A White Elephant on the Mersey?

As he’s forced to, yet again, defend the cost to the taxpayer of building a ferry terminal in Liverpool, DoI Minister Tim Baker has confirmed over £20m has been spent on the scheme so far.

Figures released by the Minister after a written question from Onchan MHK Julie Edge shows that in 2020/21 over £9m was spent on the scheme, with just under £1m being spent so far this year.

The amount spent per year on the Liverpool Ferry Terminal, broken down by budget line, since the scheme was first published

But it was during oral questions when Mr Baker came under the most scrutiny as members probed for detail on the project which is threatening to become a white elephant on the banks of the Mersey. It was confirmed in April’s Tynwald sitting that costs are will increase significantly for the project.

On Tuesday, Ms Edge asked Mr Baker what discussions the DoI has had with the Steam Packet and what decisions have been reached regarding the new half tide dock? This follows on from the recent announcement that the scheme will cost at least £5m more than expected and taxpayers are also going to have to pay for a new wall shield as the Ben-my-Chree and the new Manxman’s bow thrusters will damage it.

In his response, the Minister said the company has been discussing the replacement terminal with the DoI since ‘at least 2014’. Before it was bought out by the taxpayer, the gov had agreed a heads of term agreement with the Steam Packet that it would use the new taxpayer funded ferry terminal in Liverpool.  

He added: ‘The department and the company entered into the sea services agreement on May 31 2019, that agreement requires the company to use the new ferry terminal once it is handed over to the department.’

Mr Baker also said that the design of the new Manxman ferry, which has led in part to the need for the scour protection to be added, is a ‘matter for the Steam Packet’s board’ and not one his department had been involved in. 

However Ms Edge said she was ‘shocked’ that the DoI hadn’t discussed the design of the new ferry with the Steam Packet since that design will now cost the Manx taxpayer even more money. She added: ‘My big concern is that the contract that is in place with the Peel Group, really has caused implications for the people of the Isle of Man that perhaps nobody in here was made aware of at the time of voting for the Half-Tide Dock.’ 

Ms Edge then asked Mr Baker when his department became aware of the need for reinforcements of the Mersey wall. He said it was a ‘clear contractual obligation’ when the land was bought for the ferry terminal and that ‘nothing has changed in that regard other than the development of the detailed design’.

Not content with the answers, Liberal Vannin leader Lawrie Hooper asked whether the extra costs to the taxpayer that are required because of the design of the Manxman were made clear to the Steam Packet or if the DoI was aware in terms of what the company was proposing and the additional cost that would have. 

Mr Baker said: ‘The detailed design of the ship that the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company decides to procur is entirely a matter for them. The obligation on the department is to ensure that the scour protection scheme adequately projects the landlord’s investment. Now clearly there is a connection between the types of boats and the scour protection implications, but there was no ability for the department to interfere in the Steam Packet company, an arms length body, vessel purchasing decision.’

Ms Edge said she accepted that the DoI shouldn’t interfere with the running of the Steam Packet but asked when they established it would cost more money and if the new vessel would also lead to the taxpayers having to pay for works at Heysham.

The Minister said the DoI was still designing the wall protection scheme so ‘no one can be definitive at the time of the design of the scheme or indeed the cost’.

It is worth remembering that until the gov got involved in the scheme, it was going to be funded by Peel Ports and the Steam Packet.

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