Tory peer blasts plan to ‘shut’ horticultural research site

A senior Tory peer has launched a blistering attack on Warwick University for planning to absorb the horticulture research centre at Wellesbourne into its biological sciences department.


Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Conservative spokesman on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the effective closure was a betrayal of the commitment made by the university five years ago when it took the institutions on from DEFRA.

“To leave this industry without a crop science base would be irresponsibility of the highest order and a total failure to grasp where the public interest lies,” he told an audience at the recent AIC conference in Peterborough.

“Horticulture represents 25% of the [farming] sector’s gross value. It is highly competitive and self-standing in the market place.”

Warwick University’s ruling senate will decide on Monday (16 November) whether to close the 191ha HRI site from 2012. HRI has been based at Wellesbourne for 60 years and employs 226 staff.

“There is no way this decision can be justified except by Warwick seeking to pursue the glittering prizes of academia and the prizes they hope to find there,” Lord Taylor said.

He believed the move marked a further shift to basic research at the expense of applied research that was directly relevant to growers. He said he had heard one third of the project leaders might be lost.

“The lack of balance has left university agricultural departments limping and, in many cases, closing,” he added. “This drift to the abstract has to be reversed.”

Warwick University’s Peter Dunn said Wellesbourne was losing £2m a year, which was unsustainable.

“The idea is to create a single school of life sciences to carry out the best research in line with out position as one of the top 10 universities in this field. No decision has been made as to which people will move.”