LIVERPOOL has to pay back £8.8m of a government grant to allow cruises to finally start and finish on the River Mersey.
The repayment of almost the entire £9.2m can be phased over 15 years, making the total cost £12.6m with interest.
It means the start of a new era in the city’s proud maritime history will get underway in a week with the arrival of the 17,500-ton Ocean Countess to become the first liner to use the Pier Head as a “turnaround” location. It is also a victory for the Liverpool Post's Get On Board campaign, which has fought to bring full cruising back to Liverpool.
Transport Minister Mike Penning today lifted the restrictions that meant the landing stage can only be used as a calling point by cruise ships.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said: “This is a significant milestone in the city’s future. I will not rest until the city is absolutely flourishing in terms of cruise liners visiting Liverpool on a regular basis. This is a city with a maritime history and heritage that is second to none.
“I remember when I was 10 years old, I used to go down to the river and watch the cruise liners come in, cruise liners are part of Liverpool.”
Mayor Anderson has battled to secure the return of liners to the Pier Head since he took charge of the city as council leader in 2010.
Chancellor George Osborne said: “As a North-west MP I have heard and seen how important this issue is and am glad the Government has delivered for Liverpool. I am pleased that the decision will allow cruises to start and finish in the City’s port. I look forward to new jobs and investment, along with liners on the Mersey.”
Liverpool council had agreed to repay whatever sum was recommended by an independent expert called in by the Department for Transport.
Technically the decision is still subject to European Union approval, as it paid £8m towards the landing stage.
So far the EU has not shown any inclination to demand back any of its money.
Mayor Anderson said as far as he was concerned today’s announcement would mean that liners could use the Pier Head for turnaround.
He said the city would “cross that bridge” if and when the European Union requested any repayment of its grant funding.
A temporary facility on the waterfront to handle baggage and passengers will be ready for the arrival of the Ocean Countess, and Mayor Anderson said he is already working to create a permanent facility.