The financially-troubled company which runs the Cairngorm funicular railway has been has been transferred to the ownership of Highlands and Islands Enterprise in a deal which will reduce the Company’s debt. Highlands and Islands already owned the land and the railway and will now own the operating company, with the day to day management likely to be put out to tender.
The Company has been hampered by massive debt since it built the railway in 2001. Conservations bitterly opposed the building of the attraction because of the impact on the fragile and very rare ecosytem of the high Cairngorms. Campaigners now say the financial troubles of the railway prove that it was never viable financially and that it should not have been built and they oppose the further investment of public funds. One of the ongoing issues is that visitors to the railway cannot get out at the top, this was a conditions of planning permission imposed to protect the flora and fauna, however Cairngorm Mountain have argued that this has limited their operations.
Douglas Yule, HIE’s director of operations said: “We’re pleased to have reached agreement with all parties and thank them for the part they’ve played in developing this superb and successful facility over the last seven years. We’ll now be meeting with stakeholders to draw up plans which can secure the sustainable future operation of the funicular railway.”
“We are also delighted to be working with the team at CairnGorm Mountain Limited, who have done such an excellent job of managing this year-round visitor attraction. CML has continued to provide opportunities for Scottish skiing and, with strong partnerships, ensure the facility remains at the forefront of environmental sustainability, whilst continuing to support the tourism industry in Badenoch & Strathspey and the wider Highlands.”
But the Ramblers’ Association in Scotland called for a halt to any more public spending on the project. Director Dave Morris said: “Our view is that this was inevitable and there must be an investigation by Audit Scotland into the whole history of financing this project.
“HIE should not be allowed to invest any more public money in it until that investigation has been completed and the Scottish Parliament has had the opportunity to scrutinise its findings. An absolutely huge sum of public money has been spent on this, but when it started its life it was supposed to have been private-sector led. We always held it was built in the wrong place.
“The top station should have been at the lower end of the Ptarmigan Bowl, away from the European designated sites, then they might not have had to have a closed system which prevents people getting out at the top. It might have succeeded then.”
This year has been one of the best for sometime in terms of skiing on Cairngorm with lots of magnificent snow late into the year – however with climate change this success may not be repeated in future decades.