10:13am Monday 19th March 2012
By Matt Smith
IT’S the city with a never say die attitude whose ambition knows no bounds.
Considered a suitable case for “managed decline” by the Tories in the 1980s, Liverpool has seen a £4 billion investment makeover in the past decade and is now forging ahead with £6 billion plans to turn its waterfront into the Shanghai business hub of the north-west.
With a towering new cityscape, a new port development to take the world’s biggest container ships, and plans to recapture its glorious cruise heritage with new terminals, Liverpool is not short on confidence.
A £5 billion trading outpost pitched at Chinese investment on the opposite bank of the Mersey, dubbed Wirral Waters, is also in development.
The can-do attitude is epitomised by bullish Labour council leader and would-be city mayor Joe Anderson, who has raised eyebrows and anger among rival cities as far south as Southampton.
The proposed redevelopment of redundant dockland on Liverpool’s waterfront, against the backdrop of its world-famous Liver Building, has also put its world heritage status at risk.
Liverpool's Pier Head and cruise terminal today
Now Councillor Anderson’s refusal to back down over pledges to bring lucrative turnaround cruises to its Pier Head terminal has brought condemnation from Euro MPs, who are calling on the powerful EU Commission to step in to safeguard fair competition.
The MEPs are urging the Commission to recover a £10m European grant given to Liverpool to build its £21m City of Liverpool Terminal because rival ports have not had similar financial assistance and have been privately funded.
But that doesn’t seem to be putting Liverpool off either, who are pressing ahead with their regeneration plans regardless.
However, is Liverpool being too ambitious? And is Southampton failing to show the same bold vision to transform its own cityscape and secure its future as a global port city?
Southampton City Council leader Royston Smith refuses to entertain the view that Southampton lacks vision.
He said: “I don't know if Liverpool is being too ambitious. But it has to stack up and you cannot press on regardless if you have statutory bodies raising objections.”
He insisted: “Our goals are ambitions but achievable. What people don't want is over promising and under delivering. People have heard that before. Ours is practically achievable and it's right for the city.
“We all know Southampton could be better but everyone is now up for it. Our masterplan is demonstrably realistic because one third of it is in development as we speak. We are planning to put 5,000 homes in the city, and create 25,000 jobs. We are developing our waterfront, our retail and our cultural quarter.”
The council, in partnership with lobby group Business Solent, on Friday launched a £2.6 billion masterplan for Southampton to some 400 business leaders and potential investors from around the country.
Over the next 20 years, seven key projects from the central station district to the Royal Pier Waterfront and emerging cultural quarter will bring 24,000 new jobs and 5,000 new homes. That’s the plan, anyway.
The outcome of the row over Liverpool’s publicly funded cruise terminal may yet take the gloss off some off its ambitions to recapture its past maritime glory.
The Government is seeking independent advice on how much of a £9m grant Liverpool should repay before a condition banning turnaround cruises – those that start a finish at the terminal - can be lifted. It was imposed to ensure it did not get an unfair advantage over other ports.
An original offer of £5.4m was rejected by the Government.
Now five MEPs, including Daniel Hannan, Keith Taylor and Sharon Bowles from the south-east, have signed an appeal to the EU commissioners for regional policy and competition, urging them to “withhold state aid clearance until Liverpool City Council has paid back the full amount” of an additional £10m grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to build Liverpool’s cruise terminal.
In a joint letter to the commissioners the MEPs said: “In reaching your decision, we would ask you to consider those regions and those enterprises that are competing in the UK turnaround cruise market, which have received no public funding.
“Peel Ports, owner and operator of the Port of Liverpool, has submitted plans to start building a second cruise terminal with its own private funds, which calls into question the propriety of any public subsidy.”
In response Liverpool City Council said: “The council, as has been its position from the outset, is not proposing to pay back any of the £8.6m EU grant invested in the scheme as there is no overriding legal requirement to repay this money and it would simply be returned to Brussels.
“Liverpool is still waiting to hear from the Government how much of the UK grant the city will have to pay back.”
That wait may nearly be over.
Shipping minister Mike Penning met a group of Liverpool MPs at Westminster last week as the Merseysiders stepped up the lobbying for their city.
Mr Penning told them a decision would be reached in the next two weeks on Liverpool’s cash contribution.
Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Wavertree MP, told the Daily Echo: “This was a very positive meeting of vital importance to Liverpool’s future. It would be brilliant to welcome cruise liners to the port.”
Liverpool has submitted plans for a temporary baggage hall for turnaround cruises at its Pier Head terminal ahead of the Government ruling.
Liverpool claims its cruise plans will not harm other UK ports, as it is forecasting taking five per cent of a growing market where Southampton currently has 65 per cent of the trade.
But business and politics leaders in Southampton and other port cities are demanding the principle of fair competition is upheld.
And even if Liverpool pays back its public subsidy, Cllr Smith points out it will just be shuffling taxpayer funding from one public body to another – from the Government to the council.
He insists Southampton’s regeneration, when it comes, will be driven by private investment.
A proposed new look for Southampton's Royal Pier
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