It is known as the UK's outdoor capital and marks the end point of the West Highland Way walking trail.

Fort William's vantage point on the A82 and at the foot of Ben Nevis makes it both a natural stop-off point and a popular holiday location from which to enjoy the splendour of the north of Scotland.

It is therefore perhaps not surprising that its high street caters to tourists keen to take advantage of the mountaineering, cycling and hiking opportunities.

However the opening of the high street's eighth outdoor clothing store has prompted criticism that town planners are prioritising visitors over the needs of local people.

The Herald:

A public consultation informing a 2040 masterplan for Fort William found that "Many local people have no reason to use the High Street."

The town has around ten outdoor clothing stores including Mountain Warehouse, Nevisport, Trespass and locally owned Beinn Nibheis.

The latest opening this month, by Go Outdoors at the site of a former Tesco, has not been universally welcomed in a town where you face a 132-mile round trip to Inverness to buy anything other than a new pair of walking boots. 

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The last clothing store, M&Co, closed after the firm went into administration.

People living in the Highlands and Islands face 21% higher postal charges on average compared to other parts of Scotland with some online firms simply refusing to deliver.

"This is beyond a joke now," was one local's reaction to the latest outdoor clothing store opening. "What about a food shop - something for the locals."

The Herald:

"I guess it's better than it lying empty but does Lochaber really need another outdoor shop?" said another.

Angus MacDonald, Fort William councillor and the businessman who opened a bookshop and the town's first cinema in 15 years, said the town was "crying out for a number of services."

He said: "We could really do with a shoe repair shop, a computer repair shop, any sort of clothing shop, shoe shops in particular, a laundrette and dry cleaner and a delicatessen.

"A fish shop and a butcher would be brilliant as well," he added.

The Herald:

"I can only think that these companies don't do their research, they see that we are the wettest place in Europe and Ben Nevis is there and think 'Oh good we'll open an outdoor store' when there are far too many already." 

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He said there had been a missed opportunity to open an indoor market in the vacant unit previously occupied by Tesco but said Highland Council did not have the power to influence the make-up of the high street.

The Herald:

He said: "As part of the business improvement district bid one of the things we are very keen to do is do a list of all the empty shops in the town and advertise what we think the town needs and have some sort of consultation with people.

"The shops are not expensive to rent now.

"My bookshop pays a rent of £25,000 a year and that was originally advertised at £45,000, ten years ago. So you can get a good-sized shop in the town for £15,000 and then your rates would be half of that. Things have swung in favour of the tenant."

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He said a quarter of high street units are either charity shops or empty but on a more positive note believes Fort William is "in better shape that it has been for a decade" citing long-standing businesses including the Granite House gift shop, which has been in business since 1977.

A team of architects has been appointed to drive forward a masterplan for the town by 2040, focussed on bringing homes into the high street, attracting "quality retailers" to fill vacant units and demolishing unsightly buildings. It cites the example of other Scottish towns which have undergone something of a renaissance including Paisley. 

Plans have been approved for a new whisky distillery and visitor centre on the northern approach to the town at Lochybridge.

Mark Lingfield, former chairman of Fort William, Inverlochy and Torlundy community council said the provision of outdoor clothing stores on the high street was both  "ludicrous" and inevitable.

He said: "My personal thoughts? We are only a small town. Businesses are there to make money and if a business thought it was viable to be selling things like shoes it would be doing it. 

"I would love it to be the case, it's ludicrous that you can't but it's the way it is now."