Liverpool set to become the Silicon Valley of the maritime world?

Article reprinted from the Liverpool Echo and written by Liam Murphy

Hi-tech barges could be built at Merseyside’s Cammell Laird as part of plans to make the region “the Silicon Valley for the maritime sector”. The aim is to replace the thousands of lorry journeys expected to be generated when the massive new Liverpool2 port is fully opened with tidal and solar powered vessels. Plans are now being drawn up for the barges – which could even be automated – to transport freight containers from the new deepwater port further inland down the Manchester Ship Canal to Salford docks.

The barges are still “at the conceptual stage” but blueprints could be ready by Christmas according to Chris Shirling-Rooke, chief executive of Mersey Maritime – which represents businesses in the marine sector across the Liverpool City Region. And Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said he would like to see the barges built at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead.

Mersey Maritime boss Mr Shirling-Rooke said the barges are part of efforts to “make Merseyside the Silicon Valley for the maritime sector”. He added: “We have four universities, we are building the most advanced ship in the world – The Attenborough – [which was almost known as “Boaty McBoatface] and we have one of the most advanced ports in the world in Liverpool2.”

The idea came about after Mayor Anderson, who is chair of the city region’s “super cabinet” Combined Authority, visited the Maritime Knowledge Hub in Birkenhead. Mayor Anderson said the expected impact of the new deep water port on local roads and rail infrastructure is a major issue facing the whole city region. He said that Liverpool2 would eventually have an estimated 1.5 million containers a year coming in and that while road improvements were being looked at the M58 and M62 are going to be affected.

Mayor Anderson added: “These barges are a great solution to the congestion that we will face. I’m not suggesting these barges will take all of that away but we need to look at a number of options. We could get the barges built at Cammell Laird, use tidal power to push them back and forth – this is a great opportunity for the city region. There is a strong business case for this and an even stronger environmental case, and it’s crucial that we look at this.”

Towards the end of this year the first berth at the £300m Liverpool2 site will open for business, with the second set to enter service in the first quarter of 2016 and Peel Ports’ chief executive Mark Whitworth said that the Port of Liverpool hopes to increase its share of the UK container market from 7% to 20%.

Mr Shirling-Rooke said the barges could see the Merseyside maritime industry working together and using advanced environmentally friendly technology to design barges specifically for use on the Manchester Ship Canal, which could be built in Birkenhead’s Cammell Laird.

He said: “The Mayor has an idea that not everything has to go by road or rail and it would be great to bring in barges. Our latest data shows that [the maritime sector] is worth £3.47 billion to Liverpool city region. Because people don’t see loads of ships anymore, even though they’re all at Seaforth, they don’t think maritime is as important as it was – but it’s actually more important.”

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