Exclusive: New Mersey Ferries project back on

Plans to build new Mersey Ferries were shelved in 2021 but now the project is being revived and the vessels could be built in both the Netherlands and on Merseyside. Tony McDonough reports

Mersey Ferry Snowdrop
Mersey Ferry Snowdrop is now more than 60 years’ old


Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram is set to revive multi-million pound plans to build two new Mersey Ferries.

In December 2018, the Combined Authority put out a tender to build the first of the new ferries to replace the current vessels, Snowdrop and Royal Iris, which are more than 60 years’ old. But cost pressures caused by the UK’s exit from the EU meant the project had to be shelved in May 2021.

However, LBN understand it is now being revived and the new vessels would be powered by a hybrid diesel/electric engine. Although no contracts have yet been awarded LBN has learned that favourites for the job are Dutch shipbuilder Damen Shipyards Group along with a local Merseyside partner.

It is believed Damen would build the structures of the vessels which will then be sent to Merseyside for a final fit-out. Likeliest candidate for its local partner would be Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, which has extensive recent experience of working with ferry operators.

Damen is one of the largest shipbuilding and repair businesses in the world. Based in Gorinchem in the Netherlands it is a family-owned firm that operates more than 50 shipyards and works in 120 countries. Since 1969 it has built more than 5,000, delivering more than 150 each year.

Damen and Cammell Laird were approached by LBN but both declined to comment on the Mersey Ferries contract. A Combined Authority spokesperson said: “There aren’t any new updates since we announced refurbishment plans last year when the then procurement process came to an end.

“Any further decisions would go through formal approval at which point we would be able to keep people informed. It’s always been our aspiration to deliver improved vessels and and a better passenger experience for those using our world-famous Mersey Ferries. We remain committed to making sure that they remain around for future generations to enjoy.”

When Mr Rotheram originally announced plans to build new ferries he said £1.9m had been secured from the European Regional Development Fund to fund low carbon engines for the vessels. 

Both Snowdrop and Royal Iris 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. Due to the high cost of maintenance and running the vessels, it is thought investment in new ferries is the best way of ensuring their long-term future.


Royal Iris
Mersey Ferry Royal Iris approaches the Pier Head. Picture by Tony McDonough
Gerry Marsden
The ferries were immortalised in song by Gerry and the Pacemakers


Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is already spending £7m upgrading the Seacombe ferry terminal in Wirral. That work is due to be completed by the spring with an overhaul of the Woodside terminal to follow later this year.

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.

READ MORE: Pier Head terminal to bear Gerry Marsden’s name

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, reducing the public subsidy for Mersey Ferries operations.

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