TOP-LEVEL talks have taken place in Southampton to draw up battle plans against Liverpool’s bid to poach some of the city’s cruise trade.

A powerful lobbying group is forming in Hampshire as Government ministers mull over moves to allow the Merseyside city to host the start and finish of voyages.

The Daily Echo can reveal that Southampton port director Doug Morrison and city council leader Cllr Royston Smith have met to discuss a joint approach.

Business leaders and MPs will also now be briefed on ways they can help fight the controversial scheme.

As previously reported, Liverpool was handed £21m of taxpayers’ money for a new terminal – on the condition that it operated as a one-stop destination. Its port bosses now want to pay back £5.3m of that sum for the right to become a ‘turnaround’ port.

Government ministers have launched a consultation, which ends on September 15.

Port bosses in Southampton are preparing a lengthy objection.

The city council will also make its opposition known.

MPs including Caroline Nokes (Romsey and S o u t h a m p t o n North) and Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) have already written.

Cllr Smith said: “We want a high-profile and powerful lobbying group so that the ministers understand our point of view and the strength of feeling here. The more people we can get involved the better.

“This is a port of national significance and while I don’t want Liverpool to be at a disadvantage, they should not be able to use public money.

“We need to have a collective submission that shows the weight of opinion.

“It is imperative that as many people as possible get on board.

Liverpoool have got such a well-orchestrated lobbying group. We need to make sure we are equally as organised in Southampton.”

Yesterday, Liverpool City Council leader Joe Anderson volunteered to hold peace talks with Southampton on the matter.

His offer came just 24 hours after the Daily Echo revealed how plans for a £30m fifth cruise terminal in Southampton may be delayed by a year or scrapped altogether depending on the result of the consultation.