Light source plan dims as plan is axed

November 9, 2007

The Government has axed plans to build a £230 million world-leading research facility in a potentially major blow to science in northwest England, writes Zoe Corbyn. The Science and Technology Facilities Council has confirmed that it has scrapped existing plans to build the fourth generation light source (4GLS) - a potentially revolutionary facility to study molecules and chemical reactions - after an independent review by international experts.

The decision throws into question the very future of the STFC's Daresbury laboratory in Cheshire, where it was widely expected the facility would be built. It represents a blow to the region's universities - Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster.

MP Mike Hall, a champion of the project whose constituency encompasses Daresbury, said he was "not pleased" with the decision, and MPs from the region would be meeting with the Science Minister to discuss it.

"It is very disappointing. It would have guaranteed the future of the (Daresbury) laboratory, keeping it as a centre of excellence in the region. The science case has been made, and we will be pressing the Government extremely hard on this issue."

The STFC said a new proposal for a next generation light source would be developed to an "aggressive timetable. We are pressing the reset button. We are drawing a line under the 4GLS and starting a new light source project," John Womersley, STFC science strategy director, told The Times Higher .

"We want to have a crisp, focused, science-driven proposal ready for consideration in the summer of 2009."

Dr Womersley said the new plan would draw on the best elements of the old proposal, learning from the £23.1 million 4GLS prototype currently being built at Daresbury, but stressed that it would be a "clean sheet of paper". He added that there were never any guarantees that the full 4GLS would be built and said the decision on the siting of any new light source in the UK was "completely open".

Daresbury currently operates the synchotron radiation source, but this is set to close in December 2008. The 4GLS had been seen as the machine to succeed it.

John Dainton, a professor at Liverpool and the founding director of Daresbury's Cockcroft Institute, called the decision illogical. "Daresbury looks less attractive unless it has a major science driver," he said.

A spokesman at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, said that, although the decision would be a disappointment, it was necessary "to accept the independent scientific assessment and not make a premature investment on such a scale ... ".

"The Government remains fully committed to the further and future development of the Daresbury campus," he said.

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