In the absence of hard facts, rumours flourish, and they have been positively abuzz since Gordon Brown announced in the last Budget plans for a £1 billion public/private partnership to build a ‘National Institute for Energy Technologies’.
The bill matches the figure most often quoted for the cost of Wye Park. The research is in the same area Imperial have been hyping like crazy. And the Treasury have hinted strongly that Imperial is among the front runners to get the prize of building a new boffin bank to invent some way of fuelling the world without ruining the place at the same time.
So is Wye really on the cards for this idea? An e-mail from within the Treasury has to make you wonder…
It came from a Treasury official in reply to an inquiry from a local resident asking for more details of what was being planned, and where it was to be located. Here you will find the response in full…
The new National Institute will be a 50:50 public-private partnership. The Energy Research Partnership has committed to raising substantial sums of private investment, sufficient for the Institute to have a critical mass, and BP, EDF Energy, E.On and Shell have already announced their intention to be involved. The intention is that private sector investment would be matched (up to a pre-determined limit) by public science and technology investment, building on the Research Councils’ growing energy programmes- a model that has proved to be extremely effective with other large-scale research and development projects. The intention is to establish a virtual institute with a ‘design life’ of a finite period, probably a decade, with clear objectives specified over that time, and a strong public-private governance structure. Funding would be allocated competitively, using existing facilities where possible, but also building strong national and international linkages.
This is, of course, the kind of bureacratic response that puts the gnome in gnomic. If any of you would care to take a shot at interpreting it, please do so, either in a comment or in our new forum. But let us take a few stabs…
- The author very deliberately stepped back from saying where the new institute would be located.
- When people talk about something being ‘virtual’ they normally mean it isn’t real in the conventional sense. A ‘virtual company’ for example is a make-believe one composed of several companies working together as if as one. This presumably ties in with the part about ‘using existing facilities where possible’. Doesn’t much sound like they want to build anything, does it?
- The sentence — The intention is to establish a virtual institute with a ‘design life’ of a finite period, probably a decade, with clear objectives specified over that time, and a strong public-private governance structure — may indicate that, in the end, this is meant to be a fully private body. Though it’s hard to tell… But if that is the case one wonders if the hard numbers of building something in Wye would pass muster in the private sector. Imperial like it because they would be wallowing in new money. But the buyers would have to put up with inadequate infrastructure and the costs of new build on environmentally sensitive, costly land… when there is brownfield down the road just pleading to be developed a few miles away.
What this does not sound like — in any sense — is a green light for building vast acres of new research centres in protected countryside. But if you read things differently, please let us know.