Science strategy calls for £3bn investment

June 27, 2003

The government's strategic plan for funding the large facilities essential for "big science" will require an investment of £3 billion over the next decade or so.

The figure, from the Office of Science and Technology's second Large Facilities Strategic Road Map report, published this month, is based on UK research councils' estimates of what is needed for the projects that require major funding input.

These include the development of computing facilities eight times more powerful than today's, the replacement of two oceanographic research ships and the building of three particle accelerator facilities to dovetail with the Large Hadron Collider under construction at the European particle physics laboratory, Cern.

Many projects will involve international collaboration, with the UK seeking to host shared facilities or to play a major part in their planning.

The OST described the cost projections as "back-of-the-envelope" calculations. "Many projects, if they happen at all, would be European or even global, and whether they proceed depends on many factors, most of which are not related to the UK," a spokeswoman said.

"Some projects would not be ready for decision for more than ten years, at which point it may be clear that projects currently not on the horizon are actually a greater priority," she added.

In the first road map, published in 2001, research council heads identified priority projects. This year, the councils have highlighted three new strategic areas: high-powered lasers, fusion facilities and major renewals, refurbishments and investments in research council institutes.

Upgrades and refurbishments will cost more than £200 million. These include another rebuilding of the Halley station in Antarctica, operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

The road maps are part of an official attempt to make decision-making more transparent that grew out of criticism of the government's 2000 decision on where to site the £550 million Diamond synchrotron light source, the largest UK science facility for 30 years.

The facility, now being built in the south of England, prompted questions in parliament after criticisms that the choice was influenced by political considerations.

The road maps aim to provide a full picture of UK science facility needs, making decision-making more accountable and shifting it from a case-by-case analysis.

The government now also runs a gateway process to procure large facilities.

This is managed by the Office of Government Commerce and involves six stages at which a project must be justified.

• Cern has announced that it is no longer in financial trouble and that development of the Large Hadron Collider is back on track. The laboratory has been lent more than £300 million by the European Investment Bank after costs for the project, scheduled for completion in 2007, spiralled out of control last year.


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