AN ambitious plan to transform Fort William’s waterfront with millions of tonnes of rock could bring a huge influx of cruise ships, with tens of thousands more tourists visiting the town and the surrounding west Highlands.

Last week saw the arrival at the town of this year’s first cruise ship for the year, the Astoria, with about 800 passengers and crew on board. Another four ships are expected this year and already eleven have booked to call next year.

The growth has been made possible by the Fort William Marina and Shoreline Company (FWMSC). It raised £185,000 in grants to pay for a floating pontoon at the west end of the town’s waterfront, installed in 2016.

Ships can now moor in Loch Linnhe and bring passengers ashore in tender boats to the pontoons.

But more ships would come if they could disembark passengers straight to land, so the volunteer-run company is developing a plan for a huge new jetty sticking out 150m into the loch.

That would reach the deep water where the cruise ships could anchor and allow passengers to go ashore under their own steam.

The plan – which local MP Ian Blackford has called “exciting” – would need a staggering 2.8 million tonnes of rock and the company is hoping it can come from excavations for the Loch a’ Choire Ghlais pumped-storage hydro-electricity scheme planned a few miles away in the Great Glen.

If the 20m-wide jetty is built it could mean cruise ships visiting every day, bringing a flood of new tourists into the area to visit Fort William’s shops, cafes and pubs.

Sarah Kennedy, the FWMSC secretary, said the organisation is already liaising with Scottish and Southern Energy, which is planning the hydro scheme, to see if rock brought to Fort William by boat along the Caledonian Canal could be dumped in the harbour to create the jetty.

“Hopefully that will then allow any cruise ship to come alongside,” Ms Kennedy said.

She believes it could mean 200 cruise ships visiting the town each year, and added: “It will cost a few million but if we can get the rock to extend out from the west end car park and get the buy-in from the council, MPs and MSPs it can be done – nothing is impossible.

“We are just a group of volunteers who want to improve things for Fort William and I think that would be an amazing way to go. It will generate a huge amount more tourism.”