Ferry users are asking for compensation and plan to withhold council tax, after the Corran Ferry has been cancelled for “weeks”
In an open letter, one businesswoman has encouraged others to write to operator Highland Council to say there is a direct impact on tourism in the area due to the cancellation of the ferry.
Residents who use the ferry to access work in Fort William, are also planning to cancel council tax payments until the issue is resolved.
The six-minute ferry journey will now take motorists on a journey of at least one hour and 16 minutes as drivers are forced to drive around Loch Linnhe.
In an open letter to Highland Council’s chief executive Kate Lackie and council leader Raymond Bremner, business owner Joanne Matheson asks for details of the local authority’s compensation scheme.
Reliant on tourism
She writes: “My small business is heavily reliant on tourism trade.
“Many of my customers are people travelling to or from Fort William or Mallaig who decide to take the longer scenic route, making a day of it and stopping at businesses such as mine along the way.
“This type of custom was sorely hit during March because of the restricted service, but has now been eliminated entirely. I estimate that this could potentially remove up to 45% of my usual income making the business unviable.
“Were this a sudden unforeseen situation I’d have some sympathy, but Highland Council has known for twenty years that the MV Corran only had a twenty-year working life expectancy and should have started planning for replacement in 2001.
“Instead you waited until four years before the end of that timeframe to employ a project officer who then took five years to research and develop a ridiculously ambitious proposal which Highland Council has no way of funding, and would take at least six years to deliver – complete incompetence doesn’t come close to describing your failure in this matter.”
She continued: “The Maid of Glencoul is even older and since it has been required to shuttle continuously to attempt to keep up with traffic since the beginning of the year, it is hardly surprising that it has now failed.
“I am confident that maintaining a ‘lifeline service’ of this sort falls within your mandatory duties, and you have failed to do so.”
Other members of the community, two who work full time in medical care in Fort William, have said they will be withholding council tax to make up for the increase in fuel costs.
Solution needed now
One woman told The Press and Journal: “Everyone who works in Fort William is at a loss of what to do. Our fuel costs have tripled overnight, and the road is horrendous.
“The very least would be a passenger-only boat, but it is needed now – not in a few weeks.”
Fears have also been raised about deliveries to business and people planning to use the route for onwards travel to Mull.
The area’s Liberal Democrat councillor Angus MacDonald, who owns a number of businesses in Fort William including the Highland Cinema, described the situation as “mortifying and embarrassing”.
He said: “What is happening with the ferry is unforgivable.
“The Maid of Glencoul is 47 -years-old, of course it was going to break down. And we should have had a complete stock of replacement parts for both ferries.
“The proposed pair of new electric ferries and harbour work are costed at £70million, this is not affordable by the Highland Council who have had a decade of funding cuts from the Scottish Government.
“We need the new transport minister Kevin Stewart to visit and take responsibility for the ferries, do a survey of locals and consider a tunnel or bridge as a matter of urgency, .he has a budget of £4billion.
“The West Highlands needs some of that.”
We have prepared a list of the alternative routes available to people.
In a statement on Saturday, a Highland Council spokeswoman said a fault had been found with the ferry’s drive train.
“Unfortunately, due to vessel breakdown issues there will be no Corran Ferry service over the coming days.
Organising repairs will be delayed
“Unfortunately, it is highly likely there will be no service for several weeks. At present the Maid of Glencoul is to be towed to a dry dock for repairs.
Asking for the public’s understanding during this challenging time. they said the roads around Loch Linnhe would be “busier than usual”.
She said: “However, due to staff availability during the Easter weekend and the ferry team organising repairs this may be delayed until after Easter.
“We apologise for the inconvenience this will unfortunately cause for locals, businesses, and visitors alike, but this situation is out with our control at present.”
The chairman of Highland Council’s economy and infrastructure committee, Ken Gowans said he would update the community as soon as the council has any information.
He said: “Staff are working over the Easter holidays to find ways to mitigate the immediate outage, but I can provide assurance that the council is currently exploring a range of measures to that will provide a long term sustainable solution as matter of urgency.”
“We have been in discussion with CalMac who offered us additional engineering support and they are also helping where they can with spare parts but even with that repairs are likely to take some time to complete.”
He continued: “We are working closely with our multi-agency partners at Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Scottish Ambulance Service to manage the situation as best we can.”
Minister for Transport Kevin Stewart said: “The operation of transport links across the Corran Narrows is the responsibility of the Highland Council.
“Any decisions on maintenance, upgrades, or options to replace ferries would be a matter for them. I would be happy to visit Lochaber in due course, to learn more about the council’s plans for the Corran Narrows.
He added: “The previous deputy first minister also announced in the budget process that the Scottish Government would provide full revenue funding to councils who run their own ferry services.
“Officials are in discussions with the Highland Council about these costs.”