NEMT has previously bemoaned, in Mountain Views, the lack of a masterplan for Cairngorm Mountain. The Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy, published in 2016, stated that a plan for the mountain would follow. To quote the Strategy -
"Natural Retreats and Forest Enterprise Scotland will lead on developing long term spatial plans that set out the actions focused on improving the visitor experience, including facilities, at Cairngorm Mountain and Glenmore respectively. The aim is to complete these plans in the next 18 months."
18 months is now well past and no strategy for the mountain (a coherent plan for its long term development) has appeared.
Lead responsibility for the Cairngorm part of this falls to the company operating the ski areas which was then called Natural Retreats. The company's name keeps changing reflecting the convoluted management arrangements behind the scenes; these have led to questions being raised about how the finances, and required investment in Cairngorm, are being dealt with. To prevent confusion, in this article the company managing the ski area will be referred to as Cairngorm Mountain Ltd., which appears to be its operating title. What has emerged since 2016 has been a drip-drip of proposals, some since withdrawn, along with certain actions, but no proper masterplan. The following gives a flavour of the dysfunctional approach to the development of the ski area:
North East Mountain Trust (NEMT) has no comments on possible changes to the existing uplift system. However, NEMT is concerned that environmental matters are given full consideration when designing proposals for any new or altered uplift.
There must be no proposals for developments outwith the boundaries currently covered by uplift (i.e. Coire na Ciste and Coire Cas).
NEMT believes that an over-arching environmental plan needs to be developed. The potential environmental impact of each individual proposal for changes to the current infrastructure then needs to be evaluated against this plan and these evaluations must be made public.
The plan needs to include a range of mitigation measures, such as tree and shrub planting, to both reduce the unsightly appearance of the existing area and provide a more positive experience for those skiing and those visiting the area.
New permanent vehicle tracks should only be proposed where absolutely necessary and should be built sensitively and after obtaining the necessary planning permissions. Simply stating that they are needed for maintenance is not sufficient reason as there are numerous examples of lift systems with no maintenance tracks.
Any proposals for snow making need to take account of the extra water stored on the hill and released during thawing. It is noted that the drainage system in the area is already subject to flash flooding. Unless managed carefully, any man-made snow is likely to exacerbate flooding lower in the glen.
NEMT is not convinced that there is a need to construct any new paths but supports the regular maintenance of existing ones.
There has been recent removal of infrastructure and rubbish. While acknowledging that taking some infrastructure down was highly controversial, much of this 'tidy up' was welcomed by NEMT. Any future plan should include consideration of whether more could be done, particularly in respect of the removal of any little used vehicle tracks.
Proposals for developments on Cairngorm have, to date, been presented incrementally. This is unhelpful and must stop. It does not allow either skiers or the wider public to judge what the overall implications are. A full plan for all developments (buildings, ski infrastructure, other infrastructure) must be brought forward and put out for public consultation before any planning applications are submitted. This will allow concerns to be considered at an early stage and will ensure proposals meet skiers' needs. Such a 'masterplan' was promised as part of the 'Cairngorm and Glenmore Strategy' and this promise must be kept.
All this is simply not good enough. Piecemeal development will lead to incoherence on the ground. It is hoped that the National Park and The National Forest Estate, as members of the Cairngorm and Glenmore Partnership, are banging the heads of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Cairngorm Mountain Ltd. together and insisting that a proper strategy is produced, and put out for public comment, before any further developments are mooted or planning applications are lodged. No one wants to see the ski area continue to be a financial liability, fail to meet the needs of skiers and remain an environmental blackspot. NEMT knows that the Park is frustrated with the situation. Grant Moir (CEO of the Park), in correspondence with NEMT, has signalled the Park's strong desire for a strategy to be developed.
In Mountain Views 76, we noted that a group was formulating a plan to use the community right to buy legislation to launch a bid to acquire the ski area from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust has grown out of the Save the Ciste Campaign. It is a not for profit community organisation driven by local skiers and business interests. The Trust has ambitious plans to develop skiing and make the whole enterprise more sustainable. Its ideas were laid out in a public drop-in session in Aviemore at the end of last year. A three phase programme for development includes increasing snow cover in both the Cas and Ciste by building small scale hydro schemes in both coires to feed snow factories, along with improved fencing. A new chairlift and an artificial ski slope are proposed for the Ciste, with lift replacement elsewhere. The Trust proposes to develop the area at the bottom of the Ciste with a cafe, environmental education centre and a camping and van hook up area. Proposed non skiing developments include tubing, mountain biking and an alpine coaster. A bid for a community buyout is likely to prove contentious and politically charged.
NEMT has links with the Trust and awaits developments with interest, however we have not yet formed a view on the various aspects of what is being proposed. Protection and enhancement of the environment will guide NEMT's decision making.
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