As national Cruise Week begins, the normally sedate seaborne sector of the travel industry is getting rough. Civic leaders in Southampton, for decades the hub for cruises from Britain, are furious at a bid by Liverpool to cash in on the fast-growing and lucrative business of hosting mega-ships.
This week a petition with more than 10,000 signatures was taken to Downing Street, demanding that a ban on the Merseyside city as a “turnaround port” remain in place.
At the heart of the conflict is the £20m City of Liverpool Cruise Terminal, completed in 2007 and funded through a combination of UK government and EU grants. The project was intended to provide an economic boost for everyone from taxi drivers to retailers.
It was hoped that a more enticing location for day visits than the existing terminal at Langton Dock would persuade more cruise ships to call. Liverpool City Council now wants the new terminal to be a place where cruises start and end, which is a more lucrative business.
The council believes it is absurd that cruise ships have to turn around at Langton Docks, amid semi-derelict surroundings. It has offered to repay £5.3m over 15 years to get the ruling overturned.
The transport minister Mike Penning said: “The repayment proposal by Liverpool City Council can be justified taking into account the prospective regeneration and other benefits to the Merseyside area.”
But James Chestnutt, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “A turnaround port is a totally different trade. We’re not against competition or consumer choice, but this amounts to misuse of public funds.”
The row has escalated with the editor of Liverpool’s Daily Post, Mark Thomas, campaigning for what he calls “a major future economic growth opportunity for Liverpool”, while former Southampton footballer Matt Le Tissier has laid into the backers of the change-of-use bid, saying: “Any decent ref would send them off.”