RGO to shut as PPARC pulls out

February 20, 1998

Royal Greenwich Observatory in Cambridge is set to close, paving the way for a single United Kingdom astronomical research establishment in Edinburgh.

In a statement this week, Cambridge University vice-chancellor Alec Broers said: "It is with regret that we now find ourselves in discussions with other parties about the future of RGO staff following the decision by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to no longer occupy the RGO building in Cambridge." He said the university was exploring the possibility of finding jobs for some RGO staff on existing Cambridge university research programmes.

An RGO spokeswoman said: "We welcome the help being offered by Cambridge to help staff find posts at the university. What staff are very sad about is that one of the UK's foremost scientific establishments is going to close."

PPARC's chief executive Ken Pounds said: "Withdrawal of PPARC support from RGO is a matter of deep regret. However, it has become inevitable following reductions in funding for PPARC of Pounds 15 million - 20 per cent of the council's budget per year since the RGO moved to Cambridge 11 years ago." He said the council and Cambridge were discussing safeguarding key research staff and projects.

The RGO employs 102 staff. PPARC said it plans to assist all employees wanting to remain part of its ground-based astronomy programme to find other positions.

PPARC is talking with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, with a view to the museum's taking the Royal Greenwich Observatory name, which would be transferred with parts of PPARC's public understanding of science programme.

The RGO building in Cambridge, built in the late 1980s, has a value of more than Pounds 5 million excluding equipment. The land is owned by the university, and PPARC pays rent for its use. Cambridge is likely to want to take over the site again, and PPARC is negotiating a settlement with the university for the building. The council said the impact on its overseas observatories in La Palma and Hawaii will be minimal.

* The winding-down of activities at RGO will run in parallel to the setting-up of the Astronomical Technology Centre in Edinburgh, due to become operational in April. The ATC's mission will be to act as the UK's national centre for the design and production of astronomical instrumentation. The centre will be located on Blackford Hill at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Last week PPARC announced that the first director of ATC is Adrian Russell, UK project manager for the council's Gemini twin eight-metre telescope project.

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