City leaders have pledged to bid for millions of pounds of European Union money for Southampton following the Government’s decision to allow Liverpool to become a “turn-around’’ cruise ship port.
They believe the Merseyside city’s victory over Southampton in the so-called Cruise Wars has set a precedent that could unlock EU cash for projects including the planned fifth cruise terminal put on hold last year.
Southampton port bosses are urging council chiefs to bid for public funds to be used in the same way as Liverpool.
Doug Morrison, ABP’s port director in Southampton, said: “If Liverpool council is allowed to do this then why can’t Southampton City Council do the same?
“We are disappointed, but we knew this decision was coming and now Liverpool have been given the green light by the Government it does open up the question of why Southampton is not following suit and seeking out funding which could be used to help the port.’’ New leader of Southampton City Council Cllr Richard Williams said: “That is a very fair question and I shall be meeting with the EU next week as I believe the Liverpool decision still has a distance to go before the scheme can be put into action.
“I understand the EU holds a significant amount, which has been underspent on UK infrastructure, totalling something like one billion euros, and this has to be used by 2014 otherwise it reverts back to the Treasury.
“If we could obtain just a slice of this money it would be a real opportunity and I shall be taking this up with the EU next week.’’ Cllr Williams also plans to lobby Business Secretary Vince Cable over the ministerial decision.
Liverpool leaders have vowed to press ahead with its plans to host a turn-around cruise by the end of this month without approval from the EU, which provided £8.6m to the project.
Newly elected mayor and former city council leader Joe Anderson said as far as he was concerned yesterday’s announcement would mean liners could use Liverpool for turn-around.
He added that the council would “cross that bridge” if and when the EU demanded its money back.
Although Liverpool claims it will be a popular with the cruise industry, it is thought the big, international operators will remain loyal to Southamp-ton, although some smaller shipping lines might be willing to try out the northern port.
The long-running row centred around the fact that Liverpool received a cash from the Government and the EU to build its present passenger terminal having pledged not to host turn-around cruises. Meanwhile Southampton has built its reputation as northern Europe’s centre for cruising purely as a result of private investment by ABP.
Shipping minister Mike Penning, due to visit Southamp-ton port today, said a one-off payment of £8.8m, or £12.6m over 15 years, would be enough for restrictions to be lifted. The Merseysiders had offered just £5.5m of the £9.2m Government grant.
Mr Penning told MPs yesterday: “In my view this represents a fair outcome that addresses competition concerns while enhancing the benefits to secure which the grants were initially paid.”
He added: “However, Liverpool is still only being asked to pay back less than half the subsidy they have received. It’s now down to the EU to ensure that state aid rules are fairly applied.”