The Mersey Bar
lightship's owner claims he is being hounded out of Liverpool's Albert Dock and might take this iconic piece of maritime heritage to Manchester. Peter
THE Planet lightship, anchored at the Mersey Bar, was the first and last sight of home for millions of seafarers and passengers for
This little red lightship, along with her predecessors, symbolises this world famous port's history. Without doubt, Planet is the most
iconic Mersey vessel still afloat.
The story that follows, of Planet's astonishing survival, triumphant return to Liverpool, restoration and now
rejection, will cause anybody who cares about the city, its history and its soul, to put their head in their hands and weep.
In spite of Planet being
one of the Mersey's most important maritime survivors, the lightship's presence in Albert Dock, moored by Blue Bar, is deemed "inappropriate in
Planet's owner, Manchester-based entrepreneur Gary McClarnan, has been told to "consider his options", a move described as "despicable" by
Mersey Lightvessel Preservation Society.
In spite of Liverpool's seemingly vast dock estate, in fact suitable berths for a ship like Planet are
The only feasible Liverpool option McClarnan has is the adjacent Canning Half-tide Dock, but its depth varies and the lightship's 12ft
draught means it could be damaged by the dock bottom. There are also security problems with this exposed berth.
So it's no option at all, really,
which leaves him with the more tempting alternative to leave Liverpool entirely for Manchester, where authorities at both Salford and Trafford are ready to
He says: "I feel I'm being harassed and hounded out like some gypsy who has nowhere to go. I've had Planet's water supply cut off
for three days and access to the ship was barricaded at one point.
"I've been told that some of the tenants worry Planet may become a bar, which is
not the aim and would require planning and licensing permission.
"Others apparently don't like the colour and think the ship might break her
moorings. Finally I'm told I did not give enough notice of arrival, but in fact everyone knew two months ago and started negotiations with British Waterways
a year ago.
"I've not asked for any money from anyone, but I'd like a bit of a welcome for coming here. The Tate Gallery love the ship and Tony
Tibbles, keeper of Merseyside Maritime Museum, told me how much he appreciates Planet being here.
"I've seen other Albert Dock retail tenants to
introduce myself and ask if they had any concerns about the ship. Everyone I spoke to loves the ship and are happy we are there."
If this is an
accurate reflection, then surely this is the real issue that the Albert Dock authorities should be addressing rather than harassing an individual whose
presence isn't, in fact, resented, but appreciated?
Merseyside almost lost Planet two years ago when her previous owners wanted to sell her. The
vessel was rumoured to be going to either Holland or Scandinavia, until McClarnan, 44, a Salfordbased music and property entrepreneur, stepped in.
bought Planet for "under £100,000" and has since spent a further £100,000 of his own money on continuing restoration.
Persuaded by the Mersey
Lightvessel Preservation Society not to relocate Planet to his property at Salford Quays, he is instead converting the ship's interior into studio space for
12 music and media students to become a possible satellite for the LIPA "fame" school.
At the dispute's heart is the situation caused by three main
bodies being responsible for Albert Dock. British Waterways owns the water and gave permission for Planet's six-month temporary berthing, with negotiations
to take place for a longer period.
Albert Dock Company owns the buildings (including leasing) and Gower Street Estates operates its public spaces and
walkways on behalf of tenants. The latter is especially unimpressed by the lightship's historical credentials.
Sue Grindrod, chairman of Gower Street
Estates, says: "The lightship came in without consultation. We're working with British Waterways reviewing the strategy of Albert and all the south
"The lightship will be moved into Canning Dock after a number of discussions between British Waterways and ourselves.
occupies the sunny side of the dock, blocking out light, and has a negative impact on the businesses. Scale is our main concern, which our board deemed
inappropriate for the Albert Dock. As the public can't access the lightship, I can't see how it benefits our visitors."
However, she did agree that
none of the Albert Dock resident vessels - the tug Brocklebank, coaster Wincham, barquentine Zebu or Indefatigable's launches - were accessible by the
public, but she thought the Baltic schooner Glaciere could be viewed "by appointment".
Would Gower Street Estates not feel responsible of the loss of
Planet to Salford Quays by this decision to force the vessel out of Albert Dock?
Grindrod says: "It's British Waterways' problem to find a solution.
We're here to work in partnership in all our interests. Blue Bar expressed operational issues about gaining access to (Planet). There are health and safety
Pam Brown, president of Mersey Lightvessel Preservation Society, which fought for years to save Planet, says: "This appears to be an
infight between the operators of the Albert Dock complex."It is despicable that Bill Broadbent, British Waterways' harbourmaster, who has jurisdiction on
bringing vessels into Albert Dock, is now having to rescind his permission.
"I believe Planet's berth was offered a year ago, and this has been all
done correctly legally with the right insurance. If she's too big for Albert Dock how come this was not spotted earlier on?
"It would be a great
shame if Planet goes to Manchester, yet another important part of our Mersey heritage that seems likely to go off to foreign parts."
Jim Gill, chief
executive of regeneration agency Liverpool Vision, says: "The south docks do need animation and bringing back boats is a good thing that adds to their
"This whole matter could have been better managed. With a bit more sensitivity between the individuals involved, this problem could
have been avoided.
''Clearly all the people involved have to get on with each other and should behave in a manner for the greater good." The wider
vision concerns leading Merseyside maritime preservationist Susan Hanley-Place, chairman of Mersey Heritage Trust.
She says that from the start of
Albert Dock's regeneration, there were plans - shown on illustrations - to include a lightship.
"Redevelopment plans always envisaged Planet would
find her final retirement home in Albert Dock, and here she is, berthed up with Liverpool's square-rigger Zebu," says Hanley-Place.
a warm Liverpool welcome after all those years heaving at anchor out in the Irish Sea.
"British Waterways is a decent organisation to deal with. This
has a great deal to do with Bill Broadbent. Bill had a BW remit to develop the ship presence as he sees fit."I have the original promotional brochure for
'Albert Dock Village'. It clearly shows the lightship Planet as part of the original aspirational historic ships collection."
Merseyside Development Corporation's first chief executive, recognised the importance of smaller historic vessels and British Waterways is now carrying
forward this vision, and must be supported to the hilt."
Bill Broadbent, British Waterways harbourmaster, says: "Nobody ever suggested we wouldn't
speak to Gower Street Estates. We've agreed to move Planet to another location, although all three options have problems regarding water, power and
John Sloan of CB Richard Ellis which manages Albert Dock on behalf of Gower Street Estates, says: "We must ensure all procedures for public
health and safety and general activity connected with the vessels does not interfere with the occupiers which permanently reside on, and the public who
frequent, the dock area."
Justine McGuinn, a spokeswoman for CB Richard Ellis, also stated Planet was too big and "quite intrusive" for Albert Dock,
although the lightship mostly lies lower than the public walkways and its protruding lantern does not obstruct any office windows.
Pam Brown of Mersey
Lightvessel Preservation Society reiterates: "We've a great deal to thank Gary McClarnan for. Thanks to him Planet is presently so near to her original home
at the mouth of the Mersey, afloat on the river waters that actually flow into Albert Dock."
THE lightship Planet and her predecessors witnessed many maritime events in their lifetimes, especially the convoys
assembling during the war, before their dash across the Atlantic and around the world.
The first Mersey lightvessel was also called Planet and built
at Birkenhead in the 1870s. Planet, stationed at Mersey Bar from 1961 to 1972, was manned by a crew of seven who spent two weeks at a time on board. She had
no engine and was towed to her position, being held in place by a four-ton wrought iron anchor. Planet was replaced by a 55ft diameter unmanned Automatic
In 1972 Planet was relocated by her owners Trinity House to Guernsey, until 1983. Made redundant again, it was dispatched to Harry
Pound's scrapyard, Portsmouth.
She was saved from demolition when bought by Keith Ganes and Mike Critchley, and who berthed the vessel in the East
Float Dock, Birkenhead, until her latest relocation across the Mersey in Albert Dock.
Stan McNally, chairman of the Mersey Lightvessel Preservation
Society, says: "Planet is an historic ship and deserves preservation. This part of Britain has long been associated with the Merchant Navy and provided a
large proportion of its crews."
The marine radio museum originally on Planet is now relocated to Perch Rock Fort, New Brighton. Visit the website at: