Of all the infrastructure projects undertaken in Liverpool in the past ten years, few can have resonated quite as strongly with local people as the opening this week of the city's new cruise liner terminal. John Elcock reports
The arrival of Regent Lines' Seven Seas Voyager earlier in September brought out many Liverpudlians to observe an event last seen in the 1970s with the departure of the transatlantic passenger liners. Once again Princes Dock was alive with people as office staff, construction workers, children and grandparents waved to the bemused passengers on board a liner representing a very different era.
The key benefit of the new £19m facility is that is has at last given vessels the ability to berth alongside Liverpool's waterfront, saving ship's passengers the inconvenience of waiting for a tender service to shore from a mid-river anchorage.
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Later in September, the QE2 will act as host for the official opening ceremony. At least a ship a month is due to arrive in 2008.
Across Merseyside too there should be justifiable pride that construction of the 350m floating pontoon was conceived, managed and delivered using local maritime expertise and resources. And for the cruise industry, the opportunity to offer passengers direct embarkation into a thriving city centre whose strong cultural offer promises a lucrative excursion programme, Liverpool really does look gilt-edged as a future cruise destination.
Watching the first tourists amble around the construction site that is currently the Pier Head it was also clear that much more will need to be done in the coming year to improve the experience for visitors. Basics of multilingual signage into the city centre, bus information and seating areas will need to be quickly addressed if the city is serious about stepping into the global tourism marketplace.
But for the passengers it was clear that Liverpool had a draw that was beyond mere destination. Aside from the obvious Beatles and Football cliches, for many North Americans the genealogical thread linking the city with emigration and family roots is keenly felt. It is a city whose cultural impact is perhaps more widely appreciated internationally than here in the UK.
From the very outset, public feedback to Liverpool Vision, the city centre urban regeneration company, during their consultation on the Strategic Regeneration Framework included a steady and vociferous campaign to reinstate the landing stages on the waterfront. Much of the subsequent city centre development in the 'Big Dig' has been met with frustration and exasperation from motorists, heritage groups and city workers but for once the cruise terminal appears to have united both hearts and minds.
Delivery of the terminal coincided with news of the last payment of Objective One funding from Brussels, earmarked for the replacement of the Mersey Ferries ticket office next year. It is with sweet irony that just as the economic cycle of Liverpool turns full circle, it is to river that the city might just once again find a new source of prosperity and confidence.