Why cruises are key to Merseyside’s future

For years the waters of the River Mersey have supplied a great wealth of attraction and a rich maritime past. Now with the surge in tourists boarding cruise ships for their holiday there has been a boost in the Merseyside tourism sector. With a substantial increase in the number of ships visiting the city, docking close to the famous Liver Building, the future is certainly all about cruising.

2014 will see at least fifty visits by cruise ships to Liverpool, without counting visits from the Royal Navy vessels. Officially opened in 2007, the Liverpool Cruise Terminal cost £19 million to build. It previously and still does allow cruise ships to call at the city, offering passengers the security and safety of visiting a world class destination. The new build also improved services for customers of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Ferry. In 2012, after a bizarre decision to make Liverpool City Council repay previous funding, a decision was reached that would see cruise ships able to begin and end their journeys in the city, for the first time in over 40 years. Liverpool is now a world class cruising destination.

The first commercial transatlantic trade can be traced as far back as 1648 and today Liverpool’s shipping industry remains one of commercial ventures albeit pushed heavily through the tourism sector. This year is expected to see an estimated 70,000 visitors to Liverpool on cruise ships alone. That’s without any guesses toward the number of people from across the North West who will head to the city to catch a glimpse of the liners, including the German six-star rated MS Europa 2 and Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess. Thousands of pounds will be spent by tourists in the city, in restaurants, museums and shops, with Mayor Joe Anderson saying that each vessel will be worth up to £1 million to the local economy. This will continue to create and sustain jobs in the Merseyside tourism sector. The sector which is vital for Liverpool’s economic future.

An impressive view. Source: ITV

An impressive view. Source: ITV

Cruise passengers from Northern Britain have spent years travelling to the ‘cruise hub’ in Southampton and now Liverpool could offer an unparalleled northern hub for cruise liners. There has been some upset from the southern cruise city however. Experts, based in Southampton, have said that despite Liverpool’s rise in the cruise liner industry Southampton will not be affected. The so called ‘cruise wars’ between the two ports has been raging for many years. Last year, an announcement from Merseyside confirmed a dredging process would start to take place, at the tune of £35million of government funding, to allow larger container and passenger ships near the Seaforth estuary. At the same time, Southampton confirmed a privately funded project in to the regeneration of their docks, this time to the sound of £70 million. Southampton’s council has stated that its history will ensure the future of the docks remains alive. But Liverpool’s richer maritime history could see the city head to the top of the UK’s top cruise destination.

Ships still dominate the River Mersey and it is an industry which is vital to the growth and success of Merseyside’s economy. From the ferry that sails passengers between the Pier Head and Wirral to the large container ships that dock at the Port of Liverpool, the river is more than the bloodline for Liverpool. Cammell Laird, dominating the Wirral side of the Mersey continues to thrive as the largest and most successful ship repair and conversion specialist in the UK. Today, ship building at the Birkenhead site continues to mould the UK economy as well as keeping local people employed and the ship building industry alive.

Elsewhere, Liverpool is often regarded as the spiritual home of Cunard; the 175th anniversary of the historic cruise line will be celebrated in 2015 in front of the three graces at the Pier Head. The historic ‘unsinkable’ Titanic was registered in Liverpool and so the city name was carried on her stern; The Lusitania which entered service in Liverpool had a similar strong link to the city people. Both are two of the worst shipping disasters in maritime history. Whilst both of these ships history is marked in the city and the North West maritime past, it is hoped the disasters are not an indication for the future of shipping in the area.

Speak to any overseas tourists and one of the top destinations that is spoken is Liverpool. For it’s culture and history, the city has gained international recognition. See how many tourists openly praise the city on their arrival and it is very easy to see that visitors ‘love Liverpool’. Currently it is smaller ships that are beginning their cruise journeys in Liverpool, but it is hoped that the continuing support from the city council and visits from Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, Mary and Victoria in 2015, will not only pinpoint Liverpool as the ultimate cruising city but also create maritime history.

The docks of Liverpool have paved the way for economic security in Liverpool for generations. From when the trade of commodities such as sugar were stored in the Albert Dock warehouses right through the hosting of the ‘Tall Ships’ and the round the world ‘Clipper Race’, the waters have always been held in great respect by the people of Merseyside. Today, although Liverpool may not be the international trading port it once was, the future is now destined for tourism. Vehicle ferries across the Irish Sea have terminated in Liverpool for years, cruises which have been visiting seem to be getting bigger and bigger, and the next step is ensuring larger liners not only visit the city but ‘turnaround’ from there too.

