The restoration of the Loch Lomond paddle steamer Maid of the Loch is in “jeopardy” after a multi-million pound funding package was rejected.
The paddle steamer has been moored at Balloch Pier as a static tourist attraction while a group of volunteers from charity the Loch Lomond Steamship Company worked to bring her back to life.
After being given a £25,000 grant from Historic Environment Scotland to carry out essential repair work on the pier, work began earlier this month to help the historic ship get ready to sail once again.
This work was meant to mark the start of a £6m refit of the paddle steamer and pier.
However, it was subject to a £3.8m donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has now been denied.
Chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, John Beveridge, said it was “absolutely devastated” with the decision.
“It’s going to take some time to absorb the news and the reasons behind it,” he said.
“It was HLF that encouraged us to apply; the West Dunbartonshire area was a top priority for them and we really felt we put forward a strong case for the funding.
“Not just for what the donation would represent in transforming the ship, but for what it would bring to the area and indeed Scotland as a whole if Maid of the Loch was to sail once again.
“This was reinforced by an award of almost £1m from The Scottish Government.”
He said the decision now puts the entire project in jeopardy.
“Unfortunately, this decision jeopardises the whole project, and our vision for refurbishing the ship now hangs in the balance,” he added.
“Our team of dedicated volunteers, our board of directors, tour guides, maintenance and so many more hard-working and passionate individuals, have worked incredibly hard over the past 22 years to protect and preserve our much-loved Paddle Steamer.
“To have to explain to them that we won’t be sailing next year after all is extremely tough.”
He added that for a small charity to raise the equivalent of £2.3m is something they are “extremely proud of” and that he is sorry to disappoint everyone that has had faith in them.
“The Maid’s return to sail would have been the single biggest project to take place in South Loch Lomond in more than 20 years, and it’s a huge blow to the area now that this £6m regeneration programme will not take place,” he continued.
“The effects of this decision will be felt by the whole community.
“It’s a very sad day indeed and does not auger well for the future of our industrial heritage.”
A spokesman for HLF said: “We understand this will be very disappointing news for the many dedicated volunteers involved with the Maid of the Loch.
“Returning the paddle steamer to full operation is a complex and specialised project with many challenges and risks.
“HLF has a high level of competition for grants at every stage of the applications process and we are unable to support all of the applications we receive.
He added: “We have to make difficult decisions and weigh up benefits with risks. Unfortunately, in this competitive situation the board felt that other applications for funding were stronger and they were unable to support this project.
“We recognise the heritage importance of the Maid of the Loch and remain supportive of its long term sustainability as a visitor attraction.”