A new Mersey Ferry will be built at the historic Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead after a deal was finally struck on the multi-million pound project.
More than a year ago, it was confirmed a new vessel to cross the Mersey for passenger journeys would be built – the first of its kind for more than six decades. Now, parties from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and the Birkenhead maritime firm have shaken hands on a £26m project keeping the shipbuilding on Merseyside.
More than 120 people are to start work on the “cleaner, greener vessel” alongside a three-week project to refurbish one of the existing ferries – Snowdrop.
It was confirmed last November that a new ship would be commissioned to sail across the Mersey – the first since the 1960s. An initial tender for the ferry was put out five years ago, with a pause on the search owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
There were fears the historic ferries could have been lost to the Mersey in the 1970s when a bill was put to Parliament to end the service. This was defeated and the crossings have continued ever since.
The boats were immortalised in Gerry and the Pacemakers’ iconic song, Ferry Cross the Mersey from 1965.
Speaking at a meeting with more than 100 apprentices at the Birkenhead plant this morning, Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said, “When I was a kid, I’d never been on a ferry but I knew about them because of the famous song by Gerry Marsden and an old film showing black and white pictures of Liverpool, the Liver Buildings all sooted up with a famous ferry going across the Mersey. They’ve been here for hundreds of years but in the last few generations, they’re really part of the DNA of Liverpool and Wirral.
“We wanted them to be built in Cammell Laird but we can’t just choose, it has to be procured. We found that really problematic but we’ve got to the stage today where all parties are agreed and it’ll be built on the banks of the River Mersey.
“Our hope is once this is underway, we will then be able to generate enough funding to buy another one and it’ll be very similar to the other one that’s being built now, so it makes it easier for it to be built as it’s a new design. Hopefully then we’ll have two new ferries but we’ll definitely have one in the short term and the long term aim is the ferries will be here for generations.
“The main costs are for the new build but we have to have one of the ferries we’ve got upgraded because they’re starting to show their age, they’re 60 years old or older. A new one will mean we save on the costs of repairing these very old vessels.”
David McGinley, chief executive of Cammell Laird, said, “It’s hugely important, this shipyard, the Mersey, the city of Liverpool and Birkenhead, we’re all co-joined. To have the opportunity to build this particular vessel is fantastic, it’s great for the business, great for our apprentices and we’re very pleased.
“There’s no doubt it belongs here, we’ll build it, we’ll build a great product, and the people of Liverpool will have a link to Cammell Laird for the next 50, 60 years.
“It’s taken longer than we’d normally have expected and that’s because of factors around commercial sensitivities we’ve had to overcome. We’ve done that and we’re ready to build.
“This allows us to focus on demonstrating our capabilities in terms of building the ship and also draw on the experience of all the other ships we’ve built, notwithstanding the Sir David Attenborough that left here two years ago. Our people are keen to build it, our apprentices are desperate to get started.”
Image: David McGinley, CEO at Cammell Laird with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram. Credit: David Humphreys