There is no destination like Liverpool. History and 21st century culture are a mix within a stones throw from the new cruise terminal. The diversity of the great city, its people, architecture and culture alike, are a huge draw for tourists and it certainly makes sense for it to be the ultimate cruise stop on the global map. The city’s rich maritime history which is still celebrated and commemorated to this day means the only way forward for Liverpool is cruising on the Mersey.

For more details on the Cruise Terminal and visits by ships to Merseyside visit the official website: http://www.cruise-liverpool.com/

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Have we seen the best of Top Gear ?

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Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

I will always openly admit that my favourite programme on television is Top Gear. The mix of laughter, cars and genuine passion and interest for what the three presenters do is what appeals to me most. Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, “New Top Gear”, as they call it, began in October 2002. Ten years on, Top Gear remains the most watched car programme in the world with over 300 million viewers and remains one of the, if not the, most successful and most watched show on British television. But in recent years, the numbers of shows per series has decreased dramatically, and the content of the show has moved away from the original ethos of Top Gear. So have we really seen the best of Top Gear?

When considering what to write in this blog, I originally thought it would be a simple answer of yes, however, the latest series of the programme, broadcast in early 2013, has shown how the quality of the show remains one of the highest on British TV. Stunning camera shots, specialist filming of high performance vehicles and interesting yet quirky items have seen Top Gear deliver highly on their changed priorities – more expensive and powerful cars are reviewed over ‘sensible’ cars for the average motorist.

The early editions of the new format of Top Gear did reflect some of the content of the old format. Informative and factual reviews of cars such as the Citreon Berlingo and Land Rover Discovery made the car reviews, whilst the new interests of the modern viewer wanted excitement and power. This came in the form of more focus on power cars such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Pagani Zonda. The new format is studio based, unlike the previous, and features new additions such as lap times with The Stig, and a new interview feature – A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. These segments revived Top Gear from what was a struggling motoring programme into a show that boasts immense commercial success.

It was around series 4 when Top Gear moved to film new and exciting challenges such as the legendary Aston Martin versus a train to Monte Carlo and the cars playing football – a feature which still recurs today. In the latest series’ of Top Gear, there has been a shift from the review of sensible, everyday cars, to longer films about supercars and the challenges the presenters face from the producers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I always defend the programme when people claim ‘they don’t do normal cars’. That’s not because they’re not interested in them. The audience has changed. Younger viewers want excitement and high-octane thrills. An insight into the power of a Ferrari is likely to be preferred over reviews of a bog standard Vauxhall.

In 2007, Top Gear moved into another new era, as some of the one hour programmes became dedicated to one single challenge. These often consist of buying a certain type of car for less than a given budget and then driving them through rough terrain, encountering a number of difficulties. The rapport of the presenters, the character of the cars chosen and the obscene challenges faced are what have and continue to bring in the millions of viewers who tune in on a Sunday night.

I can’t, however, feel comfortable that Top Gear will go from strength to strength. The legendary films that Top Gear has produced – the trip to the North Pole, the American special and Bugatti Veyron race across Europe are items that viewers will not forget and that brings a very high standard to future productions. It’s simple – some but not all of the films following such stand out years for Top Gear have not been matched.

At points, there is some question about the spontaneity of events. The caravan holiday antics where a tourer was set on fire, for instance, was set up, yet was presented very realistically. The idea of some features purposely being scripted for laughs seems rather disappointing to any viewer, especially when the show was so spontaneous in earlier editions.

It must be commended that the show does have a proven track record of success. No other programme has ever been as commercially successful as Top Gear and probably no other programme will be. The recent 19th series of the programme finished alongside two “Best of Top Gears” – a regular look back the highlights at the end of the series. The stand out feature from this series was the quality of the films. Yes, Top Gear might not film as many reports as previous series’ but the quality of what is produced is above and beyond an ordinary motoring programme. The two-part special featuring the presenters travelling to find the source of the River Nile was possibly the greatest Top Gear adventure yet. The trip felt fresh, alive and exciting. The presenters were genuinely passionate about their quest to find what they had been challenged with. And with the usual combination of bickering, bantering and boyishness, the show was a ratings success for the BBC.

