A SECRET consultants' report could hold the key to open up the former Cammell Laird complex to a shipbuilding revival - or sound its death knell.

Wirral's maritime industry is in danger of being buried after the sale of the A&P ship repairers' to next-door neighbours Reddington Finance, who now own the whole of the 150-acre former Cammell Laird complex.

Reddingtons has ambitious plans to create a waterfront leisure park with retail and housing developments. A&P will retain ownership of the dry docks and will lease back some land, including the wet basin, to continue its operations.

The take-over announcement coincided with completion of a special study of the riverfront area by consultants First Marine International, who were commissioned by the local authority.

Wirral council leader Cllr Steve Foulkes, who has been campaigning for a return of shipbuilding to the Wirral banks of the Mersey, said: "There is a strong lobby to keep the heavy shipbuilding connection and a lobby for other uses. At the end of the day it is all about what is practicable and what is best for the people of Wirral.

"My preference is for thousands of men in blue overalls to be building and restoring ships. The area is steeped in shipbuilding

"To see shipbuilding return on a massive scale would be a fantastic result. But we must be realistic about prospects. A decision won't be made from the heart but from the head."

Cllr Foulkes said he saw the Reddington initiative as a "fairly aggressive move." He commented: "It is a very worrying time. It raises a question mark over the discussions we have been having, I am keen to get all stake-holders round the table to make sure that everyone sees the consultants' report and hears a presentation by First Marine International."

Cllr Foulkes said he was not prepared to comment on the conclusions of the report until they had been studied by all interested parties.

He said: "I am in the process of fixing a date to look at the draft report. The report will be open to challenge and comment and will act as a guidance document for any decisions under the control of the local authority. We can't control the actions of Reddington, A&P and North West Shiprepairers. We have to use the information relating to future land uses at the site and, hopefully, make the right decisions."

Colin Towl, group business director of A&P, said the company would continue to repair ships at the site as long as the business was viable.

He said: "We had land that was surplus and it leaves Reddington free to carry on with their development. I don't foresee any problems."

Mike Ryder from Reddington said: "This agreement achieves our aspirations to move forward with our plans while A&P continue with ship repairs."

Birkenhead MP Frank Field, who for years has championed the cause of a shipbuilding revival, said: "After 25 years in Birkenhead I remain optimistic that common sense will get through to some people.

"You can't have a ship repair yard and luxury homes on the same site."

And John Syvret, managing director of North Western Ship Repairers and Ship Builders, expressed concern about long-term strategy for the river-front site. He said engineering work did not fit in with people shopping.

He said: "Reddington won't stop until they have convinced everyone that the industry is dead round here. We have 250 employees and need a bigger site to carry out Ministry of Defence contracts."