Acharacle councillors claim lack of ferry consultation

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Rises in the cost of living such as the recent increase in fares for the Corran Ferry are endangering the survival of small rural communities such as Acharacle.

That was the view of Joanne Matheson and other members of Acharacle Community Council (ACC), who are furious over the recent decision by Highland Council to hike up the ferry fares by three per cent with what they claim was virtually no consultation with the relevant community councils.

Chairman of ACC David Ogg said although Highland Council has repeatedly stated its desire to work more closely with communities, there was a failure to do so in this instance.

‘Here we have a perfect opportunity for them to have approached and discussed the issue with all of the relevant community councils, and they failed to do so,’ alleged Mr Ogg.

At a recent meeting, the community council agreed a statement, which has since been sent to the chair and chief executive of the local authority, expressing ‘dismay’ over the fares increase and the alleged lack of consultation.

The councillors acknowledged the support of local Highland councillors Andrew Baxter and Niall McLean in opposing the increase.

And ACC said it understood the budgetary pressure faced by Highland Council, but said it was disappointed the local authority ‘chose not to engage with Lochaber community councils in any way at all’ over the issue and believed Highland Council had ‘behaved shamefully’ in the matter.

‘We understand the current budget pressures, but people would have been a lot less angry about the sudden and completely unexpected imposition of these fare increases if Highland Council had discussed the issue with community councils beforehand,’ said the community council.

The plan to include a three per cent increase in ferry fares in each of the next three years only came to light shortly before Highland councillors agreed the 2019/20 budget.

Ms Matheson added: ‘Highland Council has identified the Corran Ferry as a lifeline service, which means that it acknowledges it is essential for those of us living nearby.

‘It is absolutely unacceptable that they continue to increase the cost of living on this particular community, when they know perfectly well that the increasing cost of living in small remote communities is endangering their survival.’

And Mr Ogg concluded: ‘I’ve been involved with all sorts of discussions about the future of the Corran Ferry over recent years and have no doubt that those discussions will continue for some time to come.

‘At the moment I am just incredibly disappointed that Highland Council has failed to follow through with their stated aim of increasing community consultation – they appear to be paying lip-service to local democracy and are showing no signs of being willing to engage in proper discussions.’