THE Waverley will not call in at Fort William for the first time in almost 30 years this summer because the town's pier has become "dilapidated" due to neglect by the local council, it is being claimed.

The wooden fenders that prevent ships being damaged as they come alongside the pier are in urgent need of upgrading work and the operators of the last sea-going paddle steamer have confirmed that they have been asked by the Highland Council not to call at the town at the foot of Ben Nevis.

The decision sparked criticism from local businessmen who said there would be great disappointment among residents and visitors, while others criticised the council for neglect of the pier.

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Stewart Maclean, who is the spokesman for the A82 Partnership which has campaigning to get the Fort William's trunk road upgraded, said: "The Waverley has been a welcome summer visitor for many years and it was always great to see her heading up and down Loch Linnhe with her paddles churning through the water. Locals and visitors looked forward to seeing her."

A spokeswoman for Waverley Excursions 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 said the Waverley had been calling at Fort William for almost 30 years and no other suitable pier could be found in the immediate area to accommodate the vessel.

"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," she said.

A spokeswoman for Highland Council said: "Unfortunately 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.

"The pier will still be available for use by larger cruise vessels as they anchor in the loch and use smaller vessels to transport the passengers ashore. Once funding is identified the works will be undertaken as soon as possible."

The Clyde-built Waverley will now travel to the Western Isles and spend the summer exploring the rest of the west coast of Scotland before heading to Liverpool and North Wales, followed by the Bristol Channel.