A ROW has erupted between port bosses in Southampton and Liverpool over a £20m project that could change the face of the cruise ship industry.

Under the controversial plans the Merseyside city’s historic Pier Head could be upgraded to an embarkation point for luxury liners that currently dock at Southampton.

But the move has left Southampton dock owners Associated British Ports furious after it was revealed Liverpool City Council is set to receive £20m of public money, including £9m from the European Union to redevelop its cruise liner terminal.

ABP bosses argue that the public money amounts to unfair help and would “distort” competition in the lucrative cruise sector, which is booming despite the recession.

The Daily Echo understands that ABP has written to the Department for Transport insisting that plans to upgrade the terminal to an official “turnaround” port are thrown out.

The move could drastically reduce Southampton’s share of the millions the cruise industry generates for hotels, shops and restaurants in the city.

Around 300 ships and one million passengers used Southampton last year. Each stop by a major cruise ship or liner brings in £1m to the area’s economy.