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Popular Cairngorm funicular to be reinstated after £20million funding boost

Cairngorm funicular is to be repaired in a £20milliion project to make the struggling ski resort a year-round attraction.

The Scottish Government has announced more than £16m will be spent on the mountain railway, which has been out of action on safety grounds since September 2018. Work is expected to start this month.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the Cairngorm Mountain resort near Aviemore, will foot part of the bill.

It will use nearly £10m raised from last year’s sale of the Centre for Health Science to the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), with  the rest of the cash coming from the Scottish Government.

A further £4.35 million has been approved for “potential additional capital requirements” including building improvements, electrification of snow cannons, existing tow infrastructure, paths and car parking.

Cairn Gorm is more than a mountain. It’s at the heart of the community and a key driver of the local economy, providing high quality jobs and supporting the wider tourism sector in Strathspey and Badenoch.”

Charlotte Wright, HIE chief executive.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “We want to unlock the full potential of Cairn Gorm to make it a destination people can enjoy all year-round, and this significant investment couldn’t come at a better time.

“We know our tourism and hospitality sectors have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic and in Badenoch and Strathspey a quarter of the workforce is in the accommodation and food services sectors – more than double the proportion for the Highlands and Islands as a whole. By investing in the mountain we can generate significant economic benefits for the local area and our tourism sector.

“The business case for reinstating the funicular, which HIE has published today, made clear that repair and reinstatement was the preferred option. Removal was estimated to cost approximately £17million and would limit options around seasonal diversification on the mountain.

“The funicular will not only transport thousands of annual visitors up Cairn Gorm again next winter, it will also bring access to the mountain environment to a broad range of visitors, including children, older people and people with disabilities.”

The Cairngorm Funicular is to be reinstated. PICTURE: Sandy McCook

The funicular, built at a cost of £19.5m and opened in 2001, was taken out of operation after track supports were found to be unsafe. The first estimates from HIE put the costs of repairing the 6,460ft railway at £10-15m and removing it at up to £13m.

In May, the development agency was granted planning permission by the Cairngorm National Park Authority (CNPA) to carry out repairs to 63 of the funicular’s 94 concrete supporting piers. HIE had hoped work could start that month, but a decision by its board and the Scottish Government was delayed until August 20 by the Covid-19 pandemic.

HIE chief executive Charlotte Wright said: “Cairn Gorm is more than a mountain. It’s at the heart of the community and a key driver of the local economy, providing high quality jobs and supporting the wider tourism sector in Strathspey and Badenoch.

“Today’s announcement signals the importance of the Cairn Gorm Estate as a national asset for Scotland, with its potential as a mountain resort alongside its unique natural habitats. This investment will ensure it is ready to welcome thousands of visitors in all seasons of the year.

“With the funicular now set to be reinstated, and a range of other priority investments planned, we can continue to work with local stakeholders to ensure the surrounding business and communities can really begin to unlock Cairn Gorm’s potential and secure its future for decades to come.”

The Scottish Government said the decision to reinstate the funicular was taken following a “detailed options appraisal that also considered replacing it with alternative uplift infrastructure, or removing it entirely.”

“This is a new beginning for our local economy and will give business operators the confidence to invest for the future in their own operation.”

Councillor Bill Lobban.

Contactor Balfour Beatty has been appointed to carry out the work, which is due to be completed by winter 2021/22.

Mark Tate, chief executive of Cairngorm Business Partnership said:  “We welcome this news. It is great to finally have a way forward for the funicular. Along with our two other ski areas in the Cairngorms National Park, Cairngorm Mountain is critical to our winter economy and an important part of our cultural heritage.

“With the funicular, Cairngorm Mountain is also a key non winter attraction providing all abilities access to the heart of Cairngorms.”

Badenoch and Strathspey councillor, Bill Lobban, said: “This is fantastic news for Cairngorm Mountain and the whole area and it justifies the huge amount of time an effort that Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) MSL and HIE staff have devoted to keeping the business afloat since we took over from the previous operators.

“Scottish Government and HIE should be complemented on making this what will have been I am sure a difficult decision but which will be a massive boost for the economy of Aviemore, Badenoch and Strathspey and the whole of Scotland.

“This is a new beginning for our local economy and will give business operators the confidence to invest for the future in their own operation.”

The funding will make Cairngorm Mountain a year-round attraction. PICTURE: Sandy McCook

In 2014, HIE awarded private firm Natural Retreats UK a 25-year contract to run the Cairngorm  snowsports centre. In December 2018, the quango stepped in to manage the resort when the leisure company placed its subsidiary that operated it, CairnGorm Mountain (CML), into administration following the funicular’s closure.

Staff and assets of the failed firm were transferred to a new company, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland), set up by HIE in November 2018 to keep the resort operating, with the support of the agency’s own staff.

HIE is pursuing legal action against Natural Assets Investments, the holding company of the resort’s former operator, amid claims it failed to maintain its “guaranteed obligations” in running 
the resort.

The agency is also currently developing a “masterplan” for re-developing Cairngorm’s facilities.

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