Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


  Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the rationale for the decision to site the new synchrotron radiation facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire. This has been a difficult decision and I note that your committee was of the view that the scientific case was evenly balanced for both the Daresbury Laboratory and RAL. The Government concluded that on balance the scientific arguments favoured RAL, and that the right thing to do was to locate the new synchrotron there.

  I do recognise that the decision has implications for the Daresbury Laboratory and scientific research in the region so I also announced a review of science in the north west, under the chairmanship of Dr Bruce Smith, and I have allocated £25 million from the science budget to fund the key recommendation from the review. This review is now underway and Dr Smith will report to me by the end of September 2000.

  The Director General of the Research Councils (DGRC), Dr John Taylor, and the Director of the Wellcome Trust, Dr Mike Dexter gave evidence to your committee on 8 and 15 December 1999 and the Secretary of State appeared before you on 19 January 2000. I believe that they all stated clearly their positions with regard to the choice of site. The final decision made by the Government was based on a wide range of information provided by consultants and synchrotron users:

    —  Three synchrotron user consultations were held; January 1999, May 1999 and December 1999. The January and May consultations addressed the technical issues relating to the synchrotron and did not address site issues. The December 1999 review was held at the request of the Secretary of State and addressed issues which might impact on the site decision. This report is published on the DTI web site.

    —  The Office of Science and Technology contracted ADD Consultants in June 1999 to carry out an investment appraisal of options for the site of the proposed new synchrotron radiation facility. ADD Consultants are an independent company that provides technical consultancy and training services. Copies of the report were provided to your committee and we are planning to place it on the DTI web site.

    —  The Office of Science and Technology contracted Allott and Lomax, an independent engineering consultancy company based in Manchester, to carry out a survey of both the Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory sites in December 1999. This survey was also carried out at the request of the Secretary of State and is published on the DTI web site.

    —  The Wellcome Trust employed their own firm of consulting engineers to carry out a survey of both sites and provided copies to your committee.

    —  The North West Development Agency employed Price Waterhouse Coopers to carry out an evaluation of the choice of site. The report was provided to the Secretary of State in January 2000.

    —  The Joint Trades Unions at Daresbury supplied a number of documents over the period August 1999 to February 2000.

  The site survey concluded that there was little to choose between the sites in terms of geology and construction costs and in general cost has not been a major issue although the ADD report indicated that some saving might accrue at RAL.

  The key criterion used in selecting the site for the synchrotron is what is best for the long-term health of UK science. It is clear that both Daresbury and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory offered viable sites for the location of the new synchrotron. There were, however, four key areas which pointed to RAL as the preferred location:

    —  The potential for operational, technical and scientific synergy between the new synchrotron and the other facilities on the site, especially the ISIS neutron source.

    —  The potential to produce a world-class international research centre drawing together a range of scientific and engineering disciplines. This centre will have the capability to develop new interdisciplinary and multi-technique approaches to scientific and technological challenges.

    —  The sharing of many technical functions, for example: accelerator design, magnets, pulsed power etc and support functions such as security, safety, administration etc.

    —  Its proximity to the bio-sciences expertise at Oxford University, the MRC units, including the Mouse Genome Centre on the adjacent Harwell site and the National NMR centre.

  The clear conclusion from the users consultations is that they require a world class machine for a wide range of structural science research within the UK but the focus must be on the quality of science produced. There was support for a strong science culture with an on-site research institute doing structural science in many fields and where a multi-technique approach to research can be pioneered. The advice from the DGRC was that this can be best achieved at RAL where other facilities such as neutrons, lasers, nuclear magnetic resonance already exist. The physicists we consulted were of the view that co-location with the ISIS neutron source would be of benefit to them.

  The UK currently has a number of world-class research faciltities and another key factor is the need to ensure that in the key technology areas, such as accelerator science and engineering, the UK maintains a critical mass in the near and longer term. In addition investment needs to continue in a range of support technologies such as low temperatures, vacuum technology, high magnetic fields etc that can be shared among the different facilties. Co-location at RAL will minimise duplication of activities and encourage more efficient use of those investments.

  The synchrotron project is being carried out in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, and through international partnership with the French Government. The partnership we have secured with the French and the Wellcome Trust is, we believe, the best way of achieving a facility with the kind of leading edge capability that the current and future synchrotron users demand. By working together, we can build a larger and more highly specified machine than we could afford individually.

  As large facilities become more and more complex, and hence expensive, in the future, partnerships of the type we are pioneering will provide the most cost effective way of developing them. France and the UK are at the forefront of promoting such collaborative activities within Europe.

  As a partnership we had to take account of the views of all the participants with regard to the choice of site. The Wellcome Trust have stated clearly in their evidence to your committee and in correpondence that their preference was for an open competition for the site but agreed with the Office of Science and Technology to narrow the choice to the Daresbury and RAL sites. After having reviewed the evidence on the two sites they decided that RAL was the better site and in a letter on 21 January 2000 informed the Government that they could support a decision to put the new synchrotron at RAL but could not support one to put it at Daresbury. The French Government stated that the final decision for the choice of site rested with the UK. They did, however, express their view to me at a meeting on 14 October 1999 that the RAL site was their preferred option. They also made it clear in a telephone conversation on the 9 March 2000 that if the Wellcome Trust withdrew from the project they would do so also.

  In making the final decision the Government took into account the recommendations by DGRC, the Wellcome Trust and the French Government, all of which pointed to the RAL site as the preferred option.

14 April 2000

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