The boss of Highlands and Islands Enterprise has admitted the quango will be “damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t” as it makes a final multi-million-pound decision on whether it repairs the crippled Cairn Gorm mountain railway.
Chairman Lorne Crerar said the agency will “move heaven and earth” to get the funicular running again, but only if a consultation exercise finds there is support for the move among people and businesses in the area.
Mr Crerar, who is stepping down next week from the post he has held for the past eight years, added that HIE recognised whatever action it decides on “there will be a body of people that think it’s the wrong thing to do.”
The funicular has been out of action since September 2018, when structural problems were found in support beams.
A company set up by HIE, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) has been running the winter sports resort since the previous operator, appointed by the agency in 2014, went into administration shortly after the railway’s failure.
HIE hired Jura Consultants and Threesixty Architecture to carry out a masterplanning exercise, including extensive local consultation, as it prepares a business case to put to the Scottish Government for extra funding for repair or demolition work.
Millions of pounds will be spent on either option of scrapping the funicular totally or repairing it.
Mr Crerar said: “I think we are in as good a place as we can be to decide what to do.
“That recognises that, whatever we do, there will be a body of people that think it’s the wrong thing to do, but at least it will be based on a complete netting of all the information.”
He added: “Through no fault of ours the funicular ceased to operate and we’ve been left in this very difficult position and we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.
“But what we are trying to persuade everyone is that of we are spending huge amounts of energy trying to do the right thing for Badenoch and Strathspey – and we are.”
The HIE chairman said the agency’s “direction of travel” was to repair the funicular.
But, he added: “If the masterplanning exercise comes out that what the community want is something different, it wouldn’t be right for us to pursue a policy that was not in line with what they want to achieve.
“But I’m pretty condfident that if repairing the funicular is what people want to see and economic impact is the key feature of it, then we’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that happens.”