A Labour MP this week attacked the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's decision to move its Central Science Laboratory from Norwich to York, turning away from a leading centre for British food research, writes Julia Hinde.
Charles Clarke, MP for Norwich South, said the decision to consolidate the CSL at York had been taken for "entirely bureaucratic reasons" that are not in the best interests of food research.
"I deplore this shoddy decision, which will damage and disrupt food science research in this country," Mr Clarke said. Norwich had become a centre of excellence for food research, with five research laboratories based on or near the research park, he said, and moving CSL to York would undermine this.
The decision to shift CSL to York came just 24 hours after the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which answers to the Office of Science and Technology, announced plans to consolidate its Institute of Food Research at Norwich and close its Reading site.
Maff built the Pounds 134 million laboratories in York in 1996. Agriculture minister Jack Cunningham said that a reduced R&D budget since has meant the York labs are under-used. The move, to be completed in 1999, would ensure a better return from the investment. Mr Clarke called the move an attempt to provide "retrospective justification for the dreadful decision to build the Sand Hutton Laboratory white elephant in York".
More than 100 of Norwich's 140 staff will be offered relocation to York. A spokeswoman for the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, the union that represents many CSL staff, said it is unlikely all will choose to move. Tony Bell, IPMS national officer, added: "With the final decisions on the Food Standards Agency not yet made, would it not make more sense to have waited with these moves?"