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Mountain biking part of new Cairngorm mountain masterplan to shape next 25 years of estate

The new masterplan will help guide projects on the Cairngorm mountain estate for 25 years.
The new masterplan will help guide projects on the Cairngorm mountain estate for 25 years.

A masterplan to shape the next 25 years of the troubled Cairngorm mountain to make it a year-round destination has been revealed.

The blueprint includes 10 strategies to shape the development of the publicly-owned 3,500-acre estate, with hopes to bring mountain biking to the area.

Highlands and Islands Entrpise hope their vision will enhance the reputation of Cairngorm as a “world-class mountain” that allows nature to thrive while providing more outdoor opportunities.

What is the immediate priority?

Early priorities for HIE include stabilising the present operating company Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Ltd over the next two years.

However, investigations will be done to review potential ownership and operating models in the future

HIE has been pouring cash into the present operators to keep them afloat while also funding support for the struggling firm.

The Cairngorm funicular railway has been closed since September 2018.

The world famous funicular has been closed since September 2018 due to safety concerns, although repairs did begin last year.

It is hoped the railway will come back into service for the winter 2021/22 season once strengthening works have ben completed.

Other areas of early focus include developing sustainable transport options with limited car use, creating a plan for mountain biking, relocating the snow factory, electrifying snow cannons and examining options for a new chairlift in Coire Cas.

Recognition some issues will be ‘polarising’

Longer-term projects included in the Cairngorm mountain masterplan include emphasising the importance of creating “a sense of arrival” for visitors.

Blueprints are included in the document to create enhanced “gateways” where services for visitors will be centred.

Extensive path repairs and maintenance are included with proposals for clear signs to help people navigate the range of experiences.

The masterplan aims to create opportunities to ensure the estate is used all year by visitors who are interested in a range of outdoor pursuits.

Snowsports are a priority in the masterplan with hopes to develop other activities to make the mountain a year-round destination.

Dave MacLeod, HIE’s head of property and infrastructure, explained a balance needs to be struck to unlock Cairngorm’s full potential as an environmental and economic asset.

He said: “This masterplan is a really important tool to guide the development of lots of individual plans that will come forward in future.

“It was clear from the start that some issues will always be quite polarising. For instance, some people hold strong views both for and against changes to visitor management at the plateau and on the potential for mountain biking within the estate.

“Any future plans that might be brought forward on these subjects would need to be thought through very carefully and, of course, be subject to the regulatory planning process.”

Future focus on mountain education

The Cairngorm masterplan was drawn up following a public consultation that generate more than 2,100 responses.

Local businesses, community groups, sporting and nature conservation organisations and public bodies also submitted their views.

Mountain education was one topic that found widespread approval during the talks.

The masterplan proposes replacing the current lodge with a new facility incorporating a “centre of excellence” for research and teaching that can also host events.

Empty car parks have been common at Cairngorm throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Grant Moir, chief executive of the Cairngorm National Park Authority, has welcomed the publication, which he says sets a “clear vision” for the future of the estate.

Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government’s tourism minister, said: “The long term sustainability of the estate and its role in supporting the local community, the rural economy, snowsports and the wider tourism industry is a priority for the Scottish Government.

“The masterplan will enable work to continue on more detailed plans to maximise its potential for present and future generations whilst protecting the mountain environment.”

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