Port caught in storm over cruise move

CONCERNS have been raised that North Tyneside’s economy could be hit by proposals to try to lure cruise liners to Liverpool.

Liverpool City Council and the owner of the Port of Liverpool, Peel Ports, are bidding for government approval to withdraw a ban on the port receiving cruise liners.

Together, they plan to add a new passenger and baggage-handling facility to the £20m Liverpool cruise terminal if they can get a government-imposed ban on the port accepting so-called turnaround calls lifted.

North east Conservative MEP Martin Callanan fears that moves to remove that condition could lead to a fall in the number of cruise ships docking at North Shields, delivering a blow to the Tyneside economy.

He says the proposal is unfair because the Liverpool terminal was built using European Union and government funding, but the Port of Tyne has never had any such investment.

Consultation is due to end on Thursday, September 15, on a proposal to remove the condition if Liverpool’s council pays back £5.3m over 15 years.

Mr Callanan said: “Liverpool City Council’s proposal to repay a derisory sum and effectively substitute one form of public subsidy for another is completely unacceptable and could have a damaging effect on the north east.

“Peel Ports, the wealthy private company that owns the land around the cruise terminal, as well as the port, will benefit hugely from this proposal if it is approved and gain a massive unfair advantage.

“But, worse still, the consultation asks for views on the impact of the proposal without mentioning plans to spend another £23m on turnaround facilities at Liverpool, including £10m more from the taxpayer.

“This omission further reinforces the unfairness of the proposal and reveals the true scale of the threat to jobs and investment in the north east.

“I am now co-ordinating with other MEPs who also represent ports that may be adversely affected to write to the European Commission.

“I am demanding fairness to protect the jobs and investment in the north east’s cruise industry which many have worked so hard to attract.

“It would be outrageous for our taxes to be used to take that away from us.

“What I want is for the region to join me in sending a strong and united message to the government that we expect a fair consultation based on a fair proposal. At the moment, we have neither.”

Last year, cruise and ferry passengers visiting the Port of Tyne were estimated to have contributed more than £44m to the north east economy.

That figure is expected to rise this year as the port is having its busiest cruise season ever, with 37 ships provisionally booked already.

The Port of Tyne has invested heavily in enhancing facilities at its international passenger terminal to attract major cruise lines, and ships owned by companies such as Fred Olsen, Saga, P&O and Holland and America now regularly call in at North Shields.