WHILE Scotland’s Minister for Tourism Fergus Ewing believes £20m to repair the broken funicular train on Cairn Gorm’s ski grounds represents “investment that will generate significant economic benefit for Strathspey and Badenoch,” many local folk disagree.

Ski-ing development on Cairn Gorm, near Aviemore, has a controversial history. In the 1990’s the Cairngorm Ski Company wanted to extend ski-ing into the adjacent corries and Lurcher’s Gully but the plans were eventually kicked out after an expensive public inquiry.

Lack of snow and cheap ski holidays on the continent had a serious effect on visitor numbers during the eighties and nineties and in an attempt to attract summer visitors, plans were put forward for a funicular train in Coire Cas. The track was built in Coire Cas in 2001, despite considerable opposition from Scotland’s environmental groups. Further controversy mired the building project, with budget over-runs, allegations of conflicts of interest by those connected to both Highlands and Islands Enterprise, who own the Cairn Gorm estate, and the construction company, and questions were raised about the use of public money.

Indeed, the funicular has hardly been a roaring success, suffering from snow (ironically) that regularly blocked the tunnel that leads to its top station at 1097m/3599ft, and once the initial attraction died away, poor visitor numbers.

In its seventeen years of existence two operating companies have gone bust, despite considerable Scottish Government bail-outs.

Then, in September 2018 the funicular was closed to the public due to structural problems in the track. In a report at the time engineers said: "The structure's condition is disappointing for its age, regardless of its environment. There are various defects appearing that demonstrate an ongoing deterioration of the structure.”

The construction was estimated to have cost around £19.6 million, mostly funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), a government body. £2.7 million was provided by the EU.

There has been longstanding and justified criticism of HIE’s management of the Cairn Gorm estate and many believe a community buy-out would ensure enthusiastic and knowledgeable management of the ski grounds. Those local folk interested in taking on the running of the estate insist that a funicular train would simply be a financial burden and that new and improved ski uplift facilities would be a far better investment than repairing a broken train track.

READ MORE: Cairngorm funicular: Railway to reopen in 2021 after funding pledged

Aviemore has long been hailed as Scotland’s only all-year-round holiday centre and it’s fair to say that despite Covid-19, the village has been heaving with visitors all summer. Glenmore, just below Cairngorm, has been so busy that local folk have been complaining bitterly of over-tourism.

Aviemore and Glenmore don’t need a funicular train to attract visitors. That has been crystal clear over the past two years. What is required is investment in the existing ski facilities to enable the area to continue it’s all-year-round appeal, and to protect Aviemore's proud ski heritage. And here’s a final thought.

If you were the operator of Aonach Mor ski grounds, or Glenshee, Glen Coe or The Lecht, how would you feel about the preferential Government treatment that one of your competitors is attracting? Would you be asking questions about HIE’s involvement in the ski business or would you be wishing that Fergus Ewing, the Tourism Minister, was your local MSP?