Save the Planet Campaign – Reloaded

Merseyside Civic Society is relaunching its Save the Planet Campaign to demand the return of the historic former Mersey Bar lightvessel Planet to Liverpool, after a dispute with Canal & River Trust (CRT) and its owner resulted in removal from the Albert Dock complex to the Bristol Channel.

This follows information that Planet has not in fact been sold, as claimed by CRT Waterways Manager Chantelle Seaborn. While there is apparently an interested party, it appears that the deal is not done and Planet remains impounded 200 miles away at CRT’s Sharpness Dock, Gloucester.

MCS is calling on Louise Ellman, Liverpool Riverside MP and Chair of the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee, who has supported our campaign, to invite CRT Chairman of Trustees Allan Leighton, plus representatives of Liverpool City Council to a special meeting at the House of Commons to explain their actions and offer a solution for Planet’s return to Liverpool.

The University of Liverpool Heseltine Institute for Public Policy and Practice’s new report Albert Dock: What Part In Liverpool’s Continuing Renaissance? states: “The CRT now has responsibility for the water space that had been held by British Waterways. Many plans for future animation are being discussed. But people still expected to see more regular activity and animation by now.” MCS believes that Planet’s forced removal is a further glaring example of this lack of vision.

We hope that Ms Ellman will also approach Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham (who will also has Transport and Environment in his care) and Lord Prescot (who sailed past Planet many times as a seafarer), for statements of support.

Peter Elson, of MCS, who is spearheading the campaign, said:
“Planet is Merseyside’s most important historic ship still afloat, yet there is a long list of crucial questions that need answering by CRT.

“What is the actual status of this alleged offer by a mystery party to buy Planet? If so, when is the sale taking place and to whom? Who actually holds the deed of ownership for Planet?

“Can CRT actually sell Planet if they do not own it? Has the CRT taken legal advice on whether it can actually sell the ship, or does ownership or legal title still lie with Alan Roberts, the owner from whom CRT seized the ship in lieu of unpaid mooring fees, who claims he has now paid his outstanding mooring fees? 

“There is also an issue of whether CRT has exceeded its legal powers by removing Planet from Canning Dock (although it towed the ship 200 miles to another CRT owned Sharpness estate).

“We were promised a further statement from CRT at the end of March - is there any chance of Planet returning to Liverpool as we were led to believe in a conversation with CRT North West Partnership chair Bob Pointing?

“I also wonder what proportion of CRT's annual £200m income (including government grants from our taxes) would it take to fulfil this promise?

“In particular I shall press that Allan Leighton, CRT chairman, to give us a statement. When he was CEO at ASDA, apparently he wore a badge like his shopfloor employees with the words: ‘I’m Allan. How can I help you?’. Well, here’s his big chance.”

CRT has benefited from massive public investment for the Albert Dock complex we see today. As CRT also plans a water taxi service around its waters there, MCS believes it is entirely feasible the Trust could retain ownership of Planet and lease it to a bona fide hospitality company to operate as a bar.

CRT could even complete Alan Roberts' plans to turn Planet’s 10-bed accommodation into a B&B - a quirky idea which would create positive publicity for CRT and Albert Dock.

There is no reason why a small charity should take this role when CRT has such great public resources at its disposal. The obvious proper action is for CRT to buy out Alan Roberts at the Planet's scrap value of circa £50,000 (CRT had Planet surveyed before towing away so it must have a realistic idea what this costs).  

The removal of Planet from Canning Dock is not only causing despair to the maritime community but is also a major blow to Liverpool - far bigger than is probably realised as again it weighs against our already 'at risk' World Heritage Site status.

WHS was awarded by UNESCO as a prime example of an historic mercantile seaport, yet in the famous phrase this is a case of "I see (almost) no ships" of historic interest. With nearly 2,000 names on our MCS web petition (and four or five added each week) we know this is a popular campaign which has struck a powerful chord with many people not only in Merseyside but also across the world.