Protests over ‘unfair’ port plan which could see Portsmouth lose millions

NEW The recently-built terminal building at Portsmouth International Port.   Picture: Steve Reid (112915-1)
NEW The recently-built terminal building at Portsmouth International Port. Picture: Steve Reid (112915-1)
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A FIERCE battle is under way to stop Liverpool becoming a start and end point for cruises in a move which could cost Portsmouth millions of pounds per year.

The fight comes after Liverpool’s docks, owned by Peel Ltd, used £21m of government and EU cash, to build a ‘stop-off’ point for cruise ships.

But Liverpool now says it intends instead to become a point of departure and arrival – making it a direct threat to Portsmouth’s own growing reputation as a cruise start and end point.

The last Labour government refused Liverpool’s request, saying it was unfair because ports such as Portsmouth and Southampton had not applied for grants to gain their status.

Ministers also said the move would go against the original grant agreement.

But the coalition government has said it is minded to approve Liverpool’s bid, subject to a public consultation.

Solent Local Enterprise Partnership is leading our region’s protests against the plan.

Its chairman Doug Morrison said: ‘The move is unfair. It used public funds, handed over for a different plan, whereas Portsmouth and Southampton have invested their own cash.

‘We will oppose the move in the consultation, because it could have a serious impact on the business we do, which goes well beyond the port and could lose us tens of millions of pounds.’

More money is made from ships setting off or finishing at ports, because people stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and visit local tourist attractions. Portsmouth International Port, where 30 small cruise ships start or finish their voyages, is estimated to bring in £15m per year to the city. Southampton port, where many larger ships embark and terminate, attracts £300m per year.

And it’s feared that if Liverpool succeeds, each city could lose up to 20 per cent of their business – £3m for Portsmouth and £60m from Southampton.

Mr Morrison added: ‘It’s a huge amount to lose, in an unfair way.’

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘Our whole region could be affected.

‘We’re hopeful it’ll be refused, and hope Liverpool may concentrate on larger ships than Portsmouth, so we may escape the worst.’

Portsmouth International Port manager Martin Putman said: ‘It’s good to have more points for ships to stop. But it’s clear this grant wasn’t for what’s being proposed.

‘We hope the effect on us won’t be too great, but Liverpool hasn’t complied with the terms and it’s not reasonable that a private firm should break an agreement for use of public money.’

Portsmouth city councillor Donna Jones, a member of the city’s port authority board, said: ‘We hope to extend our operation to larger ships. That would be worth about £50m per year, and it would be damaged by this plan. We have to try to stop that happening.’