Mersey Docks on attack: Plans for pounds 20m freight terminal turned down as interim profits rise 79%

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MERSEY Docks and Harbour Company, the second-largest British ports operator, bitterly attacked Merseyside Development Corporation after losing a multi-million- pound development project.

Its plans for a pounds 20m river berth have been turned down by the corporation in favour of a pounds 74m scheme that includes speculative property and a science park.

Gordon Waddell, chairman, said the news had been a big disappointment.

The company, which yesterday reported a 79 per cent rise in interim profits, said the proposed scheme by London and General Property would constrict expansion of the port. MDHC wanted to build a roll-on/roll-off platform and freight terminal to maintain its leadership in Irish Sea trade. LGP's alternative plan is for a smaller terminal that, it is claimed, would be run by people without port experience.

A spokeswoman for the development corporation would not comment on the attack, but pointed out that the project was put out to tender. Planning permission for LPG's scheme is expected in September.

Profits at MDHC, up pounds 7m to pounds 15.9m on turnover up 37 per cent to pounds 61.5m, included a first contribution from Medway Ports of pounds 6m.

All Medway's senior executives have left since the takeover. The company faced legal action from former employees, who claimed their shares were bought back just before the takeover at well below the market price.

Mr Waddell said Medway was matching expectations, despite unforeseen loss of custom. A contract with Toyota was switched to a rival port, and the Olau shipping line withdrew services to the Netherlands after a crewing dispute in April. MDHC is seeking compensation from both companies.