Save the Planet…
There is a huge groundswell of public opinion, led by the
Merseyside Civic Society demanding the return of the former Mersey Bar light ship Planet to her Liverpool home port, following seizure by the Canal & River Trust (owner of Albert/Canning Dock water) in a dispute over £10,000 unpaid mooring fees, resulting in towage of 300 miles to Sharpness, Gloucestershire.
The Canal & River Trust has put up Planet for sale at £100,000 with a deadline of 16 December, 2016, citing its expenditure of an estimated £56,000 (spent to recover the now paid £10,000 debt). There is no guarantee that Planet either won’t be bought for scrap or be brought back to Liverpool.
Merseyside Civic Society has launched an online petition “Save the Planet: Bring Back Liverpool’s Planet Lightship” demanding Planet’s sale is halted and the light ship returned to Liverpool, which has attracted more than 900 signatures to date.
Planet is the most important and historic Liverpool - registered ship still afloat.
Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status is based on being a prime example of an mercantile sea port, but unbelievably has no historic ship as evidence of this, apart from Planet which is a very worthy contender.
Planet was the fourth and last such vessel to be anchored at the Mersey Bar, 12 miles off the Port of Liverpool.
Planet historic status meant she was included as a waterfront attraction in the original proposals for the renovation of the Albert Dock complex by Merseyside Development Corporation in the early 1980s. Her latterday high profile berth at Canning Dock, Strand, created a lot of interest from visitors.
Planet was the first and last sight of home for millions of seafarers, passengers and military personnel (many of whom never returned)) - the “Lantern on Liverpool’s Front Door”, as described by the late Capt Robin Woodall, of Hoylake, and master of Cunard flagship QE2.
Planet was the last manned working UK light ship when she was retired from Trinity House (which runs England’s light ships and light houses) in 1991.
Planet’s removal was described by Stuart Wood, BBC maritime commentator and former Liverpool Chief Pilot, as an “absolute and total disaster with three Ds for Liverpool” and publicly called for the ship’s return in the media.
Canal & River Trust has an annual income of £190m (including £50m pa from the Government) and thus has plenty of cash to correct this calamitous decision.
"Author, journalist and broadcaster Peter Elson discusses issues of Mersey maritime heritage on his regular slot on the popular BBC Radio Merseyside Roger Phillips phone in.
This week he raised several issues on which MCS have in the past made comments, and does so in such forthright and entertaining style we thought you'd like to listen.
First up is the Merseytravel debacle which has seen Liverpool's famous 'Ferry Cross the Mersey' confined to port and out of service as not one, not two, but all three of their ferries are laid up simultaneously.
Earlier this year we raised concerns with Merseytravel Chair Cllr Liam Robinson about apparent 'managed decline' in the ferry service, when plans were revealed that would scrap one of the three ferry terminals, Woodside, and leave Birkenhead without its 800 year old ferry link. Saveaway ticket sales have already been quietly dropped at the Pier Head, and Woodside blanked from the commuter shuttle route.
Under pressure from residents and MP Frank Field, Merseytravel agreed to think again on closing Woodside and have announced plans to build new vessels - but the current complete absence of this key public transport and tourism asset from the river for weeks on end suggests at least a problem of investment and co-ordination, and at worst that our fears of managed decline are well founded.
Secondly, Peter Elson rails against the destruction of the Liverpool's oldest cinema, the 1912 Futurist on Lime Street, and its neighbouring Georgian properties, for a development of student flats, echoing the view of Neptune's project as 'civic self-harm', and lamenting that 'deals have been done that damage our heritage'.
This must be seen in the context of the ongoing status of Liverpool's World Heritage Site, the only one in Europe (outside the former Kosovo war zone) on UNESCO's 'at risk' register.
Finally Roger and Peter lament the loss to Liverpool of our historic lightship the Planet, which has been taken to Gloucester by the Canal and River Trust in lieu of allegedly unpaid mooring fees, and now appears at very grave risk of being scrapped or sold down the river to another city.
Its removal has been called 'an absolute disaster' by former Chief River Pilot Stuart Wood, and MCS would support Peter Elson's call to Bob Pointing at the CRT to find a solution that returns the Planet to Merseyside."
Subsequently the Planet has now been put up for sale
Prompting Peter to write the following letter to Louise Ellman, Liverpool Riverside MP (after she told me she would like to help and to be kept informed).
Further to our previous contact about the plight of the former Mersey Bar lightship Planet, the £10,000 mooring debt has apparently now been paid to the Canal & River Trust (owner of the water areas of Canning and Albert Docks) by lightship's owner Alan Roberts (or someone on his behalf).
As you will recall, in what many people regard as a calamitous over-reaction, instead of C&RT sealing off Planet in a corner of Albert Dock, at great cost it then towed the lightship to Sharpness Docks, Gloucester, claiming there was nowhere else to berth the ship, as Peel and ABP dock owners refused a mooring on Merseyside.
However, Bob Pointing, C&RT North West chair, said it still intends to sell Planet to recoup its cost of towage and berthing to Gloucester (I believe to be around £12,000). Potential buyer viewings take place on 12 -13 Dec, with sealed bids in by 16 Dec. It's a very tight deadline and I fear the next stop will be the nearby scrapyard.
That must raise a question about the CRT's drastic decision to remove the ship from Liverpool altogether, a decision which threatens the ship's permanent loss to the city, as former Liverpool Chief Pilot Stuart Wood told the Echo "that is a total and absolute disaster - with several capital Ds". It also undermines Liverpool's UNESCO citation as a World Heritage Site based on its mercantile seaport history.
C&RT's success in retrieving the relatively modest sum of £10,000 has incurred them costs many times over, and deprived the public of the opportunity to see and visit the ship in its historic home port. Planet was the fourth and last Mersey Bar manned lightship and was described by the late Capt Robin Woodall, of Hoylake and master of Cunard's flagship QE2, as the "Lantern on Liverpool's front door" for millions of sailors and passengers.
Planet is the most important Liverpool ship of any kind afloat and the city should not stand for losing something truly 'iconic' for the sake of a dispute over £10,000 or a decision by a Milton Keynes-based trust.
The danger is that the ship becomes another 'Royal Iris', the famous Mersey ferry sold down the river by a public body and left rusting on a distant waterway (in that case rotting by the Thames Barrier).
C&RT is a new organisation which has been given the huge honour and responsibility of ownership of the water-spaces within Liverpool's historic dock system. It recently revealed exciting plans for new bridges and berthing around the docks, therefore it would suffer real reputational damage on Merseyside if its first major decision results in Liverpool losing its last lightship.
I believe the sensible solution for the CRT would be to agree terms that sees it take the lightship over in lieu of towing fees, returning the vessel to its home port as a well-run attraction. The former owner Alan Roberts was part way through converting Planet's seven cabins into B&B accommodation. If this was brought to fruition under experienced management (such as Camp & Furnace Club which does something similar in caravans at its Jamaica Street property), this would be a fantastic visitor facility and attraction in the Albert Dock complex and also create a sensible revenue stream for Planet's long term survival.
As Liverpool Riverside MP and in your Transport chair committee capacity, I also wondered if there was any chance you could ask a question of the Shipping or Culture Ministers (whoever historic lightships in peril come under!) as leverage to get the C&RT to do the decent thing and get Planet home to Liverpool?