HIE takes control of CairnGorm Mountain

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The funicular railway has been closed due to a structural problem

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has taken over the running of CairnGorm Mountain snowsports centre and funicular railway.

Its parent company, Natural Retreats, had a 25-year lease to run the site near Aviemore.

Staff and other assets will transfer to the new company, which will trade as Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited.

The new company will honour season tickets purchased for this winter season.

HIE already owns the site, but had leased it to an outside operator. It has now been sold the business and assets of CML by the administrators, Campbell Dallas.

'Protect jobs'

The agency has contracted support from accountancy firm, Scott Moncrieff, to include a business turnaround specialist as interim chief executive to run the firm until the end of March.

Charlotte Wright, HIE chief executive, said the immediate focus of the new operating company was to ensure the best possible experience for visitors this winter.

She said: "The deal that we've reached will protect jobs and bring stability to the business, which plays an important role in the wider local economy."

Blair Milne, joint administrator and business recovery partner with Campbell Dallas, said the deal ensured continuity of operations and employment at CairnGorm Mountain.

The funicular railway has been out of action since September because of a structural problem.

Built at a cost of £26m and opened in 2001, it carries about 300,000 visitors each year,

Specialist engineers have been carrying out a detailed structural assessment. A report on their investigation is expected later this month.

CairnGorm Mountain: Challenges and opportunities

Image source, Natural Retreats
Image caption,
An artist's impression of a planned revamp of CairnGorm Mountain

Situated high in the Cairngorms near Aviemore, CairnGorm Mountain and its funicular railway has been owned by the public agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise since 2008.

In 2010, HIE was criticised by MSPs for failures which led to spiralling construction and running costs of the railway.

HIE provided £19.42m towards the £26m cost of the funicular, which opened in 2001.

Wilmslow-headquartered Natural Retreats bid for and won a 25-year lease to operate CairnGorm Mountain in 2014. The company has been running the site through the business CairnGorm Mountain Ltd.

The following year, Natural Retreats began consulting on a planned, estimated £15m revamp of the centre.

However, over the years it has been criticised for how it has run the snowsports centre, including for a decision to remove ski tows from an area called the Ciste.

Last year, Aviemore Business Association announced a proposal to mount a community buyout of CairnGorm Mountain. This effort is now being led by Aviemore and Glenmore Community Trust.

This year has seen a structural problem shut down the funicular, and the publication of a vision that included adding new ski tows and mountain rollercoaster ride. HIE said realising the ambitions set out in the vision would require £27m investment.

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