There has been a ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’ for more than 800 years but the current vessels – Royal Iris and Snowdrop – turned 60 this year and a new vessel is badly needed. Tony McDonough reports
Plans to build the first new Mersey Ferry for 60 years could take a step forward next week when the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority will be asked to make a firm commitment to the project.
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and representatives of the six city region local authorities will be asked to approve a a multi-million pound share of the £172.5m Transforming Cities Fund to bring at least one new ferry into service by January 2022.
The scheme would also see the installation of new bridges and an updated landing stage at the Seacombe terminal, subject to a satisfactory conclusion of the procurement process for the vessels later this autumn. £1.9m has already been secured from the European Regional Development Fund to fund low carbon engines.
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 hundred 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.
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.
A new long-term strategy for the ferries was approved in 2016 and there are currently two vessels in operation Royal Iris and Snowdrop (the Dazzle Ferry). Both ferries turned 60 this year and in more or less constant use presenting an ongoing maintenance challenge.
A report going to the combined authority on Friday, September 6, says the project would improve reliability, to make the ferries a more attractive and ‘green’ option for commuters and cross-river travel customers who currently make up less than 30% of ferry users.
It would see journeys increase by an additional 120,000 in the first year of a 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.
Mr Rotheram said: “Our Mersey Ferries are iconic, with a special place in our history and musical heritage but, at 60 years old, and on one of the fastest flowing tidal rivers in the world, they are operating beyond their expected lifespan. Add to this the need to renew 140 year old infrastructure, and the time is ripe for investment.
“The Combined Authority recognises the importance of securing the future of the Mersey Ferries for generations to come and next week’s funding decision will be the realisation of that commitment.”