The visit yesterday of Cunard's £350m Queen Elizabeth cruise ship to Liverpool has fuelled the long-running campaign to upgrade the port's facility from a day-stop to a full terminal where journeys can begin and end.
Liverpool City Council and a growing band of supporters are arguing that Brussels' rules that prohibited the European-funded berth, completed in 2007, from being a turnaround terminal – which would attract more shipping lines and income for the city – are unfair and should be overturned. Campaigners argue other UK ports have received European funding for port upgrades. The council has also offered to repay part of the UK funding, around £5m of the £9.2m received. The European Union put in £8.6m.
Cllr Joe Anderson, leader of Liverpool City Council, said: "There is a huge amount of support for our turnaround facility campaign from MPs and local authorities across our region.
"Having a turnaround facility will not just benefit Liverpool. We estimate the knock-on effect will be worth millions of pounds for the region as a whole, and of course it will help expand the UK's cruise industry which can only benefit all the other ports across the country."
The city currently has a turn-around cruise facility at Langton Dock run by Peel Ports but over the past five years the level of use has declined due to the size and complexity of the lock system which does not suit modern cruise vessels. The proposed use of the existing Pier Head facility will not be additional capacity for turn-around cruising in Liverpool but rather will simply replace an existing but declining facility. At its peak the Langton Dock facility accounted for about 5% of the UK national turn-around market. The council expects that the Pier Head will, at most, also only reach a 5% market share.
The council said: "Liverpool is not seeking to take business from elsewhere in the UK. We are simply seeking to retain an existing market share."
The council argues that in terms of Southampton's specific objections, it should be noted that Associated British Ports, who run Southampton docks, was created through the privatisation of nationalised ports between 1981-1983. Their whole business is based upon a port infrastructure that saw nearly 40 years of public sector investment. Southampton currently dominates the existing UK cruise market enjoying over 65% of the existing business.
Anderson added: "We firmly believe that there is plenty of business to go around, and that Liverpool is no threat to anyone else.
"We have offered to pay back what we believe to be a fair proportion of the government money we received to build the terminal, and are awaiting the outcome of the consultation."
Southampton, where the new Queen Elizabeth ship is based, is leading a counter campaign arguing that Liverpool's facility should remain in its current state.
An online petition was launched on Thursday to ask the Department of Tramsport to grant Liverpool cruise terminal status. Sign the petition here http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/16466