Repairs to the stricken funicular railway on Cairngorm Mountain can go ahead, Cairngorm national park authority (CNPA) has ruled – but the final green flag for the project depends on the business case under way for the centre.
The funicular has been out of action since autumn 2018 due to safety fears, prompting a storm of debate around the future of the centre and the railway.
Campaigners demanded a halt to the funicular repair plans, pending the publication of the Cairngorm Masterplan by Cairngorm owners Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) later this year.
After the determination, HIE said that the final decision to proceed with the repairs will depend on the outcome of their business case.
An HIE spokesman said: “The park authority’s decision is great news for Cairngorm and for the future of the local economy which relies on a strong tourism sector.
“We do need to be clear, however, that the final decision on whether to proceed with these works will depend on the outcomes of a detailed options appraisal and business case for Cairngorm Mountain.”
He said progress with these have been affected by Covid-19, but HIE hopes to put recommendations before their board and the Scottish Government in the summer.
“If the business case and options appraisal support reinstatement and are approved, we would clearly want to start work on the mountainside as quickly as possible,” he said.
The budget for the repairs is thought to be in the region of £10m, but will be clarified in the business case.
The repairs involve adding props on concrete bases to 63 of the funicular’s 94 piers.
Temporary tracks and compound areas would be created to facilitate the work, and the park authority was assured that these would be fully mitigated.
Park planning officer, Stephanie Wade said: “The long term landscape and visual impacts of those structures will be minimal and with the construction details submitted as well as recommended conditions attached, the disturbance to ground will be minimised and habitats will be restored on completion.”
CNPA planning convener Eleanor Mackintosh said there was no reason in policy terms to refuse the application.
“Objections to the proposals in terms of the cost, or peoples’ opinions on whether the funicular should be repaired or not, are not relevant in determining the application.”
Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group objected to the plans on conservation grounds and remained unconvinced.
Convener Gus Jones said: “The claim of the CNPA planners that approval of the repair work would not compromise or prejudge the masterplan is unconvincing.
“At least HIE will now wait until their masterplan has been submitted and approved before any more public money is poured into repair of the funicular.”