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Critics say repairing the Cairngorm funicular will not attract more visitors


By Gavin Musgrove

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The funicular has been closed since September 2018 because of concerns about the integrity of the concrete pillars and bearings carrying the two kilometres of track.
The funicular has been closed since September 2018 because of concerns about the integrity of the concrete pillars and bearings carrying the two kilometres of track.

Critics of the decision to repair the Cairngorm funicular have said that the owners and Scottish Government have failed to learn lessons from past mistakes.

They claim there is no reason reinstating the mountain railway at a cost of £16m will attract significantly more visitors once it reopens as now scheduled in time for winter 2021/22.

They have pointed out in the four years of operation up to the funicular's closure in Autumn 2018 the ski resort had already lost a large share of the Scottish ski market.

In the period 2004-2013 Cairngorm Mountain enjoyed a steady market share of 40.6 per cent, averaging 78,010 skiers per annum.

In the following four seasons the resort's market share had fallen to 34.6 per cent, and annual skier average to 60,693.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Government announced on Friday that they would be providing £10.35m and £10.16m respectively in funding to revive the resort.

In addition revenue funding from the public purse ranging from between £9.76m and £14.57m is expected to be required over a five-year period to support the operating company until 2026.

Alan Brattey, of the Save the Ciste campaing group, said the funicular railway had been a commercial failure since it was commissioned.

He said: "Passenger numbers had been falling considerable during the last five years of operation, prior to it failing and the number of snowsports enthusiasts coming to Cairngorm had also collapsed.

"The repair work, at a cost of circa £16m will do nothing to address the inbuilt inefficiencies associated with snow covered tracks and a blocked tunnel mouth as well as the very significant uplift capacity constraints that are caused by mid-station stops.

"These inefficiencies cause customer dissatisfaction, due to late opening, and that has led tens of thousands of snowsports enthusiasts to pursue their sport elsewhere.

"Repairing the funicular will not bring them back to Cairngorm.

"In 2001, Fergus Ewing MSP who is now the minister for tourism had this to say: 'Claims that the funicular railway is reliant on public money are totally absurd and without foundation'.

"He's had almost 19 years to reflect on that statement and he now supports providing an ongoing public subsidy of some £2m to £3m each year to ensure that the funicular doesn't cause yet another failure of the hill business.

"It is our view that the public purse should not be abused in this way and we urge a rethink.''

Mr Brattey also highlighted flaws in the business case: "The cost of removing the funicular at circa £17m is actually the cost of removing everything from the hill. However, it cost less than £250,000 to remove both the Coire na Ciste and West Wall chairlifts."

Other campaigners have also claimed that the business case has many holes in it.

Mike Dearman had been the public face of the trust aiming for an asset transfer of Cairngorm Mountain but left after becoming frustrated by HIE's 'reluctance to engage with the group in any meaningful way'
Mike Dearman had been the public face of the trust aiming for an asset transfer of Cairngorm Mountain but left after becoming frustrated by HIE's 'reluctance to engage with the group in any meaningful way'

Aviemore business leader Mike Dearman, a founding member of the Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust, said: "I did not find the business case to be credible at all.

"The business case compares only the most expensive and least credible alternatives to the funicular, and dramatically understates the potential earnings.

"I can only assume this is to set the bar as low as possible and save further embarrassment, or to inflate the justification for later investment.

"I wish to see investment at Cairngorm and believe it could still become a successful business, but the decision to repair is not justified and carries a price tag which is not defensible.

"I find it remarkable that the Scottish Government think this is value for money at a time when public finances are under unprecedented pressure."

George Allan, North East Mountain Trust spokesman, said: "We think that this decision simply takes Cairngorm back to the situation which hasn't worked for skiers in the past.

"The addendum to the SE consultations report in 2019 commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, recommended that, in winter, the funicular be relegated to the role of use by ski schools and a new, high speed chair be constructed to ensure faster movement of skiers up the hill.

"There is no high speed chair in the business case.

"Frankly, we are stunned by this. How can repair of the funicular on its own be a solution to the reduction in the number of skiers using Cairngorm – a reduction which started long before the funicular went out of service?

"Perhaps HIE intends to go back to the Scottish Government in due course for the £7m needed for this chair. If that is the case, the cost of this should have been in the business case."

HIE's contribution will including £8.5m that it earned from the sale of the Centre for Health Science in Inverness to the University of the Highlands and Islands.

This means it will not impact on funding for other parts of the region, the agency said.

The full funicular business case can be read here



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