Ports protest over Liverpool plans

Row erupts over use of Liverpool’s publically funded terminal
Ports protest over Liverpool plans

By Rebecca Gibson |

A row has erupted over Liverpool’s plans to use its publically funded cruise terminal for turnaround journeys. Businesses and politicians from ports in the UK have come together to dispute the proposals, which they say will give Liverpool an unfair advantage and cause them to lose millions of pounds in business.

The port of Southampton, which is currently the largest turnaround port in Northern Europe cruise, is leading the protests. Southampton City Council has urged residents of the towns to sign a petition protesting against the plans.

At the time of writing, more than 3,000 people have so far signed the petition while the UK Cruise Ports Alliance has also launched a campaign in opposition to the proposed lifting of the ban.

Southampton derives all funding for its cruises from private investment. Liverpool’s Cruise Terminal, however, has received around £20 million in public grants from bodies such as the European Union as the port was designed to help attract tourists to the area rather than for commercial gains.

Councillor Royston Smith, leader of Southampton City Council, said: “I am encouraging everyone to stand up for UK ports to be able to compete on a level playing field, and protect vital jobs in Southampton. Around £400 million was generated for the local economy by the cruise industry in Southampton this year (2011). That is £400 million that benefits local tourism, transport and businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and Southampton’s retail centre.

“The Port of Southampton has positioned itself as the cruise capital of Northern Europe by means of private investment. It has done it in a fair way. Liverpool must do likewise.”

Currently only liners that are making port-of-call visits can dock at the terminal but the port has applied for a ‘change-of-use’ permit to allow it to enter the turnaround cruise market. Liverpool has offered to repay a quarter of the grants over 15 years to allow the ban to be lifted. As a result, the Department for Transport (DfT) has begun a consultation to look at whether this change in use permit could be allowed.

The DfT deal would allow Liverpool to host turnaround cruises for more than 150 days a year, which is more than Southampton’s terminal.

Leading the case in favour of lifting the ban are councillors and MPs from Liverpool, as well as local newspaper the Daily Post, which has launched a Get On Board cruise campaign to support the city’s bid. A petition in support of the campaign has gathered more than 2,500 signatures.

A spokesman for Liverpool City Council said: “We are simply looking to retain Liverpool's share of the cruise market, and are confident of a resolution that satisfies everyone.”

UK transport and shipping minister Mike Penning also backs Liverpool’s bid. He said on a statement on the DfT website: “I consider that the repayment proposal by Liverpool City Council can be justified taking into account the prospective regeneration and other benefits to the Merseyside area.”

Southampton is not the only port that has registered its objections with the North Sea ports of Tyne and Harwich also airing their disapproval of the proposed change of use at Liverpool.

It was the Labour government that first implemented the ban on Liverpool competing for turnaround cruise business in order to protect other ports that don’t currently receive public grants. However, with a change in government has come a change in attitude with Conservative Chancellor George Osborne describing the previous administration’s refusal to remove the restrictions as rather odd.

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