PLANS for a fifth cruise terminal in Southampton have been shelved for at least a year – and may even be scrapped altogether, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Port bosses had hoped to start work on a huge £30m terminal next year, capitalising on the booming cruise market and creating hundreds of jobs.

But those plans have been pushed back to 2013 at the earliest until the results of Liverpool’s controversial bid to muscle in on the lucrative industry is known.

The news will come as a blow to the many companies in Hampshire who rely on the cruise trade for business.

The Merseyside city has already been handed £21m of taxpayers’ money to be able to host ships – on the condition that it operates as a one-stop cruise destination.

But now Liverpool port bosses want to pay back just £5.3m of that sum for the right to see vessels start and finish their trips at the city.

A ten-week consultation is under way to see if their proposal should get the nod.

If it does, then port bosses in Southampton may be forced to rethink its ambitious fifth terminal plan for Western Docks.

They have already slammed the use of public funds for their northern rivals, claiming Liverpool has been given an unfair advantage.

Southampton port director Doug Morrison, pictured right, told the Daily Echo: “I don’t believe it will start next year – possibly 2013, but we would like to see what the Government decides after the consultation.

“I think it is fair to say we could have a rethink after the consultation.

“The reason we invest is not for the cruise business today, it is for three, four or five years down the line.

“If the cruise terminal business is allowed to go north, you would have to question whether it is necessary and essential to build a fifth terminal.

“When the competition is not fair you have to ask why you would invest another £30m.”

Yesterday, the Daily Echo revealed how port bosses in Liverpool had already drawn up plans for a £23m upgrade of their existing cruise facility.

Around £10m of taxpayers’ money would be ploughed in to building the state-of-the- art baggage and passenger handling facility and an extra vehicle bridge.

The news has angered Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes, who has questioned why ministers have not mentioned it in their consultation document.

Liverpool City Council has said including the new baggage-handling facility is “prudent planning” adding that nothing could be done until the consultation concluded.

Last year there were more than 300 separate calls by cruise ships to Southampton and this number is expected to hit 450 by 2015. Passenger numbers are expected to reach 2m by 2020.