Major plans have been unveiled for a £90million revamp of Mallaig Harbour.
A masterplan for the busy West Highland fishing port includes building facilities for bigger boats and even cruise liners, tripling the size of the marina and creating a new slipway for watersports.
The proposals, which will be phased in over 15 years, would retain existing jobs, create new ones – and could provide a base for the renewable energy sector and timber trade.
Mallaig Harbour Authority will now seek to finalise costings and secure funding for a preferred project option – and a final plan is expected by the autumn.
Key to the whole expansion will be sourcing enough rock to build an outer breakwater to the north of the existing outer harbour pier. This will allow a new quay and ferry berth to be built to accommodate bigger ferries, cruise liners and cargo ships in deeper water within the first decade of expansion.
The masterplan has emerged after plans for the £3million Corpach marina project at the southern end of the Caledonian Canal were submitted towards the end of last year.
Yesterday, Harbour Authority chief executive Robert MacMillan said the masterplan will provide a structured framework for the development and transformation of the harbour by the early to mis 2030s.
He added: “These boats are only getting bigger and we have to safeguard the future of the harbour.
“It’s about safeguarding for future ferry use, jobs in the fish farming industry and increased yacht usage. It’s a vital development for the local economy. ”
Plans in the first five years will involve relocating the existing boatyard to the outer harbour for much-needed extra capacity, as well as improving the ice plant and storage facilities to support fishing-related activity.
Focus in the middle harbour will be on improving facilities for fishing and freight operations.
A planned regeneration of the waterfront would include expanding the marina from 50 to 150 berths, building a leisure slipway for watersports, building more car parking, extending the promenade and redeveloping the former boatyard site.
Work will also take place to improve the infrastructure for passenger only ferries and small cruise boat tours to support this growing sector.
Within 10 years, the harbour could also become a potential base for the installation and maintenance of wave, tidal and wind power devices, and for cargo such as road salt and timber products which could be transferred to the islands.
Facilities will be developed in line with demand in these emerging markets in the subsequent five years.
Yesterday Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes said she was “absolutely delighted” with the scale of the investment, adding: “The plans could make a huge difference to the ferry service as the revamp will allow bigger ferries, cruise liners and cargo ships to berth in deeper water within the decade.
“Both the fishing and tourism sectors can be unpredictable because of markets and the weather, so investing a whopping £90m will help to secure more sustainable career opportunities and that is fantastic news.
“I welcome any and all investment in the West Highlands – we’ve got stunning scenery that draws visitors, we’re a renowned source of seafood and we’re home to lots of small, entrepreneurial businesses.
“But it does need investment to unlock our full potential – and I hope that the plans for Mallaig harbour will do exactly that.”
Caol and Mallaig councillor Bill Clark said that both he and the people of Mallaig are “excited” by the plans.
He added: “This is all great news for Lochaber. Fort William has had good news recently with the number of cruise ships being lined up for the coming year, and there is a planning application in for a new marina in Corpach. The west coast can be an area for yachts, cruise ships and more small boats.
“It’s going to keep many more young people in the area. We have been losing young people because of a lack of employment and now with things on the up, we will be able to keep many more. That’s a great thing for the area.”
The harbour authority is working on the harbour project in partnership with development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and Nevis Estate.