Recent poor skiing conditions have thrown a spanner in the works of the plan to transfer the Cairngorm Estate ownership.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) was due to hand over the 1,418 hectare (3,304 acre) area to the Forestry Commission. Talks have now been suspended while a new business plan is drawn up.
Included in the estate is the Cairngorm funicular railway and ski slopes. The summit of Cairn Gorm is also owned by the estate. Cairngorm Mountain Ltd (CML), which operates the railway and ski centre, says it now needs investment to diversify and attract visitors year round to compensate for poor numbers during the winter sports season.
In February, CML chief executive Bob Kinnaird raised concerns about Forestry Commission Scotland’s (FCS) ability to invest in the estate. He said: “We firmly believe that the transfer of the estate between two public agencies should only take place if there are tangible additional public benefits.
“Prior to any potential transfer, CML simply seeks assurance that FCS has the financial capacity to deliver these additional public benefits. All indications from communications between CML and FCS suggest that FCS has no budget in place to provide the investment required to deliver these benefits.”
In a statement issued this week, HIE said: “HIE has decided to retain its ownership of the estate for the present time and has agreed with the Commission to suspend discussions around a possible transfer.”
Keith Bryers, HIE head of property and infrastructure said: “This is a question of timing. Our discussions with FCS have been positive and productive and it remains HIE’s intention to seek to transfer ownership of Cairngorm Estate at a future date.
“Our priority at present, however, must be to work with the funicular operating company to establish a business which is sustainable in the long term and will not present uncertainties to a future landlord.
“The process which we have gone through with FCS has laid valuable groundwork to ensure that, when the time is right, HIE will be able to relinquish its ownership as smoothly as possible.”
The estate also includes the Ptarmigan restaurant and runs guided walks in the Cairn Gorm area.