People are leaving Lochaber in the north west highlands and businesses  won't re-open next year because of long-running ferry disruption, a community councillor has warned.

There is currently no car service on the Corran ferry, which connects Lochaber to the Ardnamurchan peninsula, leaving motorists facing a lengthy detour.

The main vessel has been out of action for almost a year after developing a steering problem.

The relief boat, the older and smaller MV Maid of Glencoul, was put out of action by a breakdown over the weekend.

It returned to service on Monday, before it broke down again on Tuesday.

Highland Council has now said repairing the fault could take weeks

"It's [having] a huge impact," said Joanne Matheson of the disruption. 

"All of our businesses are being affected. 

"My business is down about 40% in trade this year, other businesses are reporting even higher losses and daily life is just so much more difficult.

The Herald:

"Getting to hospital appointments or dental appointments, GPs, even the vet is proving to be extremely difficult."

READ MORE: Lib Dems hit the Highlands in bid to reclaim Charles Kennedy's old seat

She said a solution by a firm of "well respected" engineers had been offered to Highland council.

"They have said that a replacement could be ordered an in service in around 9-12 months but Highland Council are saying they don't have the money," said Ms Matheson.

"They just haven't looked into that proposal at all as far as we can tell."

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland she said she was aware of businesses that have said they won't re-open in 2024 because of the disruption.

She said: "People are deciding to move out of the area. Houses are being put on the market and inevitably some of them will be bought by second homeowners.

READ MORE: Good Omens star Maggie Service on her love for Ardnamurchan

"The community will crumble, there is no question about it.

"Tourism is one of the biggest trades in the area and when it is cut off from us it means livelihoods are impossible.

"People will have no option but to move away," she added.

The five-minute journey across the Corran Narrows, between Corran and Ardgour, is the busiest single-vessel ferry route in Scotland and carries more than 270,000 cars each year.

She said the 42-mile detour by road was not a workable solution.

"Fort William gets log-jammed in the Summer months," said Ms Matheson.

"I heard someone say it took them nearly an hour to drive three miles from one side of Fort William to the other due to heavy traffic.

"More traffic going through Fort William is not good. 

"How long can people who used to have a 25-minute drive to work continue having an hour-and-a-half journey to work.

"It's only a matter of time before they decide to go elsewhere."

Malcolm MacLeod, deputy chief executive of Highland Council apologised to the community for the latest setback in a video message shared today by the local authority.

He said: "Clearly the news that the Maid of Glencoul is now out of action for a long period of time is hugely unfortunate.

"Mitigations have been put in place with the passenger services and we will maintain that for as long as necessary.

"Obviously the key for us is getting MV Corran back and work is progressing on that.

"We have been waiting for a part to be manufactured in Germany. That has now been delivered in Glasgow.

"The MV Corran will be placed onto the dry dock imminently and work will commence on putting the new propulsion unit in.

"I hope we will very soon have the MV Corran back in service."

Highland Council and the Ministry of Defence looked at the possibility of using military transport to carry cars, but the proposal was later abandoned.

Economy and infrastructure committee chairman Ken Gowans said "everthing possible" had been done to maintain the Maid of Glencoul in service.

He added: "The health and safety of all passengers and crew is our main priority and we need to be able to operate a safe and effective service.

"Whilst we appreciate this is a very disappointing setback for everyone concerned, we share the disappointment and the frustration."