Chris Shirling-Rooke is CEO of Mersey Maritime and says Liverpool city region’s economy faces being ‘left behind’ if plans to build a new £50m cruise terminal are abandoned. Tony McDonough reports
A maritime industry leader is warning a failure to deliver a new cruise liner terminal would put the credibility of the Liverpool city region economy at risk.
Fears are growing that long standing plans to build a new cruise liner terminal on Liverpool’s waterfront could be shelved amid uncertainty around the health of the post-pandemic cruise sector and a conflict with the city’s commitment to a net zero carbon future.
Last week, there was alarm among city region business leaders around a growing political consensus on Liverpool City Council against a £100m expansion of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, again for environmental reasons.
A number of Labour, Green and Lib Dem councillors believe any expansion of the airport would fly in the face of the city’s declaration of a climate emergency and commitment to a low carbon future.
However, supporters of airport expansion argue LJLA’s growth is inextricably linked to the future economic prosperity of Liverpool city region, with tens of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in GVA contribution placed at risk.
Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Mersey Maritime which represents hundreds of firms in the city region’s powerhouse £4bn maritime sector, backs the view that the expansion of the airport is critical to our economic prosperity – and he places similar importance on the building of a new cruise terminal.
“For the last few years we have heard frequent references to Liverpool’s ‘economic renaissance’ and how it is now once again a global city,” he said. “Liverpool has made phenomenal progress over the past decade but, if we fail to invest in our key engines of growth, then we could face decades of decline.”
There have been plans in the pipeline for a number of years to build a bigger, more permanent terminal with the capacity to handle the world’s biggest vessels. But the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a cloud of uncertainty over the £50m project.
At the start of 2020, the team at Cruise Liverpool were getting ready for what would be the current terminal’s busiest year since it was officially opened by the Duke of Kent in 2007. More than 100 vessels were due to call in spring, summer and into the autumn.
Then COVID-19 turned the world upside down and the £100bn global cruise industry, supporting 2m jobs worldwide, ground to a halt. For every day the world’s cruise ships are laid up, 2,500 jobs are lost.
Last summer there was a strong recovery with more than 100 cruises returning to Liverpool, bringing 80,000 passengers to the city. This year the terminal will once again welcome more than 100 cruise calls, providing an estimated £15m boost to the city.
A new permanent facility would take the city onto a new level as a cruise ship destination. Existing plans would see a 100,000 sq ft terminal building constructed on two floors; the ground floor being the baggage hall and entrance lobby. The first floor will include the passenger lounge, check-in area and cafe.
It will be connected by a pedestrian and vehicular link-span bridge to the existing cruise ship landing stage. The plans also include a 200-bed hotel at Princes Dock Liverpool Waters, close to the terminal building.
Once completed, the terminal would replace the existing facility and will enable the world’s largest cruise ships (up to 3,600 passengers) to embark and disembark at Liverpool. It is expected to directly create more than 500 new jobs.
The project was originally due for completion this year but, at a council meeting in August 2021, it was announced that it would be at least two years before the authority was in a position to decide any final design and location of the new cruise liner terminal.
At January’s council meeting, Green councillor Lawrence Brown questioned whether the new terminal should be built at all. As well as the environmental impact, LBN understands there is a question mark over whether or not the city council is in a financial position to be able to deliver it, despite a cash contribution from Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.
However, Mr Shirling-Rooke shudders at the idea of the project being abandoned. He points to Southampton, which was unhappy with the state support given to Liverpool’s current cruise terminal when it was built more than a decade ago.
He said: “In September, 2021 Southampton, which is already home to the leading cruise terminal in the UK, unveiled its new £55m Horizon Cruise Terminal, which it boasts is one of the greenest facilities in the world.
“It used 2,000 roof-mounted solar panels and clean energy shore power plug-in charging for cruise ships. Using shore-side power cruise ships can turn off their engines in port to reduce pollution.
“We know first hand how the maritime sector, here in Liverpool city region, and across the world, is accelerating its efforts to transform our industry into a leader in low carbon technology and innovation.
“Mersey Maritime is one of the partners in the £23m Maritime Knowledge Hub at Wirral Waters which will pioneer world class research into sustainability in the maritime sector. We have local businesses such as Bibby Marine developing net zero carbon vessels.
“We are working to offer solutions to the climate crisis – not be part of the problem. Our city region can become a global leader in the development of green technologies – creating thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs.”
Last autumn Mersey Maritime, which has helped transform the Liverpool city region into one of the most successful maritime clusters in Europe, led a high-powered industry delegation to the COP26 summit in Glasgow where world leaders had gathered to discuss the climate crisis.
“There is a risk that by making futile gestures we put our whole city region economy at risk. If we let the airport decline and don’t build a new cruise terminal the planes and ships won’t disappear, they will just go somewhere else.
“In Liverpool city region the need for vision and ambition has never been more urgent. In the late 19th century our city leaders feared the big cruise lines such as Cunard and White Star would abandon Liverpool and go to Southampton. And that is what eventually happened.
“Liverpool city region faces a stark choice – we can invest in our key assets and play a major role in a sustainable future, or we can be left behind.”