WE need to fight for our port! That was the message from a South East MEP after the EU Commission ratified the public funding of the Liverpool cruise terminal.
The decision appeared to end years of ‘cruise wars’ between Southampton and Liverpool but now Hampshire MPs and MEPs are looking at challenging it.
Southampton initially lobbied its rival to hand back the £17m joint UK and EU money in 2011 and prevent unfair competition – four years after the £21m terminal was completed in 2007.
South East MEP Peter Skinner said: “Measures should be taken to create jobs in north west England, but not at the expense of the south.
“I also question why the Commission did not follow in the footsteps of the UK government on this issue and ask for the money back.
“Decisions like these can always be challenged politically and now we have to look at the reasons for the decision and whether there are any issues. I will certainly be doing that and liaising with MPs in Southampton to take this further.”
Mr Skinner added that Southampton struggles to compete with other parts of the country for EU funding because south east England is seen as a wealthy area.
He said: “The reason why money is going to the north west rather than the south is it’s perceived the former has structural problems.
“In this case the EU’s money was given to Liverpool to encourage growth and expand jobs but it should not distort internal competition within the UK.
“Liverpool may always be open to some degree of funding from the EU because of its location, but it’s up to Southampton City Council and its officers to be proactive and pursue whatever funding they can.”
Meanwhile ABP Southampton would not be drawn on its reaction to the decision.
In a statement, port director Nick Ridehalgh said: "ABP notes the decision by the European Commission. We will continue to work hard to ensure the Port of Southampton delivers the best service for its cruise customers.
The cruise business makes a vital contribution to the local economy and that's why this is so important."
The Commission said the positive effects of the project will “outweigh potential distortions of competition”.
As reported by the Daily Echo, Liverpool has already paid back £8.8m of the £9.2m British taxpayers’ cash used to fund the project, which was topped up with £8.6m from EU Structural Funds.
The EU said both subsidies meet the union’s transport policy objectives without “unduly distorting” competition but it is unlikely Liverpool will be able to claim any money it has already paid back.