Deadlock continues over siting of X-ray source

February 4, 2000

Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers was this week frantically attempting to find a means of ending the impasse over the siting of the United Kingdom's new synchrotron source.

The Pounds 550 million project has been marred by a row over claims by unions at Daresbury Laboratory, a bidder for the project, that the Wellcome Trust and the Office of Science and Technology have undermined the Cheshire-based laboratory's bid in order to allow the instrument to be located at the rival bidder Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

The trust, which is offering Pounds 110 million towards the project, says it prefers RAL because of the excellence of its research culture and says it may pull out of the project if the instrument goes to Daresbury.

Mr Byers has maintained that his choice is Daresbury. However, he told a group of northwest MPs last week that he was concerned about finding the necessary extra funds should Wellcome pull out.

One MP on the House of Commons science and technology select committee pointed out that only about Pounds 28 million of Wellcome's share needs to be found for the Pounds 175 million cost of building the facility at Daresbury. The trust is providing a further Pounds 52 million for running costs over 15 to 20 years while the remainder is earmarked for a research institute next to the facility.

Union scientists say the spend profile during the early years of the project could be readjusted to avoid reliance on Wellcome money at the outset. A union spokesman said they would give the government time to either convince Wellcome to support their decision or to find alternative partnerships.

A further complication is the likelihood of the French government pulling out, after a row between the French research community and the government over the decision to abandon Soleil, France's own version of the UK machine.

A leader of the French team said: "When we began talks with the British we concentrated almost exclusively on a choice between RAL and somewhere in Cambridge as the location of the instrument. But we were told the final decision was the British government's alone. We are ready to look at any decision it makes and then develop our own position from that."

The Commons science and technology committee said in a letter to Mr Byers: "[We have] not been persuaded by arguments put forward in favour of either Daresbury or RAL that either location has significant advantages over the other in terms of the excellence of the science that could be performed or in terms of the health of the national science base as a whole."

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