The case for a new Liverpool ferry terminal could be holed below the waterline as it emerged the project is running millions of pounds over budget.
Already a year behind schedule, the scheme won’t be finished until March 2022 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Steam Packet will carry on using the Pier Head terminal until the end of next year’s fast craft season.
In the House of Keys this week Infrastructure Minister Tim Baker variously blamed Covid, the Luftwaffe and the design of the new Steam Packet ship for the delays. He told MHKs the delays and disruption caused by Covid has cost an estimated extra £5m and rising.
The cost of remedial works to the site including dealing with unexploded wartime bombs will add a further 5% on top of the scheme’s value.
But Mr Baker said there would also be a substantial extra cost of protecting the quay wall from the bow thrusters of the ferries.
He said there was an obligation to protect landlord Peel Ports’ assets and his department was close to an agreement. But until this had happened it would be wrong to estimate how much the extra cost would be - although he said it would be ’substantial’.
Mr Baker said the contractor was working to a completion date of early March 2022 - a year later than planned - but admitted even that date could change.
He said: ’I’m not going to apologise for that fact that this has gone on longer and is going to cost more because the coronavirus impact is significant.
’I’ve also explained there is a significant element of the project related to protecting the landlord’s asset which we haven’t got to agreement on yet. This was a known unknown at the time the contractual documentation was signed.’
John Quaye, chairman of Manx Independent Carriers, pointed out that the majority of the sailings to and from Liverpool will be using the Mannanan fast craft, with the Ben-my-Chree or the new Manxman vessel providing weekend sailings to Merseyside in the winter time only.
He told the Manx Independent: ’What a shame that we are spending all this money on a terminal that has limited freight capacity and will be used for only a small amount of time throughout the year.’
Mr Baker told MHKs that progress is being made ’day by day, week by week’ but there is ’still much work to do’.
Most of the land reclamation work has been completed, the piles have been driven for the main terminal buildings and the access road finished.
The costs of the project have already spiralled and are currently budgeted for £38m. Mr Baker said if necessary his department will come back to Tynwald for a supplementary funding vote.
But he insisted a figure of £53.1m for the ferry terminal project published in a written reply to a recent Tynwald question was ’completely spurious’ and ’pure error’.
Back in 2015, the Steam Packet said Peel Ports would invest £15m in a replacement facility for the ageing Pier Head terminal - but would require a long-term financial commitment from the ferry operator. This would have come at no cost to the public purse.
But then the government got involved and the Manx taxpayer is now footing the entire bill.
A site was bought at Princes Half-Tide Dock to allow for the building of a new Isle of Man ferry terminal.
A 2016 report to Tynwald estimated the total cost would be in the region of £25m. In the 2018 Budget the cost was put at £30.5m but this latest Pink Book puts the total cost at just over £38m.
The cost impact of Covid has been estimated £5m but ’we are far from finished and this figure will increase significantly’, the Minister told the Keys.
He said it was ’too early to be definitive’ about the costs of scour protection for the quay walls.
While the fast craft doesn’t have bow thrusters, the Ben-my-Chree does and the new Manxman vessel will have much more powerful ones, he said.
Mr Baker added: ’The degree of resilience that is needed has been increased by the Steam Packet Company’s choice of the Manxman, which has a far more significant level of horizontal displacement of the water which therefore injects more pressure into the quay wall.
’So that cost cannot be clarified until we’ve got the solution agreed. If necessary, of course, the DoI Minister, whoever he or she may be, may in due course need to come back to Tynwald supplementary vote.’
The cost of other problems were foreseen but estimated too low. The area was bombed during the Second World War and some of the unexploded bombs were in the way of key work and had to be dealt with.
The site contained a lot of archaeological interest, some of which took a long time to excavate, creating delay costs that exceeded estimates.
These delays cost about £8,000 a day, working out at 5% of the scheme’s value but ’we won’t know until the final accounts are reckoned’, said the Minister. He said he very much supported the scheme. ’It is still the right thing to do,’ he said.
Mr Baker said it was possible that things improve and savings are found but equally possible that they do not improve and saving are not found.
’I will do absolutely what I can to control the costs and to speed up delivery but I cannot promise that we’ve yet met all the challenges that this scheme will bring,’ he said.
Daphne Caine (Garff) asked how the delays will impact on services to Liverpool and whether the Pier Head terminal is going to continue in the meantime.
Mr Baker said that this was the matter for the Steam Packet to negotiate with its landlord but it was his understanding that there is ’no impediment for the continued use of that particular piece of capital equipment’.
The Steam Packet said it now expects to use the new berth from spring 2023 for the start of fast-craft services.
Meanwhile, it has secured the use of the Pier Head landing stage until the end of 2022. Peel Ports are carrying out works, paid for by the Steam Packet, to allow it to be used for the whole of next year’s fast-craft season.
Liverpool City Council said it is currently considering the timescales for its Pier Head cruise terminal project given the impact of Covid on the cruise industry.
A spokesman said: ‘It’s therefore difficult to be precise about the start date for the works until a review of the impact of coronavirus on the cruise industry and the hospitality sector is completed.’