Highlands and Island Enterprise (HIE)’s head of business development Susan Smith moved yesterday to answer criticisms by local businesses and politicians of HIE’s role in the row over the closure of the mountain’s funicular railway for the duration due to safety concerns.
HIE owns CairnGorm, and leases it to leisure company Natural Retreats, to be operated by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd.
Aviemore Business Association (ABA) called for the Scottish Government to form a cross-party committee to “investigate the incompetence of HIE”.
ABA secretary Alan Brattey said: “It’s long past time for HIE’s CEO to be ordered to Edinburgh to answer for the fact that HIE’s failed strategy has led the Cairngorm Mountain business and the wider Strathspey economy to the edge of disaster.”
Ms Smith said: “We’re working night and day to make sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time to give the community confidence that there will be snow sports at CairnGorm mountain this year.
“We understand that there’s huge concern and huge frustration around the funicular, but the reality is it came about of the blue. We had to respond when the engineers said to us we should take action to investigate further. Safety is of paramount importance.
“We take part in many parliamentary discussions and debates and we would welcome an opportunity to do that if that was the desired way forward.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “HIE is supporting local businesses affected by the closure, including providing one-to-one advice and access to loan funding.”
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Ms Smith said a report on the CairnGorm uplift infrastructure commissioned from US consultants SE Group to be released in the next few weeks is ‘hugely reassuring’.
She said: “We’ve received immense comfort from SE Group over future investment for CairnGorm over the next ten years. The report has consulted widely and everyone seems heartened that there’s a vision and a strategy.”
The immediate priority is to get snow-making facilities onto the mountain base, she said.
“We’ll be taking a paper to the HIE board at the end of the month looking for support for a fully integrated snow-making facility to enable the surface tows to run in December.”
Highlands & Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “I’m writing to Natural Retreats about how it is going to operate pricing given that it appears to be a lack of clarity over season tickets, early-bird tickets, a reduced-price ticket, or itison vouchers purchased for the funicular railway.”
Ewan Kearney, Chief Operating Officer at CairnGorm Mountain Ltd said: “We are more than happy to speak to Rhoda Grant and answer her queries.”