CAIRNGORM UPDATE

George Allan

Following refusals by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to provide the information, it took a Freedom of Information request to HIE and parliamentary questions in September to find out that the business case for the funicular had been submitted to the Scottish Government for approval. Once this was known, NEMT launched a major campaign on behalf of three other voluntary bodies (Cairngorms Campaign; Scottish Wild Land Group; Ramblers Scotland). Whilst these groups were opposed to the repair of the funicular, the focus of the campaign was to try to ensure that MSPs and the public had a chance to scrutinise and debate the business case before the Government made a decision as to whether to repair. The campaign involved contacting the majority of MSPs directly, briefing members of Holyrood's Public Audit and Post Legislative Committee and contact with the media. A number of MSPs supported the voluntary organizationsí case and contacted the government and there was considerable press coverage. In addition, the Public Audit and Post Legislative Committee debated the Auditor General's last report of HIE's handling of the problems at Cairngorm; this included raising concerns about future decision making. As readers of Mountain Views will be well aware, this was all to no avail and the Scottish Government announced a decision to repair the funicular last October.

While extremely disappointing, this decision came as no surprise as HIE made it clear that it favoured repair from the word go and excluded serious consideration of options from the business case which challenged that position. Indeed, HIE had been in discussions for some time with a preferred contractor regarding undertaking the work. In retrospect, it is also clear that HIE had been working closely with the Scottish Government for some time.

Where does this leave Cairngorm? What is most surprising about the decision is how much is left out of the business case. The £20m funding package takes little account of proposed developments in the 'draft for a masterplan' published last summer. It covers the repair of the funicular, increased snow making, necessary improvements to aspects of the infrastructure and the underwriting of continuing loses in revenue. From a skiing point of view, of greatest concern is that no mention is made of the recommendations in the addendum to the SE consultantís report of 2019. This relegated the role of the funicular in winter to ski school use and made the case that a new high-speed chair was required to meet skiers needs. Without this, the business case returns the mountain to the situation prior to the closure of the funicular when skiers were deserting the hill due to poor facilities. The likely upshot is that HIE will come back to the Scottish government at some point with a begging bowl for much more money. If this happens, it will be outrageous that such costs were not included in the business case.

This is clearly not the end to this sorry saga. NEMT and other concerned parties will need to ensure that the repair to the funicular is undertaken to the highest standards and the ground fully restored. There are potential developments in the draft masterplan of concern. NEMT thinks that there is no place high on the hill for fairground attractions such as zip wires and a mountain coaster which, if there is public demand, could be sited elsewhere completely. Ominously, further relaxation of the closed system preventing people leaving the Ptarmigan in summer is back on the agenda and being vigorously touted by Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary responsible. There is plenty of campaigning to come to try to ensure that any developments are appropriate to a high mountain environment and take into account landscape issues.


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