Liverpool City Council had hoped to create a turnaround facility at the swish new Liverpool Cruise Terminal but because the plan was partly funded by £9 million of cash from the EU, the government blocked it on the grounds that it "could raise competition issues in relation to other ports operating in this market," according to a statement by transport minister Paul Clark.
Associated British Ports, which operates Southampton port, had lobbied vigorously against the application, fearing that it would lose some of its 300 annual cruise ship visits to Liverpool. John Denham, Labour MP for Southampton Itchen constituency, told the Southampton Daily Echo: "This was a basic issue of fair competition. Everybody at Southampton knows other ports are entitled to compete for cruise business, but it would have been quite unfair to do that on the back of public subsidy in one place and no subsidy in Southampton. This is a real victory for Southampton."
Not to be deterred, Liverpool City Council and Peel Ports (which operates Liverpool port) have this week announced a 10-year master plan to turn the River Mersey into one of the U.K.'s leading cruise destinations and treble the number of cruise ships visits from 15 (the 2009 total) to 50 in the next 5 to 10 years.
It's easy to see why they would want to do this; cruise ships are a huge boost to the economy. When Cunard's Queen Mary 2 visited this year, an astonishing 100,000 spectators turned out to see it, generating £5.7 million.
The strategy includes developing a business plan to encourage more visits to Liverpool's City Terminal and Langton Dock (a somewhat run-down facility used for the occasional turnaround).
The council will explore the possibility of leasing Liverpool Cruise Terminal to a commercial operator. Passengers using Langton and the waterfront attractions on the Mersey will be surveyed with a view to basing future investment decisions on their needs. There's even a chance that passengers scheduled to use Langton Dock will be transferred to Liverpool Cruise Terminal until a better facility is built.
Councillor Gary Millar, Liverpool City Council's cabinet lead for enterprise, tourism and culture, said in a press statement: "For the spiritual home of the maritime industry, the Department of Transport announcement on the 'turnaround facility' was disappointing. But, the net result is that the Liverpool City Council's commitment to develop the huge potential of the River Mersey's economy has merely intensified."
There's another meeting in February or March to discuss progress so we'll keep you posted.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor