Six Highland community councils have united to pressure the local authority to fix long standing issues at a ferry crossing which they claim are causing an exodus.
The Corran ferry provides a roughly five minute lifeline connection to Lochaber communities and is reportedly Scotland’s busiest single vessel crossing, used by 270,000 cars annually.
But repeated mechanical failures this year have left communities with a passenger only service and insufficient capacity, meaning some people face a round trip of up to 86 miles instead.
Highland Council said it understood concerns, while work on the ferry was ongoing “24 hours a day”.
The disruption has reportedly seen businesses shut due to a fall in trade, while locals have faced long trips to reach medical appointments and supermarkets, and struggled to receive deliveries, which is allegedly causing some to move away.
The situation led the community councils of Acharacle, Ardgour, Morvern, Nether Lochaber, Sunart and West Ardnamurchan to join up and demand financial compensation for businesses and residents from Highland Council, and for the procurement process for a new ferry to start now.
Communities ‘won’t survive’ ferry disruption
Andy Tilling, chair of Acharacle Community Council, called for a joint meeting with groups, which led to the formation of Corran Action Group.
“We’ve been demanding that Highland Council fulfil its obligation and provide us with a reliable crossing service for months, but they just don’t seem to understand the drastic impact this situation is having,” he said.
“They have an ambitious proposal for electric ferries and new infrastructure which will take years to deliver, but our communities are hurting now and we simply won’t survive another few years like this.
“People are putting their health at risk by skipping medical appointments, businesses are failing to generate sufficient income to pay their bills, and friends, family and tourists just aren’t coming to visit.”
He added: “I’m hearing more and more people saying they have no alternative but to move out of the area.”
The ageing ferry went for an annual service last October but had unresolved mechanical failures. This led to a reliance on a much older back-up vessel, which has also suffered breakdowns.
Highland Council has been working on a replacement strategy since forming a steering group in 2019, which includes community council representatives. The councils support the steering group’s proposed bid to the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, “but even if successful, it will arrive too late,” they argue.
There is a longer-term plan to replace ferries with a bridge or tunnel, but Tilling said communities need a solution now. “We won’t sit by and watch them collapse while Highland Council go through their bureaucratic procedures,” he added.
Highland Council held a meeting in Ardgour on 23 August to gain community views, in which community councils, local politicians and other stakeholders attended.
In addition to a daily foot passenger service from both Corran and Fort William to Ardgour, “a shuttle bus service and the A861 alternative road routes has undergone improvement with additional awareness signage and expanded passing places,” a spokesperson told The Ferret.
“The return of the MV Corran remains the key priority and the boatyard are working 24 hours a day. Weekly drydock progress reports are being issued to the Corran Ferry Steering Group.
“We wish to extend our thanks to the community for their patience and understanding throughout this challenging time. The importance of the Corran Ferry service is fully understood, and the concerns of the community are being heard.”
Update: We amended this article on 30 August at 11:28 to include a response from Highland Council.