MPs are to demand that science minister Lord Sainsbury provides a detailed explanation of his controversial decision not to locate the new Pounds 550 million synchrotron project at Daresbury Laboratory in Warrington.
A member of the House of Commons science and technology committee said that if Lord Sainsbury's explanation was not satisfactory the committee would consider launching a full-scale inquiry into the matter.
The decision to locate the X-ray machine at Daresbury's rival, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxford, was greeted with anger and dismay by the Daresbury workforce.
They have consistently maintained that their laboratory's bid has been undermined by the Office of Science and Technology and the Wellcome Trust to ensure the project is sited in the south of England. The trust had threatened to pull out unless
the machine was located at RAL.
Campaigners at Daresbury, where 500 jobs are now at stake, plan to push for a public inquiry into the decision. Campaign leader Sue Smith said: "It cannot possibly be the model for public-private partnerships if a minority stakeholder, bearing only 16 per cent of the total project costs, wins the day simply by threatening to pull out if it does not get its way."
She said the government's regional policy was "in tatters", adding: "Labour voters in the party's 'heartlands' will not be impressed."
Lord Sainsbury attempted to soften the blow by announcing that a team headed by Bruce Smith, chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council, would carry out a study to identify ways of strengthening the Northwest's science base. Its recommendations will be implemented with at least Pounds 25 million from the science budget.
He said the Daresbury synchrotron source will be operational for seven years.