PROTESTERS have delivered a 12,000-signature petition to the door of the Prime Minister against plans which could cost Portsmouth International Ferry Port millions of pounds.
They are opposing plans by Liverpool Port to become a destination and embarkation point for cruise ships.
The proposals could cut business at Portsmouth and Southampton’s ports by up to 20 per cent.
Opponents believe this would be unfair because the North West port used £21m of government and EU cash to convert its landing platforms, even though the money was given only on the grounds that it would become a stop-off point for ships.
Portsmouth International Port manager Martin Putman said: ‘It’s unfair because while we and Southampton have developed as businesses, this is free money, which has been used to do something other than what was agreed.
‘It’s unfair competition if Liverpool can use free cash to provide services we worked to develop.’
Liverpool applied in 2008 to be allowed to use the cash to become a start point for cruises, but the last Labour government turned the request down.
But the Department for Transport, under the Tory/Lib Dem coalition, has indicated the port’s latest offer – to return £5m of the grants and be allowed to operate as a start and finish point for ships – could be approved after a public consultation.
The 30 ships which start and finish at Portsmouth International Port are estimated to bring £15m per year to the city.
Southampton, the UK’s cruise ‘capital’, brings in more than £300m per year to the Solent region.
Both may lose a combined total of £63m per year if Liverpool’s plans are allowed.
Mr Putman said: ‘It’s a danger if Liverpool is able to use cash it shouldn’t have to compete with us.’
Jimmy Chestnutt, chairman of the UK Cruise Port Alliance and chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, joined Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, David Foley, chief executive of Dover Chamber of Commerce, and Royston Smith, leader of Southampton City Council to hand over the 11,640 signature petition.
He said: ‘It’s vital the government listens to these voices from Hampshire and the rest of the UK.
‘We’re not going to go away. Our concern is about unfair competition.
‘If this government lifts the restrictions its predecessor rightly placed on the development, it’s allowing taxpayers’ money to subsidise private sector competition.’