Some of the ideas have felt a little strained, almost as if Top Gear executives are running out of ideas. However, if Top Gear are going to do less shows per year, the overall quality of series 19 would be welcomed any day.

Yes, Top Gear has been on air, in its current format, for over ten years now. And yes, it does feel that the top of the hill has been reached in terms of its features. I will always be an avid and loyal viewer to Top Gear whatever happens. Lots of people will moan about how the show has moved from its roots to focussing just on fast super cars. My argument is that Top Gear is a reflection of its audience. An audience which has developed and changed with the years.

Awarding Jeremy Clarkson a special recognition award in 2007, Sir Trevor McDonald claimed: “He has helped create a niche show for enthusiasts into a must see show for millions of fans.” Not many programmes can boast of that success.

‘Breaking News’ – The snow is back.

ITV News presenters Mary Nightingale and Alastair Stewart bring us the latest on the snow.

ITV News presenters Mary Nightingale and Alastair Stewart bring us the latest on the snow.

British news has once again been dominated by the old trouble maker herself, the weather. Again. But is it really necessary for this same old story about travel disruption, power cuts and how we are coping in the “freezing conditions” to have the worthy of nearly half the air time of an evening news bulletin? I think not.

There is a clear argument for the reports on the weather, keeping viewers informed with any disruption to their travels and whether or not their kid’s school is closed. But surely this kind of news can be kept for a short update within a local news bulletin. News of how many schools have been closed in Wales and Northern Ireland is most irrelevant to a viewer in Newcastle. There is an art of recycling when it comes to weather news reports. The standard procedure applies as follows: Top headline about snow; travel disruption because of the snow; how people have been “battling the elements”; a warning from police not to travel; and of course, the question everyone wants to know – is more on the way? I guarantee if you watch a news bulletin on a ‘snow day’ this procedure or near abouts will be the one that dominates.

When it comes to reporting on the snowy conditions and “treacherous driving conditions”, there is an element of shock. That shock, however, is that the expense of other motorists. For instance, a common report on the travel disruption begins with scenes of motorways around the country which appear dangerous and un-driveable. But then follows the repeated phrase, “a number of accidents…” which then leads into footage of cars off the road, often in ditches, recognising how very dangerous the roads are. Sometimes there will be dramatic footage from a camera phone showing a car, sometimes a bus, sliding in icy surfaces. Very shocking. But then again, why would any driver be so careless to pass through icy conditions and put their own lives at risk? The ordinary viewer, who hasn’t ventured out because of the cold, voices their opinions within the family – “stupid”, “idiot”, “why didn’t they stay at home” – So whilst the reports do highlight the somewhat incompetence of drivers who ignore previous warnings, they highlight the danger on the roads, underlying the message of the danger in the snow and NOT TO TRAVEL..(unless absolutely 100% vital, of course).

Another regular feature which appears on ‘snow day’ news programmes is the art of crossing from the cosy and warm newsroom to the arctic like conditions of the Lake District, Glasgow, Belfast, Buxton, Cornwall and Cardiff (not always used), in the traditional ‘sweep’ around the country to get the wider picture. Mainly so a viewer in the south can comment on how much snow they have had compared to the North. Then follows the ‘Live OB’ – the Outside Broadcast. “Lets cross to Cumbria and get the latest from there…” proclaims the newsreader and then follows one of the single most depressing shots for anyone who wants to be a part of news – one of the country’s brilliant TV journalists, used to battling court room dramas and breaking news, stands freezing, covered in snow and red-faced, in a farmer’s field. There has to be some admiration for these reporters who brave the conditions to bring us the details of what is happening. Although, quite a lot of the time, the closures, conditions and power cuts that are being experienced in Scotland are quite the same to those in Cardiff. It is an endless ‘arctic circle’.

At one time, it used to be a novelty to have a news bulletin dedicated to the ‘chaos’ that the snow has brought. Nowadays, with climate change and differences to our weather patterns, snow is bedding down more regular. Where I live, between Liverpool and Manchester, there have been around four different snowfalls in the past six months! Despite that the same reports and information surface – Don’t travel unless necessary; check with your tour operator; stay indoors; check on your neighbours. Compare that to the United States where snow drifts are vast and we look like a country that can’t cope with the white stuff. The news is supposed to be an operation that provides the latest new news. Although each snowfall is new the news that surrounds it is far from that.

So don’t forget to take care in the snow and of course, in the words of great journalists and presenters, “don’t travel if it’s not essential.”