giving into the pressures surrounding retrospective applications. With this in mind, NEMT has asked the Park Authority if an NEMT representative can address the Planning Committee. The whole sorry saga raised three issues:

Representatives of NEMT, Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group and the Cairngorms Campaign met with Natural Retreats on 2nd September to discuss these issues. The meeting was constructive and useful. Natural Retreats outlined a number of areas where they had made improvements:

These are very sensible improvements and we look forward to seeing a better standard of work when engineering work is carried out next year. Clearly, the key test will be to see Natural Retreats deliver on the ground next year.

We also discussed the excessive amount of rubbish lying around. It is hoped that the company will make efforts to tidy up the whole area which is something of a disgrace.

We agreed that the meeting was useful and intend to meet regularly going forward.

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