THE world-famous Waverley paddle steamer will not call into a harbour for the first time in around 30 years because of “shameful neglect” of a local pier.
Highland Council has been accused of neglecting a pier to such an extent that a popular tourist attraction has been cancelled this summer.
The local authority has told the operators of the Waverley paddle steamer, which has visited Fort William for around 30 years, that it cannot use the Town Pier this year because its wooden fenders have “become dilapidated”.
This sparked an angry reaction from local people who believe the council should not have allowed the pier to deteriorate,particularly as attemptsare being made to attract more cruise ships to the area.
Drew Purdon, who is a member of Fort William Community Council and runs the Crannog Seafood Restaurant on the pier, yesterday said the structure had been “shamefully neglected” for many years.
He said: “The pier and the building on the pier are iconic. Many photographs have been taken of them over the years. Various plans have been put forward for pontoons and breakwaters, but the pier is here and it is vital to Fort William.
“If it were to be closed down, it would be a tragic loss to the town.”
Waverley Excursions said the council had asked them not to include Fort William in their 2014 itinerary for the vessel, which is the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer.
A spokeswoman for the company said: “Waverley is unable to call at Fort William as the pier is requiring repair work and the council has requested we do not call this year.”
She added that the steamer had sailed from the Lochaber town since the mid-1980s and said they were unable to find another suitable location in the area as there were not many piers that could accommodate the vessel.
She said: “We hope Fort William residents will join us from Oban, Kyle or Mallaig instead.
“We will be delighted to return to Fort William once the pier has been repaired.”
A Highland Council spokeswoman confirmed that the pier was in need of urgent repairs.
She said: “The council endeavours to maintain all its facilities within the available budget. The wooden fenders at the Town Pier have become dilapidated and require replacement or repair.
“We are currently investigating the cost of remedial works with suitable contractors and will identify if and how they can be accommodated within the available budget.”
She added that the pier was still available for use by larger cruise vessels as they anchored out in the loch and used smaller boats to transport passengers ashore. She said: “Once funding is identified, the works will be undertaken as soon as possible.”