CRUISE war campaigners have warned the Government it would contravene its new ports policy if it let Liverpool grab a slice of Southampton’s lucrative cruise trade using taxpayers’ cash.

Industry group the UK Cruise Port Alliance welcomed the publication of the Government’s long-awaited national policy on the future development of the UK’s ports, including its cruise industry.

It says the Government will seek to allow judgments to be made on the basis of “commercial factors by the port industry or port developers operating within a free market environment”.

The Department for Transport is considering lifting a ban on cruises starting and ending at Liverpool’s £21m Pier Head terminal if it pays back over 15 years just a quarter of public handouts used to build it. A decision is expected within the next month.

The previous Government, after lobbying by Southampton Labour MP John Denham and others, refused to lift the ban on turnaround cruises, ruling it out as “unfair competition”.

More than 3,000 people signed a petition urging ministers to reject Liverpool’s latest bid unless it pays back taxpayer subsidies in full. A tenweek Department for Transport consultation closed on September 15.

Jimmy Chestnutt, chairman of the UKCPA, said: “We are delighted to see that the Government has reconfirmed its support for fair competition and a level playing field free from public subsidy in the ports sector.

“It is difficult to see how, in the light of this clear policy statement, Liverpool can continue to ask to be allowed to use their calling cruise terminal for turnaround cruises without paying back to the taxpayer every penny of the subsidy they received.”

The warning comes after an independent report on regenerating Liverpool by Tory grandee Lord Michael Heseltine and former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy urged the Government and local council to “work together to swiftly resolve the impasse on cruise liners being allowed to start and end their journeys in the heart of the city”.

They noted the Pier Head cruise terminal offered “an excellent opportunity to support the growth potential in the tourism sector”.

A spokesman for Liverpool City Council insisted it had offered to pay back what it considered a “substantial”

and “fair level” of the government subsidy.