Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:37 am on 1st April 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones PPS (Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State), Department of Health 11:37 am, 1st April 2008

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Hall on securing this debate. He has done an enormous amount of work to secure the future of Daresbury, and all MPs in the region are grateful to him for the lead that he has shown.

I do not intend to repeat points that have been made, although I agree with them. However, I stress the importance of science on the Daresbury site to the future of the region. Since 1962, it has been a vital scientific site. It developed the world's first synchrotron light source, and it was instrumental in helping a UK researcher win a share in the 1997 Nobel prize for chemistry. We all believe that the decision to send the next-generation light source project Diamond to the Rutherford Appleton laboratory was entirely wrong. However, we are where we are, and our concern is now to secure the future of the site because of the importance of the world-leading science that goes on there to the economy of the north-west.

In the early years, research at Daresbury was almost entirely physics based, but the dominant research disciplines are now biology and medicine; pure physics account for only 15 per cent. of research. The importance of the site can be seen from the fact that although 500 staff work there, the facilities are used by more than 5,000 scientists and engineers each year. The key to Daresbury's future is the development of the science and innovation campus and the underpinning of that development by investment in world-leading science. One cannot exist without the other. Indeed, a master plan for the development of the campus is being put together, and there are plans to see new buildings grow from the innovation centre.

The vision for Daresbury over the next 25 years involves extending the scale and number of interactions between science, industry and employment on the campus. The link between universities, science and the development of new jobs is exactly what the Government tell us that they want to achieve. Although this country has been a world leader in science, we have never been as good at developing our scientific discoveries for the benefit of jobs and industry as a whole, but that is exactly what the campus at Daresbury seeks to achieve.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Manchester, we have the biggest single-site state university, and we have great universities at Liverpool and Lancaster. Through the Government's university challenge, we have the chance to expand higher education in many of our community's deprived areas. In my constituency, we will also see the development of the new Omega site for science and high-tech industries. However, such things must be underpinned by investment at Daresbury—they are all linked.

The economy of the north-west is heavily dependent on our science base. Major investment in sectors such as materials, aerospace, nuclear and biotech underpin regional development. The Northwest Regional Development Agency will invest more than £50 million in the Daresbury science and innovation campus over the next 10 years. That will give us a unique mixture of fundamental research facilities—the north-west universities will be involved—and commercially driven research and business growth. That is why the Sainsbury review highlighted Daresbury as an example of science and innovation driving collaboration and of investment that would drive regional economic growth.

As the Minister will be aware, the campus is home to more than 60 science and technology companies and more than 220 high-tech jobs. More than 95 per cent. of those companies are small and medium sized, and 40 per cent. are start-ups involving very young businesses. Our region's future depends on using science to drive employment and growth so that we can provide well-paid, high-tech jobs to replace much of the low-paid employment that has been traditional in our region.

There is often a high level of interaction on the campus. There are already four joint developments and eight collaborative arrangements. However, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister—we are telling him what he already knows—that those arrangements must be underpinned by investment in world-leading science. The Cockcroft institute is a marvellous centre for accelerator science, which is jointly funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and our local universities. That is the kind of the collaboration that we want to encourage, but it can proceed only if we have the investment that we have asked for and if the Minister ensures that ALICE goes ahead and that any fourth-generation light source that is built is built at Daresbury.

This is a test of the Government's commitment to the regions; it is a test of whether they want to end the disparities between the kinds of employment in the various regions. The north-west does extremely well in terms of investment from the private sector and universities, but it receives only about 3 per cent. of publicly funded research investment. That situation must end. We cannot have a situation in which much of our high-tech, leading science investment goes to the south of England, while the north and the north-west do not get their fair share. We have the world-leading scientists and we have the will to develop these projects. Today, we ask the Government to support us and to ensure that we get the investment that will keep us at the cutting edge of science so that we can develop our industries and so that our scientists and, most importantly, our young people have appropriate opportunities.