George Allan

Readers will be well aware from the media that decisions regarding the future of the north side of Cairn Gorm are likely to be taken in the near future. With the closure of the funicular, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) could no longer postpone the production of the long awaited masterplan and has finally commissioned three companies to compile this. At the time of writing, these companies are undertaking the background work which includes some measure of consulting with the public and with businesses on Speyside.

In the last edition of Mountain Views, we reported that NEMT had brought together various voluntary organisations with a view to influencing decisions. This led to five organisations (NEMT, Cairngorms Campaign, Campaign for a Better Cairngorm, Ramblers Scotland and The Scottish Wild Land Group) producing a "Vision for Cairn Gorm" which was circulated widely. The key recommendations in this are that:

Co-ordinated by NEMT, representatives of the voluntary bodies involved have held meetings with senior managers at HIE, including the Acting CEO, and, separately, with the consultants developing the masterplan. While these meeting were cordial and HIE and the consultants have given the impression of listening, there is widespread concern that key decisions have already been taken. In particular, HIE has made no secret that it intends to seek approval from the Scottish Government to repair the funicular and it has advised the consultants that their recommendations must be based on the assumption that the funicular will be operating; they cannot explore options for the mountain in its absence.

Many are concerned that key elements are being ignored. Cairn Gorm was losing market share of skiing in Scotland some years before the funicular was closed and the question as to why this has happened is not being asked loudly enough. There has been criticism of the online questionnaires being used by the consultants and questions are being asked as to how far the views of skiers right across Scotland are being canvassed. Glencoe appears to be doing well without the extent of public financial support which Cairn Gorm enjoys and people want to know what lessons are being learned from elsewhere.

It appears likely that the masterplan will be made public by the summer.
Parallel to this, the Auditor General is again investigating the past financial mismanagement of the ski area and she has also stated that she is interested in the implications of future plans. Numerous parties, including NEMT, have sent her information.

Of some alarm is that it has been reported that Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary responsible, expects that there will be some relaxation of the closed system whereby those using the funicular are not allowed out of the Ptarmigan building outside the ski season unless participating in formal guided walks. There is evidence that the closed system has worked well in limiting damage to the vegetation in the "designated sites". Perhaps now is the time for the First Minister to remind her Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism that her government's position is that there will be no relaxation of current EU environmental standards now that we have left the EU.

An application has now been made to Highland Council to repair the funicular. [application called in by CNPA]

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