Feud puts science project in jeopardy

October 13, 2000

Soured relations between a Spanish university and its regional government are blocking the development of a E120 million (£72 million) science park in Alicante.

Valencia's regional government, the Generalitat Valenciana, is accusing University of Alicante rector Andres Pedre$o of "irregularities" in buying land for the university's new science park, Medpark.

Last July it halted construction work on the site, alleging the university had exceeded its powers. But academics at Alicante believe the real reason lies in Generalitat president Eduardo Zaplana's personal animosity towards Professor Pedre$o.

In October 1996, the two men had a public falling-out after Mr Zaplana decided to set up a new university in Elche, 20km from Alicante, using two of Alicante's most prestigious faculties as building blocks.

The Medpark project is designed to exploit Alicante's research expertise in fields such as information technology and environmental science, involve local industry and promote the creation of new businesses. The university intends to invest E72-120 million over the next 15 years.

The project, based on the UK science park model, began in 1996 and was formally approved by university management in 1998. The jewel in the project's crown is an agreement signed last year with Nasa to use the US space agency's technology to study climate change and predict earthquakes.

Luis Ramos, director of institutional development at Alicante University, is concerned the dispute could discourage the 15 companies that have already signed up for Medpark.

"(The Generalitat) has not given us a particular reason for its refusal. They have put us in a bureaucratic impasse in order to block the situation," he said.

Salvador Forner, director general of universities at the Generalitat, has refused to comment on the affair. His department has asked the official auditors to look into Alicante's handling of Medpark finances.

Trinidad Amor"s, the Socialist opposition deputy for Alicante, is concerned at the consequences for the region of delaying such an important project. He accuses Mr Zaplana of "a self-interested and destructive use of power".

Javier L"pez, secretary general of local business federation COEPA, said the university was at fault for not following correct procedures.

Mr Ramos fears a reason for the delay is that the regional government intends to allow Elche's Miguel Hernandez University to build its own science park. The new university is having problems attracting students, with only 57 per cent of the university's places filled this year.

"If our university keeps growing and providing quality, the other cannot," Mr Ramos said.


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