The number of large cruise ships that pass through Venice are to be limited by the Italian government.

In a move which will dismay major cruise lines, the number of cruise ships allowed through Venice will be cut by 20% from January.

Ships of more than 96,000 tonnes will be banned from the centre of the city from November next year, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s office also announced plans to open up a new canal route to the city to allow big vessels to enter the city by an alternative route.

The measures were announced after a meeting between Letta, the mayor of Venice and other local politicians on Tuesday.

The Cruise Lines International Association (Clia) said: “While we believe that the passage of cruises through the Giudecca Canal is safe, we agree that any sustainable solution requires an alternative passage for our ships.

“We absolutely respect the Italian government’s decision and Clia remains committed to working and collaborating with the Italian authorities in the development of the alternative final passage.”

Environmentalists have protested against the ships in recent years, saying they damage the city’s fragile lagoon.

But there is also a powerful lobby in Venice that supports the cruise ship trade and welcomes the economic benefits it brings.

A spokesman for those who have protested against the ships told Italian media that the measures constitute a first step and that their campaign will go on.