TAC 47 Index
The Cairn Gorm funicular creaks forward, with on-site work now well in progress. Your Ed was able to see an illuminated digger high on the hill from way, way north on the A9 one beautiful July evening. It fair put the cherry on the sunset cake, so it did.
While the JCBs do their worst, recent developments include the publication of the funicular Visitor Management Plan and a very sleazy-looking job change by Highlands and Islands Enterprise chief executive Iain Robertson.
To set Robertson's career move in context, it should be recalled that, back in the early days of funicular planning, the all-important HIE was chaired by Sir Fraser Morrison, executive chairman of the Morrison construction group. He departed the statutory agency in 1998, thus neatly sidestepping any awkwardness regarding the subsequent awarding of the £9 million funicular contract to the Morrison Group. The award was overseen by Robertson, an Inverness-based solicitor who joined HIE as chief exec in 1990 after 15 years with BP. He is also on the board at both the Cairngorms Partnership and Locate in Scotland.
With the bulldozing season in full swing, mid-July saw the announcement that Robertson would leave HIE in October to become "group director for corporate development" with, you've guessed it, the Morrison Group. His appointment - which includes a comfy seat on the board - came after "a personal approach" by Sir Fraser. These things are so cyclical, they almost have an ugly elegance.
The Herald covered the stitch-up - sorry, appointment - in detail on 21 July, recalling their 1995 allegation that Morrisons had "known what was in the brief for the contract to establish new headquarters for the North of Scotland Water Authority before it was ever sent out to competitors, and that HIE had made a presentation promoting Morrisons".
Robertson's leap drew a furious response from the non-governmental organisations sidelined during the consult-ation process. Bill Wright of the Cairngorms Campaign noted that: "Mr Robertson has been consistently vociferous in his support for the funicular even though it will cost the equivalent of over £100,000 per job created, a funding level that far exceeds the normal for investment of public funds." And now Robbo has hopped neatly across the fence.
As for the belated Visitor Management Plan, hard copies are only available at £6.50 a shot, while the online version, tucked away at www.aviemore.co.uk/cairngorm/vmp.htm, requires knowledge of decompression software before it can be read. And, as the MCofS points out, "the consultation was at the worst possible time of year as many walkers, climbers and skiers take their main summer holiday in July".
The MCofS also notes: "We believe [the funicular] is a fatally flawed plan that has an inadequate economic justification and is an inappropriate response to the operating problems faced by the Cairngorm Chairlift Company. Our calls for meetings and suggestions for alternative plans have been consistently ignored and we have been excluded from the research and decision-making processes. Despite the fact that construction work is now taking place our position has not changed. We remain opposed to the whole scheme and our objective is to ... see the funicular removed from Cairn Gorm." The MCofS concludes: "The VMP is far from being an acceptable and workable document ... there is a very real possibility that the funicular could be built, but not have legal clearance to take any passengers."
The Cairngorms Campaign have likewise been angered by the VMP: "The results of [our] detailed analysis ... have revealed that the final plan is incomplete, impractical and unworkable. Key components have been paid scant regard, assumptions have been unsubstantiated, and a bizarre closed system employed to keep passengers in and others out. The Campaign is now calling on SNH board members to reject the plan [and] point out that the plan still fails to secure a solution to the complex visitor management problems the funicular would create within one of the most important sites for nature conservation within Europe."
The situation on Cairn Gorm is still, to use an unfortunate word, developing, so to keep tabs directly here are some contacts: Mountaineering Council of Scotland: 01738 638227 - note the new address of The Old Granary, West Mill St, Perth, PH1 5QP; Cairngorms Campaign: 01350 727152.
The National Parks Bill is now an act of the Scottish parliament. Designation orders, park boundaries etc will follow. The Sandford Principle should (ha!) ensure that environmental objectives take precedent in conflicts, at least in the core area. Read the act at http://www.scotland-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/legislation/scotland/acts2000/20000010.htm
TAC 47 Index