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Cta Man
Cairngorm Ptarmigan Snow Tim Winterburn Reduced

Cairngorm masterplan published

Published: 02/06/2021

A set of 10 strategies to shape development of the publicly-owned Cairngorm Estate over the next 25 years has been published by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Banner image by Tim Winterburn, base station image by Trevor Martin

The 3,500-acre estate (1,418 hectares) includes footpaths and trails offering access to wild areas that provide habitat for rare mountain flora and fauna, in addition to the well-known snowsports centre and funicular railway.

The development agency has prepared the Cairngorm Estate Masterplan following widespread consultation that included local community and business groups, sporting and nature conservation organisations, and public bodies with an interest in the mountain estate.

In addition, more than 2,100 people took up a public invitation to complete detailed online questionnaires and submit views directly to HIE.

The outcome is an overarching vision for the estate as: ‘a world-class mountain environment where nature thrives and people of all ages and abilities enjoy access to outdoor sport, recreation and education opportunities in every season of the year’.

The masterplan will act as a framework to help inform future development plans and support delivery of a suite of strategies that focus on 10 inter-related topics. These are:

  • an all-year sustainable operating model
  • cohesive ecology and habitat restoration
  • promoting active travel and sustainable transport
  • a mountain for all
  • Scottish Centre for the Mountain Environment
  • excellent visitor experience
  • mountain biking
  • decarbonising the mountain
  • access from the Ptarmigan building
  • monitoring implementation of new activities

Early priorities for HIE itself over the next two years include stabilising the present operating company, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) Ltd and reviewing options for future ownership and operating models.

Other areas of focus within the same timescale include ecology; sustainable transport; creating a plan for mountain biking; relocating the snow factory and electrifying snow cannons, and facilities development, including options for a new chairlift in Coire Cas.

Dave MacLeod, HIE’s head of property and infrastructure, said HIE’s ultimate aim was to unlock Cairngorm’s full potential as both an environmental and economic asset for the area.

“This masterplan is a really important tool to guide the development of lots of individual plans that will come forward in future,” said Mr MacLeod.

“Its impact will be felt for at least a generation and we really want to thank everyone, who took the time to engage with us and share their knowledge, experience and ideas.

“It was clear from the start that some issues will always be quite polarising. For instance, some people hold strong views both for and against changes to visitor management at the plateau and on the potential for mountain biking within the estate.

“Any future plans that might be brought forward on these subjects would need to be thought through very carefully and, of course, be subject to the regulatory planning process.

“Other aspects are more likely to win almost universal support, such as environmental protection and enhancement, decarbonisation, the quality of the visitor experience, improved accessibility, and a sustainable operating model that benefits the local economy throughout the year and not only in winter.”

Mountain education was another topic that found widespread approval during the consultation period, and the masterplan proposes replacing the present day lodge with a facility incorporating a centre of excellence for research and teaching that could also host businesses and community events.

The masterplan emphasises the importance of creating a sense of arrival at Cairngorm Mountain, with clear wayfinding to guide visitors to the range of experiences on offer.

It also notes that HIE’s decision to reinstate the funicular railway, which is due to come back into service in winter 2021-22 following completion of strengthening works that are currently underway, was taken while masterplan consultation was under way.

This decision acknowledged the findings of a study carried out be specialist consultants SE Group in 2018-19 which concluded that the funicular was a unique Scottish attraction that should be maintained and enhanced, and was based on a business case that also considered options to remove and replace the present structure.

Grant Moir, chief executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, said:

“We welcome the publication of the Cairngorm Estate Masterplan by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which sets out a clear vision for the future of the mountain as an environmental, cultural and economic asset for Scotland. We look forward to working with HIE and other partners to ensure the successful delivery of the masterplan over the next few years.”

Tourism Minister Ivan McKee said:

“The publication of the masterplan is an important step in defining the vision for the Cairngorm Estate over the next 25 years and follows extensive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders in the area.

“The long term sustainability of the Estate and its role in supporting the local community, the rural economy, snowsports and the wider tourism industry is a priority for the Scottish Government. The masterplan will enable work to continue on more detailed plans to maximise its potential for present and future generations whilst protecting the mountain environment.”

HIE was supported in developing the masterplan by Threesixty Architecture and Jura Consultants. The full document is available online at