FIRST we had cruise wars, now a new front is opening in the war between Southampton and its port rival Liverpool.
Prime Minister David Cameron has sparked anger by supporting new £300 million container port facilities being built in the Merseyside city.
His comments have been attacked by opponents as suggesting that trade should switch from Southampton to Liverpool.
The port of Southampton
The container trade supports 15,000 jobs in Southampton and the surrounding area.
It is the latest round in a series of controversies surrounding the two cities’ ports, following the bitter “cruise wars” dispute that rumbled on for five years over Liverpool’s cruise terminal.
It comes after a new report revealed the UK’s cruise industry supports 70,000 jobs and is worth £2.5 billion annually.
With the new container terminal also being built in the city, David Cameron spoke in support of the development at a business event in the city.
He said: “On the passenger ships it means that cruises can start here in Liverpool with all the iconic brilliance of the city on show to people who want to go on a cruise ship.
“Much more importantly the expansion of the Port of Liverpool being able to take the biggest container ships in the world, the ones that go through the widened Panama Canal – this is a massive re-balancing of the economy because instead of goods being imported in Southampton or Tilbury and then shipped on road and rail up to the North West, you know the North West will be the hub.
“This is a really big re-balancing of the economy and I think that will be great for Liverpool.”
But his comments have been attacked by politicians in Southampton, which is set to be key battleground at next year’s general election.
Labour’s Southampton Itchen parliamentary candidate Rowenna Davis said: “The Prime Minister has no business saying that trade should switch from Southampton to Liverpool.
“Comments like this can put at risk future investment in the port and all of the trade and employment that goes with it.
“The people of Southampton deserve a Prime Minister that champions their city and their port and not one who plays one port off against another.”
Southampton Itchen parliamentary candidate Rowenna Davis
Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead accused Mr Cameron of “getting his facts rather skewed”.
Conservative Itchen candidate Royston Smith said: “The port of Liverpool is expanding and with it the ability to take larger container ships and turnaround cruises and this will have some impact on the port of Southampton.
“However, Southampton has pockets of significant deprivation in the otherwise relatively prosperous south east which can often be ignored by governments because of its location.
“My concern is the frequent mistake of not seeing Southampton in the same way as those cities in the north and north east that Government is trying to assist.”
Southampton Tory group leader Cllr Royston Smith
Associated British Ports, which runs Southampton’s port, declined to respond directly to Mr Cameron’s comments, but a spokesman said: “The Port of Southampton is Europe’s most efficient container port, offers minimum deviation from the main shipping lanes through the Channel and has excellent road and rail links to key markets in the UK.
“The Port of Southampton currently contributes £1 billion to the economy every year and supports 15,000 jobs, making ongoing investment in its future absolutely crucial.”