Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has raised questions in Holyrood about Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Natural Retreats over the operation of Cairngorm Mountain.
Mrs Grant raised a Topical Question today (Tuesday) asking the Scottish Government what action it was taking regarding its dealings with HIE and the company, in the light of a special investigation by the BBC.
She also pushed for the community to take over the running of the mountain to save the local economy.
“Cairngorm Mountain is crucial to the economy of Badenoch and Strathspey,” Mrs Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands, told MSPs.
“The community there have been expressing concerns for some time about the management of the Mountain by Natural Retreats and the flow of money in and out of the Cairngorm.
“As this is a complicated web involving a public body and its interaction with private companies, can the Cabinet Secretary tell me what financial checks were made of both Natural Retreats and Natural Assets Investments Ltd before they gained the management contact and while it was running?
She went on the ask Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing :
“Were Cairngorm Mountain Ltd in breach of contract when they went into receivership? If so could HIE have cancelled the contract rather than have to pay the receiver to take it back into ownership?
“Given the community’s desire to own this asset, will the Scottish Government now look a transferring it to them, while ensuring that all monies owing to HIE and the Government are recouped from Natural Retreats?”
Mrs Grant’s questions came against a background of a number of constituents and organisations who were concerned about the running of Cairngorm, especially in the light of Natural Retreats going into administration in November last year, weeks after the funicular was closed due to safety fears.
“However, questions were being asked about the private company and its apparent lack of investment long before it went into administration,” said Mrs Grant following her question in Parliament.
“The complexity of the financial situation made it very difficult to discover exactly what was happening with the flow or money.
“This is not only a question about what happened to get the mountain into this state, but what happens now and what investment can be given to the community which has plans to improve the hill for the future.
“Cairngorm is crucial for the economy of this jewel in the crown of the Highlands and crucial for all those who live and work there.”
In his reply Mr Ewing told Mrs Grant that he had asked HIE for a full account of the situation and will be meeting with them.
He agreed that Cairngorm was extremely important for Badenoch and Strathspey but also for the whole of the Scottish sports industry and he was “well aware” of questions being asked by the media and others in the community.
On the issue of any breach of contract and if public money could be paid back, Mr Ewing said these were “perfectly reasonable questions”, but stressed these were legal questions and it would be imprudent to answer off the cuff.
He said the questions were matters of concern to the public and of considerable public interest.
- The infrastructure of the mountain, the lifts and railway, are owned by the public, under the wing of HIE. In 2014 Natural Retreats took it over the running of Cairngorm. The BBC investigation highlighted that the company was then sold to Natural Assets Investments Limited – a company with many of the same directors as Natural Retreats. Natural Retreats had the lease to operate the mountain – but the assets had been transferred to the wider group.
Note to editors:
The Topical question:
- To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the recent BBC investigation, what action it is taking regarding its dealings with Natural Retreats and CairnGorm Mountain Limited.