Shuts down for months
Safety concerns put Cairngorm funicular out of action
Structural issues have concerned the owner of the railway
The Cairngorm mountain funicular will remain closed throughout the summer and possibly longer as concerns rose about the safety of the structures supporting the tracks.
The funicular has been shut since the start of October and specialist engineers from COWI were commissioned to carry out a detailed investigation by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which owns the facility.
Engineers have concluded that the structure does not present an immediate danger to the public. However, the safety margin is lower than desirable and they say a series of measures should be put in place to address weaknesses before resumption of service.
COWI carried out the investigation between September and December last year, including excavating around foundations and intrusive investigations of the structure.
HIE is currently exploring the scope and cost of these works, and this is expected to take several weeks.
Work on the structure of the funicular can only be carried out during summer months when the mountain is more accessible to contractors. It will therefore remain out of service for the remainder of the current winter season and throughout the summer months and possibly longer.
New snow making equipment began operating in December and is proving popular with beginners. Up to 100 skiers a day can access artificial snow on the lower slopes, and ski tows can provide uplift to higher parts of the mountain when there is enough natural snowfall and conditions are favourable.
Looking forward, HIE subsidiary operating firm, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Limited (CMSL), is developing a range of alternative options to offer summer visitors.
Susan Smith, HIE’s head of business development, said: “Our goal is to have the funicular up and running as soon as is safe to do so, but in the meantime, we anticipate it will remain out of service throughout the summer months and possibly beyond. We will provide further updates as things progress.”
Chamber opposes tourist tax
The introduction of a proposed ‘tourist tax’ in the Highlands would run the risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, according to Inverness Chamber of Commerce.
In a strongly-worded letter to the Scottish Government, which is holding a national discussion on a possible Transient Visitor Levy, Inverness Chamber’s chief executive Stewart Nicol said it would be a further unwelcome tax on the area’s hard-pressed tourism and hospitality sector.
Inverness Chamber, which represents 420 businesses, including a significant number of tourism operators, has been a long-standing opponent of a visitor levy.
In his letter on behalf of the Board of Inverness Chamber, Mr Nicol says: “The tourism sector is already facing unprecedented challenges with recruitment and the retention of skilled staff. In the Highlands, this has been a real challenge for many years and has been critically exacerbated by Brexit.
“We have a real concern that there is a danger of ‘killing the goose’ with this proposed levy. The sector has been under some significant and well documented cost challenges in recent years, particularly around business rates.
“Regardless of how the levy is framed, this would act as a further unwelcome tax on this hard-pressed sector.”
Mr Nicol said that much has been made of internationally-comparative countries, particularly in Europe, which have successfully implemented similar tourist tax policies.
However, he said: “Your own analysis makes it clear that the overall fiscal regime in such countries is fundamentally different and much lower. If implemented in Scotland, this would add to an already burdensome tax structure.”
Inverness Chamber has also questioned the intention of having the tourism levy collected by local authorities who would ring-fence the funds for ‘tourism projects’ at a time they are under significant and increasing financial pressures.
“We have a real concern over imposing this additional administrative burden on over-stretched local authorities and have a concern whether in fact funds would be used in the entirety to deliver tourism-related investment”, Mr Nicol argued.
He also pointed out that many businesses in the Highlands and Islands travel to other parts of Scotland to do business and the area also attracts in-bound business people, with overnight stays the norm in each scenario. These stays will, presumably, also be subject to the tourism tax.
“This is perhaps an unintended consequence of the tourism tax that will be an additional burden on Highland businesses as well as giving out a message that the Highlands could be an increasingly expensive place in which to do business.”
Edinburgh Council recommends tax
Edinburgh City Council will table detailed proposals to the Scottish Government to charge visitors £2 a night in the UK’s first tourist tax.
Despite currently having no legal mechanism for introducing the tourist tax or transient visitor levy, the plans will be turned over to Holyrood ministers, subject to the approval of full council next week.
The Scottish Government said it has “no plans at present” to introduce the levy. The charge would apply to “all paid accommodation” across the capital, including short term lets and hostels. There would be an exemption for camp sites and a cap of seven consecutive nights.
In order to mitigate the impact of setting up and collection costs on accommodation providers, it is proposed that they retain 1.5% of revenue raised for the first two years.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have taken forward a national discussion on tourist taxes, as this is a complex national issue and one that provokes strong opinions.
“We have no plans at present to introduce a tourist tax. Any new powers would take legislation and time to get them right from the start. We will continue to engage with industry and local authority partners on this complex national issue.”