Fiona Bruce (Congleton, Conservative) [Speaking at a Commons debate ” Businesses (North of England)” 14Jan2015]
Some of the most exciting and innovative developments in this country today are along the science corridor, which a number of Members have mentioned. It crosses several constituencies, including mine and that of my immediate neighbour, my hon. Friend David Rutley, to whom I pay tribute for calling the debate. The Government have rightly committed many millions of pounds of national funding to supporting the corridor and adjacent infrastructure—not least in my constituency, where £45 million of growth deal funding has gone towards the Congleton link road, about which I have spoken in the House on a number of occasions; I am grateful to Ministers for listening and responding to my points. It is of great importance to businesses in my constituency, such as Reliance Medical, Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows and Airbags International. However, that is not what I want chiefly to speak about today. I want to focus on Jodrell Bank.
The world famous dish of Jodrell Bank lies within my constituency, although I must confess that the controls are in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, so we share an interest.
Jodrell Bank is important locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. I want to highlight that importance and express concern about a threat to its work and to recent Government investment in it.
To provide some context, I should say that Jodrell Bank has been at the forefront of radar technology since it became world famous in 1957, as the Lovell telescope emerged as the only instrument capable of using radar to detect the Russian satellite Sputnik. It now hosts the e-MERLIN national facility as well as the Lovell telescope. It continues to produce world-class science. It also hosts the outstanding Discovery centre, which has done much to increase public awareness of science in the UK. That has more than 140,000 visitors a year, including about 16,000 schoolchildren taking part in its education programme, and it has received numerous awards. The BBC transmitted its “Stargazing Live” programme from Jodrell Bank from 2011 to 2014.
As we heard, the Square Kilometre Array is at the leading edge of astrophysics research, and continues to receive the full support of universities, businesses and public sector agencies across the north and beyond, which work together to underpin its activities. It is a very important area—a national and global network of telescopes, with Jodrell Bank at the centre, carrying out unique, world-leading science, across a wide range of astrophysics and cosmology. The facilities at Jodrell Bank are used by almost every university astrophysics group in the country and hundreds of scientists in the UK and Europe, and across the globe. The developments being undertaken by Jodrell Bank, and its potential developments, are of huge importance to jobs and the economy.
In 2013, the Minister’s predecessor as Science Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Willetts, opened the SKA and Jodrell Bank as its centre. The SKA is a project that joins thousands of receivers across the globe to create the largest, most sensitive radio telescope ever built. Members of the SKA include Australia, China, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Germany and Sweden; and the UK leads it. At the opening Dame Nancy Rothwell, of the university of Manchester, called it a “cutting edge science project” and said that it would
“become a real science and engineering hub”.
The Minister’s predecessor said:
“This project is pushing the frontiers and that is why the Chancellor has awarded some of the extra £600 m towards science development”
to it. He said it was “a global strategic project but one that Great Britain is a major player in.”
The economic benefits of that work for the national economy cannot be over-estimated. However—and it is a big “however”—it is threatened. Professor Simon Garrington of the university of Manchester has spoken of the detrimental effect of radio interference from surrounding developments on the work at Jodrell Bank:
“Radio interference has an impact on almost all the experiments that are carried out at Jodrell Bank.”
He explains that in many observations radio interference is the main factor limiting the quality of the data and that
“every increase in interference…reduces the amount of useful data that are left”.
He adds that
“when there are lots of these…as might be the case for emission from housing developments then it has a significant impact on the data.”
Even a domestic microwave in someone’s home can have an impact on the work at Jodrell Bank. It is important to remember that decades ago Professor Lovell moved his work at the university from the centre of Manchester to Cheshire, to avoid such interference.
Professor Garrington says that the work of Jodrell Bank has already been hampered by local development, explaining that the
“discovery of pulsars was led by Jodrell Bank for many years”
“now…we can no longer find new pulsars and our experiments are limited to timing the pulsars which are already known. We do make the most precise measurements…but really interference limits the extent to which we can search for new pulsars.”
He explains how researchers at Jodrell Bank have done the most extensive analysis anywhere, to understand how towns, developments and roads affect the work. He has given evidence to a planning committee in Cheshire in the past month, and says:
“We have in the last few months constructed a detailed map which quantifies this loss due to distance and terrain…What this model shows is that the largest potential contribution is often from local villages such as Goostrey”.
Goostrey is a village in my constituency, between 1 mile and 2 miles from Jodrell Bank. Professor Garrington adds that modelling of the proposed development in Goostrey
“shows that it will add significantly to what is a present and growing problem…We believe this continued development at this rate so close to Jodrell Bank poses a significant impact on the science that can be carried out at this international institution.”
I am raising this concern because the village of Goostrey has 900 houses and there are now plans to build up to 250 additional houses. Applications have been put in and some have been agreed. The latest one is for a development of 119. A public meeting was held in the village only last Friday, attended by 250 people, asking for consideration of an exclusion zone for further housing development around Jodrell Bank of up to, say, 2 miles; no doubt the parameters could be established by discussion with Jodrell Bank, which I understand supports the proposals. I am keen that the Science Minister should be aware of the request, and I hope that he will consider it.
Science Minister Greg Clark replied: “ Both Cheshire Members referred to the Square Kilometre Array. We are very proud of this asset. The heritage of Jodrell Bank in being at the leading edge of science is very important to us. I am due to meet the review panel for the SKA next month, and I will signal our wholehearted commitment to the project and to promoting Jodrell Bank as the rightful location for the SKA’s headquarters. I will take up with my ministerial colleagues the points made by my hon. friend the Member for Congleton.”
Greg Clark (Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Minister of State (Universities and Science); Tunbridge Wells, Conservative)
Source: Hansard 14th Jan 2015