THE bitter Cruise Wars between Southampton and Liverpool deepened last night with a furious spat between the cities’ council leaders.
Royston Smith branded opposite number Joe Anderson “childish” and “absolutely ridiculous” after he pointed the finger at public money spent in the Southampton area.
With Liverpool waiting for a Government decision on whether or not it will be allowed to expand its cruise operation while paying back a fraction of the grants used to build it, Councillor Joe Anderson accused Southampton of “hypocrisy” – over an upgrade to the M27. The motorway was widened in 2008 by the Department for Transport.
Cllr Anderson said Southampton's hypocrisy was “amazing”, saying there was “absolutely no difference” between improvements to Hampshire’s principle motorway and the building of Liverpool’s cruise terminal.
Last night Councillor Smith told the Daily Echo: “I don’t know how one is supposed to respond to this. Because he can’t legitimately win the argument on this public subsidy he was given for one thing and wants to use for another.
“How ridiculous is it to talk about the M27, the main east to west route through Hampshire? It is ridiculous to conflate those two issues.”
Cllr Smith pointed out that Peel, the owners of Liverpool’s port, had recently been given £30m from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund to dredge the River Mersey and allow access to large container vessels.
He said: “If people want to start that nonsense, the Regional Growth Fund gave money to Peel to dredge the Mersey.
“You have not heard me say anything about that – I’ve stayed on the one argument. Joe Anderson cannot do that – like a child he’s trying to drag everything in.
“He damages his argument by wandering around and saying, ‘the motorway’s been widened’ – for goodness sake.
“It is absolutely ridiculous. If he could stick to the one argument, we could have a debate. But he can’t, and I can’t work him out.”
Southampton port director Doug Morrison said: “This is actually a very simple issue. It’s about fairness. It’s about not allowing public money to be used to fund competition with hard-won private investment. It’s about the Government insisting the promises that were made to win the grants from the taxpayer are honoured.”
Meanwhile, a decision by the Government on Liverpool’s request to become a “turnaround” facility is unlikely until next year, the Daily Echo understands. There are just two more parliamentary days until MPs leave Westminster for the Christmas recess.