Exclusive: New ferry will be 100% built on Mersey

Exclusive: Birkenhead shipyard Cammell Laird close to deal to build first new Mersey Ferry for 60 years and previous plans to part-build the vessel in The Netherlands have been shelved. Tony McDonough reports

Mersey Ferry
Mersey Ferries Royal Iris and Snowdrop have been in service for decades. Picture by Tony McDonough


Merseyside shipyard Cammell Laird is close to agreeing a deal to build the first new Mersey Ferry in 60 years.

And LBN understands that plans to share the project with a shipyard in The Netherlands have now been shelved. This means the vessel will be 100% built at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead.

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has been planning to build a new vessel for several years. The current Mersey Ferries are Snowdrop and Royal Iris.

Both are in constant use for the daily river cruises, the morning and evening commuter service and special voyages such as trips up the Manchester Ship Canal. This heavy use means the cost of maintenance is very high.

Mr Rotheram originally put out a tender for the new vessel in December 2018. However, cost complications caused by the UK’s exit from the EU meant the project had to be put on hold in May 2021.

In March 2022 LBN exclusively revealed the project was back on. At that point the plan was that Cammell Laird would share the project with Dutch shipbuilding giant Damen. This approach caused some controversy.

However, with Cammell Laird now close to a deal with Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, LBN has learned the firm will be the sole contractor on the build. A Cammell Laird source told LBN: “That is really exciting. Where else better to build a Mersey Ferry?”

Once approved, work on the project is expected to begin in Birkenhead in 2024. The Metro Mayor says the new vessel will be “greener” but hasn’t specified the exact method of propulsion.

Speaking last year, he said: “We’re making a significant investment in one brand new greener, more energy efficient and one upgraded vessel to ensure that the iconic Ferry Cross the Mersey will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.”

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There has been a ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’ for more than 800 years with the original service operated by the monks of Birkenhead Priory from a slipway on the Wirral side of the river still known as Monks Ferry.

For hundreds of years the ferries provided a vital commuter service between Liverpool and Wirral and were immortalised in the 1960s hit by Gerry and the Pacemakers called Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey.

However, by the 1970s, an increasing number of commuters were using cars, buses and the underground Merseyrail network.


Cammell Laird
Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead is set to build a new Mersey Ferry
There has been a ferry across the Mersey for more than 800 years. Picture by Tony McDonough


In 1977, the ferries almost disappeared forever when a bill was put before Parliament to discontinue the service. The bill failed and the ferries survived.

But the decline continued and, in 1990, they were relaunched by Merseytravel as primarily a heritage and visitor attraction, although the commuter service between Liverpool and Seacombe still operates in the morning and evening weekdays rush hour periods.

Journeys are projected to increase by an additional 120,000 in the first year of the first new ferry being in operation, with further increases thereafter and it would improve operating performance by £630,000 a year.

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