COUNCIL bosses were forced to drop plans for a levy on ship passengers after the head of a major cruise firm threatened to pull out of Southampton if it was brought in, the Daily Echo can reveal.

David Dingle, chief executive officer of Carnival UK, which owns P&O and Cunard, said it would be unfair to target his customers to pay for multi-million-pound road improvements.

City council chiefs had floated the idea of imposing a charge – the amount was not specified – to avoid traffic gridlock as passenger numbers are predicted to double in the next decade.

But Mr Dingle told the Daily Echo: “The cruise industry always has the option to relocate to other ports not imposing a levy.

“The cruise industry brings massive economic benefit to Southampton and that benefit continues to grow.

“Traffic congestion in Southampton is caused by various factors – only one of which is the cruise industry.

“All stakeholders should contribute to traffic infrastructure improvements, including all businesses benefiting from the cruise economy.”

Doug Morrison, boss of port owner ABP, agreed.

He said: “It is a bit rich to say to cruise companies, who are bringing in the money, by the way you have to pay for congestion.”

Southampton Test Labour MP Alan Whitehead said: “The cruise industry is one of the big success stories of Southampton Docks, it brings money into the city and has a radiation effect on other businesses.

“I know the council wants to raise money for itself but this is not the way to do it.

“I would hope this would not risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg but anything that could make cruise companies feel there are too many obstacles in coming to Southampton or sends out the message they are not welcome is a bad thing.”

The levy proposal came as the city council investigates how Southampton can make more money out of the million cruise passengers visiting the city annually.

Major players from the port, cruise companies and associated businesses will be called to give evidence to a council panel in the coming months.

The port is expected to welcome 360 ships this year, each injecting an average of £1.5m into the local economy.

When asked about the cruise levy, the city council said it had now decided to ditch the plan because “the cruise industry was not in favour”.

The scheme had been dreamt up amid alarm that booming passenger numbers could cause gridlock in the city.

When there are three to four ships docked, 20,000 passengers descend on the docks, which already sparks snarl-ups, mostly stemming from Dock Gate 4.

But a report leaked to the Daily Echo stated: “Looking into the future, days with four or even five cruise ship calls will become more common, with up to 30,000 passenger movements per day.

“This will mean congestion problems caused by cruise passengers will occur with increased intensity.”

Resulting traffic deadlock would deter shoppers and increase transportation costs, it claims.

Road improvements would cost about £10m, the main project being to the Platform Road entrance to Dock Gate 4.

If the cost were divided among passengers they would pay about £10 each.

Now the city council is pinning its hopes on a successful bid for the Government’s new £1.4 billion three-year Regional Growth Fund to turn Platform Road into a dual carriageway to improve capacity and traffic flow.