Lab faces closure after OST appraisal

February 18, 2000

Closing Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire if it fails to become host to Britain's new synchrotron source could reap savings of up to Pounds 25 million a year, according to an Office of Science and Technology report.

A confidential "site appraisal" for OST by ADD Consultants favours locating the source at rival bidder Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxford. The report assumes that about 100 of Daresbury's 525 staff would need to be made redundant and 200 would need relocating to RAL at an average cost of Pounds 22,500.

Daresbury houses the existing synchrotron source. ADD estimates 240 Daresbury staff would leave or retire before the new generation machine was fully operational at RAL, five years after construction begins.

ADD also estimates that building the machine at RAL would be up to 20 per cent less expensive over the 20 to 25-year lifetime of the Pounds 550 million project.

The report, delivered last June, concludes that there are no significant features, barriers or risks to the selection of either RAL or Daresbury as the site. It adds, however, that "there would be greater benefits to the United Kingdom science community if the new facility is sited at RAL, in terms of the enhancement of the comprehensive research facilities there and the synergy between the synchrotron radiation source and the neutron and laser facilities".

Unions at Daresbury have consistently maintained that the laboratory's bid has been deliberately undermined by the OST and the Wellcome Trust, a project partner, so the source can be located in the south of England.

They angrily dismissed the ADD report as little more than a "business plan" for RAL. They pointed out that the findings of the ADD report were in sharp contrast to an earlier study by another consultant, NNC, and commissioned by the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, which manages RAL and Daresbury.

The NNC report, dated February 1999, carried out an appraisal of four sites: Daresbury, RAL, a greenfield site and the Wellcome Trust's Hinxton genome campus at Cambridge. NNC came out in favour of Daresbury and said it would cost Pounds 30 million more to build it on any other site.

A union spokesman said the ADD study was a "terribly unprofessional report that we believe was commissioned by the OST because they were not happy with the conclusions of the original, unbiased study".

Trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers is expected to announce the location of the new synchrotron source within the next few weeks.

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