In Surprise Move, Cruises From Liverpool City Centre to Start This Spring

February 3, 2012

(10:22 a.m. EST) -- Cruises from Liverpool's £17 million city centre Pier Head cruise terminal could start in as little as three months.

This surprise announcement in the Liverpool Daily Post newspaper follows a change of direction in the talks that have been going on for years now between Liverpool Council and the U.K. government about allowing cruise ships to embark passengers from the terminal, which opened in 2007.

The problem has been that Pier Head was built with public money, on the understanding that it would be used for day calls at this historic northern port. Turnarounds – in which cruises begin and end in the same location – were not permitted because other British ports have to compete on a fair basis, with private funding only. Southampton in particular has been most vociferous about Liverpool attempting to bust the rules of fair competition.

Liverpool does have embarkation facilities (at Langton Dock), but they're run-down and located in the isolated industrial port of Bootle, which can prove difficult for bigger ships to access when the tides are not favourable. It was for this reason that Fred. Olsen, one of Liverpool's biggest supporters, pulled out of the port last year.

But now, Liverpool Council has agreed to repay up to £9 million of the grant cash that built the Pier Head terminal so that it can compete freely with ports like Southampton, Dover and Harwich. The council is also applying for planning permission to build a baggage handling facility by spring this year.

Fred. Olsen has been quick to announce its return to Liverpool, saying it will offer 10 cruises on Boudicca in 2013, between April and August, ranging from mini-cruises to Canaries voyages. But the first line likely to use the new terminal for turnarounds is Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which is planning to operate 11 sailings from Liverpool this summer to Norway, the Baltic, France/Portgual, Ireland and the Canary Islands.

--By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor