Plans unveiled to expand ship repair business in Birkenhead

Merseyside’s best-known and most historic shipyard has been taken over by its former managers.

Wirral ship repair group Northwestern Shiprepairers and Shipbuilders has gained control of the Birkenhead yard from the A&P Group.

The deal announced yesterday means that the yard is back in the hands of the former Cammell Laird management who lost control when it was sold by receivers four years ago. And it brings the potential for significant growth to the site which is intrinsically linked to the story of Britain’s 20th century maritime industry.

Yesterday’s deal brings to an end four years of bitter rivalry between Northwestern and A&P. No cash has changed hands, but the Southampton group has taken a minority stake in Northwestern in return for selling its A&P Birkenhead subsidiary to the Wirral group.

The deal gives Northwestern, whose Chief executive is John Syvret, a lease on facilities and could allow it to grow rapidly in coming years. until now its growth on Merseyside has been restricted because the business has been confined to smaller dry docks on either side of the River Mersey, although it has carried out projects on the River Clyde near Glasgow.

Last night, Mr. Syvret said: “I look forward to further developing the business at Birkenhead with the continued help and support of Reddington Developments, Wirral Borough Council and the A&P Birkenhead team.” Reddington is the landlord of the shipyard.

David Ring, chief executive of A&P added: “A&P are pleased that we have reached agreement with Northwestern Shiprepairers. We both believe this agreement is in the best interests of the customers and employees of both businesses.”

Mr Syvret was previously managing director of Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead yard. Founded by Formby entrepreneur John Stafford, Cammell Laird was one of the fastest growing stocks on the London Stock Exchange in the late 1990s as business boomed.

At one stage, it employed more than 3,000 people at yards in Britain and overseas.About half this number worked at Birkenhead. However, the company got into trouble in late 2000 when a customer pulled out of a major contract, leaving Cammell Laird’s £40m out of pocket. The company became insolvent six months later when it failed to repay a bank loan.

Mr Syvret quickly formed a new ship repair business, Northwestern Shiprepairers, at nearby dry docks owned by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.

Back in 2000, Mr Syvret attempted to buy the dockyards operated by Cammell Laird from the company’s receivers, but was beaten by A&P. The recriminations that followed included the claim that A&P had only made the acquisition to keep the yard shut to stifle competition. Certainly A&P did not carry out much work at Birkenhead.

Mr Syvret said: “This has taken some time. It’s one thing having the site back, it’s quite another rebuilding the business we had there before. This is close to my heart, but a lot of others have worked very hard to achieve what we have achieved.”

“Merseyside is a centre of excellence for ship repair and conversion. The combined businesses employ around 500 to 600 people. Those people who thought ship repair was on its knees are wrong.

“I have a very high regard for the A&P staff at Birkenhead. They were former Cammell Laird employees.

“My intention is to grow the business. We will expand it and hopefully take on bigger military and marine engineering projects.Those developments will improve future employment prospects.”

Northwestern Shiprepairers were advised by Dow Schofield Watts

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