Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 1st April 2008.

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Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall Labour, Weaver Vale 11:00 am, 1st April 2008

I would like to put on record my thanks to Mr. Speaker for granting this important debate on the future of science in the north-west. Daresbury laboratory—now the Daresbury science and innovation campus—in my constituency has been delivering world-class science for 40 years and has contributed to Britain being at the international forefront of accelerator science research.

In 2000-01, Daresbury faced a problem. The Government made the stupid decision to locate Diamond, the successor to the synchrotron radiation source that had been developed at Daresbury, at Rutherford Appleton. Daresbury therefore faced the challenge of finding a new project to ensure that it remained at the forefront of international science. The purpose of this debate is not to look back over the decision that has already been made—although I will refer to some of the consequences of it later—but to consider what can be done to secure the future for Daresbury laboratory in the post-synchrotron radiation source era.

In 2001, the Government set up the north-western Daresbury science group, which considered what could be done to design a new project for Daresbury laboratory in the future. It came up with a concept called the fourth generation light source, which involved fantastic world-leading scientific research that was internationally recognised. We were hopeful that that would take the future of the laboratory forward. In 2006, we were very pleased when the Government published the document, "Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014", in which they stated in support of the objectives that

"the Government has decided that the Harwell site, which includes RAL, and the Daresbury site should become the Harwell and Daresbury Science and Innovation Campuses respectively. The Government will look to develop these campuses so as to ensure that the facilities located here are internationally competitive, support world-class science, and maximise opportunities for knowledge transfer. Work is being commissioned to explore how they should be delivered in practice".

That was a vote of confidence in the future of Daresbury laboratory and is an important document. I hope that the Minister will repeat what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said and reaffirm that that is still the Government's position. That announcement was recognised by Daresbury laboratory as a very positive statement about its future.

We also welcome the Government's announcements in December last year and January this year that Daresbury science and innovation campus will continue its high-performance computing accelerator and detector research at the Cockcroft Institute and the Harwell centre. The Cockcroft Institute is a joint international venture on accelerator science and technology, and is a commitment to the future of Daresbury laboratory. The project is led brilliantly by its director, Swapan Chattopadhyay, who is an internationally renowned scientist who came from Berkeley in America to Daresbury because of the work that was promised. That was a coup as it meant that there was a brain drain in reverse: a world-class scientist came to Britain to do their work. It was another signpost that Daresbury laboratory had a real future.

We are pleased about the work on international computational science that will take place at Daresbury. That is another vote of confidence. We welcome the McKillop review, which will explore the current and potential contribution of the Daresbury campus to science and innovation in the city region. The review will also consider how the campus can be retained as one of national and international significance, which is very important.

I do not want to pre-empt what the Minister might say today or in the near future, but we also look forward to Government announcements on investments in Daresbury from the large facilities capital fund. We have two excellent innovation buildings at Daresbury, both of which are full. We need to build a third one and perhaps even a fourth one after that so that innovation at Daresbury goes from strength to strength. If Daresbury is to succeed as the Government's document suggests, and if the Government's stated aim that it will be a world-leading scientific research facility and innovation campus is to be achieved, we need a research facility of international repute at Daresbury that will underpin the science and make sure that the whole laboratory has a future.

I have referred to 4GLS—the fourth generation light source. Late last year, the scientific community received a bombshell when the new Science and Technology Facilities Council decided to abandon 4GLS and set up a new light source review. The new light source review's four X-ray and laser scientists have said that 4GLS should involve lasers. There is no surprise in that, but there is a concern that the four scientists were not capable of scientific impartiality in determining what the future next generation light source should consist of, because they did not have any expertise in light source research. The final report of the international advisory committee on 4GLS stated that it strongly supported the delivery of the science originally deployed by 4GLS. It gave it a vote of confidence, and in relation to accelerator science stated:

"We strongly believe capabilities similar to those originally designed into the 4GLS system are the minimum necessary to propel the UK community into a leadership role in Europe and beyond".

It was unequivocal that 4GLS is the way forward and the way in which we will stay at the forefront of international research in accelerator science. That is the research that will need to be done if Britain intends to stay at the forefront of that field, and I hope that the Minister will be able to reaffirm that message.

The new light source project that will be announced on 11 April will be led by two internationally renowned scientists: one from Imperial college London and one from Oxford. If the Minister wants to send a positive message to Daresbury about its future, that project would also include a scientist from the north-west who has expertise in light source science and research. That would say to the community that when the Government decide what they will do in relation to the next generation light source, they will take all aspects of that field of research into account. That would send a message to the north-west that the Government recognise the region's expertise in that field and believe that it has the quality, the staff and the ability to provide somebody who can head up the new project. That would send a positive message to Daresbury laboratory, to the scientists and academics in the north-west and to those who are concerned about the economy in the region.

During the past six years, when the decision was made to go ahead with 4GLS at Daresbury, a prototype has been developed called the Linac project. The name has now changed to ALICE—accelerators and lasers in combined experiments. The problem is that although the Science and Technology Facilities Council is committed to ensuring that ALICE can be developed to demonstrate energy recovery, it has decided not to fund it beyond energy recovery being proven. That does not exploit the potential of ALICE or contribute towards Britain being able to lead the world in accelerator science. Nor does it fulfil what scientists expect of the Science and Technology Facilities Council in that area.

We need a commitment from the STFC not only in relation to proving the energy recovery of ALICE, but in relation to fully exploiting the prototype. That means investing more money into the project and working with the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which has committed £30 million to the project already. That is essential because it will give us the possibility of a new light source, and whatever the new light source is called it will be based on 4GLS. It has been developed at Daresbury and the staff are at Daresbury. If it is exploited to the full, it will retain scientific staff at Daresbury and will provide the piece of the jigsaw that ensures that we still have science and innovation on the campus. It is essential that that project is exploited to the full and that Daresbury is used to make that exploitation possible, because that will retain the scientific staff at the laboratory who will underpin the concept set out in the investment programme for 2004-14. That will send a clear message that the Government believe that regions such as the north-west are entitled to have world-leading science and that they are behind that concept.

Daresbury laboratory has another problem. If ALICE is fully funded and the commitment to the staff to retain pure research science at Daresbury is delivered on, that will no doubt secure the laboratory's future, but the staff have taken a hard knock since the decisions on redundancies were announced last December. There is a feeling at the laboratory, which I share, that they do not have a powerful voice on the STFC advocating on their behalf. There are many scientists from Oxford, with powerful voices, advocating for the Oxford golden circle or golden triangle—call it what one likes—but Daresbury does not have an equivalent voice.

The Minister could send another positive message today by saying that a person will be appointed to the STFC specifically to advocate for Daresbury. That would send the staff a positive message that somebody at the highest level is speaking out on their behalf. They could then have confidence in decisions made in the future about the new light source and the future of the science and technology campus.