Southampton Up In Arms Over Liverpool's Ship Turnaround Plans

September 23, 2009
Liverpool U.K. Skyline A row has broken out between two of Britain's most famous ports, Liverpool and Southampton, over Liverpool's plans to develop its new Cruise Liner Terminal as a turnaround facility for cruise ships.

It seems like a logical enough idea. Liverpool has a long-standing maritime heritage as the former home of Cunard Line. The gleaming new Cruise Liner Terminal at Pier Head was opened in 2007, just in front of the historic city centre, but it is underused -- 16 visiting ships will have called by the end of 2009.

Not surprisingly, Liverpool council chiefs can see an opportunity to attract more ships to start and finish their voyages from the city's terminal, claiming that passengers on turnarounds generate £253 each for the local economy, compared to just £70 per person spent by day visitors.

The problem is that the £20 million facility was built partly with taxpayers' money and Department for Transport (DFT) rules state that, because of this, it can only be used for visiting ships, not turnarounds, as it has to compete fairly with other, privately funded port facilities in the U.K.

Liverpool Council has applied to the DFT for a relaxation on the rules and a consultation process is underway. But Associated British Ports (ABP), which owns Southampton port, has jumped in with an official protest to both the DFT and Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, Conservative spokesman for Merseyside. A report in the Liverpool Echo quotes an ABP spokesman as saying that the move would "distort" competition in the port sector. Given that Southampton receives some 300 cruise ship visits a year, each of which brings an estimated £1 million to the local economy, it's easy to see why ABP wants to hang on to its slice of the pie.

Councillor Gary Millar, Liverpool City Council's Executive Member for Enterprise and Tourism, defended the application in a statement to Cruise Critic, saying: "We believe that the creation of a full turnaround facility at Liverpool will benefit the cruise liner industry in the U.K., as the city is uniquely positioned to attract business from outside of Europe. The application to the DFT has been made in response to calls from the industry and passengers and the city is keen to build on the success of the facility so far."

One thing's for sure: If Liverpool does want to attract ships on turnarounds, it needs better facilities. Currently, ships embarking passengers in the area have to use the Langton terminal in the nearby, isolated industrial port of Bootle. Fred. Olsen will operate from here next year and so will Cruise & Maritime Voyages. "But the facility at Langdon is decrepit," a Liverpool resident and regular cruiser told Cruise Critic. "It stinks of old molasses and there are rats running around. The check-in takes place in a Portakabin."

Even if permission to use the Cruise Liner Terminal is granted, that, too, will need to be upgraded as it currently has no facilities for baggage handling or customs.

But for Liverpool, the investment will be worthwhile. A spokesman for the City Council told us that the plan was to attract between 25 and 40 ships a year -- four to six percent of the U.K. market, worth an impressive £6.6 to £10.6 million in revenue for the city.

--by Sue Bryant, Contributing Editor