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Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science
"They were in no way pressurised to go to the site"
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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 17:44 GMT 18:44 UK
Government rejects synchotron site claim

Alastair Campbell: Downing Street briefing questioned
The government has rejected charges of pressurising a major science company over the siting of a 500m project in the south rather than the north of England.

Ministers were accused of misleading MPs over the decision to site the Synchotron facility at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory in Oxfordshire, over the favourite site in Daresbury, Cheshire.

Science Minister Lord Sainsbury said that a key research partner in the laboratory, the Wellcome Trust, had backed siting the facility at Didcot.

But Wellcome sent a letter to MPs in the north west suggesting it was the Office of Science and Technology that had made clear its preference for Didcot, while the trust had not favoured either at that stage.

The government has been accused of leaning on the firm and of misleading MPs over the issue.

Campbell briefing questioned

The letter called into question the role played in the controversy by the prime minister's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell.

Lord Sainsbury: Dismissed claims the government leaned on Wellcome
At a Downing Street briefing he had previously told reporters: "Wellcome had said publicly in advance that if the decision was taken to locate the new synchotron [in Cheshire] they would withdraw."

The letter also angered those campaigning to site the high-powered atomic X-ray machine in Cheshire, where 500 jobs are under threat as a result of the decision in March to opt for Didcot.

Lord Sainsbury insisted on Wednesday that Wellcome had made clear "they were in no way pressurised to go the site".

He told BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "They wanted a competition [to decide which site won], we thought that was inappropriate because there were really only two possible sites."

"The scientific evidence was then looked at and it was the view of the Office of Science and Technology and the Director General of the Research Council that marginally the scientific case was better at Rutherford Appleton."

A letter from the Wellcome Trust recorded the fact "that they would support a decision to go to Rutherford Appleton but on scientific grounds they thought it wrong to go to Daresbury and would withdraw their support," he said.

North west MPs have said they now want Lord Sainsbury to be called to give evidence on the subject to the environment, transport and regions select committee.

  • Alastair Campbell confirmed on Wednesday that once the next general election is called, he will resign from the civil service to help Labour seek a second term in office.

    A full-time campaigning role would be incompatible with civil service rules if Mr Campbell retained his present role during the election period.

    Asked his intentions, Mr Campbell told reporters: "I think you will probably have the pleasant spectacle of me resigning from the government."

    Asked whether he expected to return after polling day, Mr Campbell joked: "That would depend entirely on the electorate. I don't imagine that if the Conservatives form a government that Mr Hague would necessarily want me."

    The role of Mr Campbell, who was Mr Blair's spokesman when he was still leader of the opposition, has caused controversy before over whether he crossed the boundaries between civil service neutrality and party political activity.

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    14 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
    Science facility goes south
    23 Mar 00 | UK Politics
    Blair's spokesman attacks BBC
    14 Mar 00 | Scotland
    Campbell attacks 'dishonest' media
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