Highlands and Islands Green politicians have raised community concerns with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) about its role in the running of the Cairngorm Mountain business.
John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has written Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE, posing a detailed series of questions from constituents regarding the considerable public money made available to the present operator, Naturalretreats.
Mr Finnie’s letter asks HIE to, “justify the loss of employment since their choice of tenant took over.” This follows direct redundancies in 2014 and a further reduction in employment due to the snowsports market share collapse. Mr Finnie points out that Cairngorm has the four lowest ever market shares, worryingly all recorded on the last 5 season, with just 23.6% of the market in 2017/18.
Badenoch and Strathspey Green Councillor Pippa Hadley said:
“We are keen to understand how HIE considers it has strengthened the local community over the last 4 years in light of the loss of custom on the hill, and consequently throughout Badenoch and Strathspey, leading to a knock-on impact on employment levels.
“HIE’s role is to ensure public monies are not only wisely dispersed but also deliver the widest possible community benefit and I am not convinced the communities I represent within Cairngorm National Park feel HIE is delivering on this aspect of its remit.”
Mr Finnie added:
“It would also be helpful to know why the operator has been permitted to apply for planning permission for an artificial slope in advance of the uplift review report being received form the SE group and why the operator is pursuing an unsustainable artificial slope development when small scale Hydro Turbines in Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste would provide a much greater and guaranteed return on investment as well as reducing the business cost base, regardless of the weather or the footfall on the hill.
“I’m advised that ‘HIE chose to remove the Coire na Ciste and West Wall Chairlifts in advance of spending around 80k of public money on an uplift review consultancy’ and, quite understandably, my constituents want to know why the cost of recommissioning these chairlifts was not established prior to a demolition decision and why was the demolition decision taken on the basis of a report that condemned some of the chairlift tower concrete bases but not the actual towers themselves.
“There are issues too about planning for extending and revamping the Ptarmigan building at a cost of about £2million pounds from a publicly funded loan and, as ever, disputes over numbers forecasts.
“Also, whilst very supportive of the Badenoch and Strathspey area, I have responsibilities for other areas with winter sports and there’s some cause to believe that, with regard to that industry, HIE have placed all the eggs in one basket, not a geographic area, rather thrown their lot in with a company with a questionable background.”