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Shell will close its main UK research centre in further blow to business R&D

Local MP says Shell must not walk away without investing in the community

Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell is to close its main UK research and development centre, Shell Technology Centre Thornton, as part of plans to move its research capacity abroad while keeping some product development in the UK.

The decision to close the Cheshire-based site in 2014 follows an earlier announcement by the company that it is to move the site’s laboratory activities to Hamburg and to sites in other countries.

In a short statement sent to Research Fortnight Today a Shell spokesman said that the site’s employees working in product development and those who provide expertise in health, safety and the environment will relocate to the company’s other offices in London and the northwest. He added that Shell remains “determined to retain a long-term research and product development capability in the UK”.

“As for the site, we will work with interested parties to explore options for re-use of the site and facilities, and we hope that science, technology and research can continue to be part of its future,” he said.

The Thornton centre employs close to 300 people and focuses on fuels research and the development of biofuels.

Andrew Miller, chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, is the local MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston. In a statement to Research Fortnight Today, Miller says he is “extremely concerned” about the closure. After all the years of support Shell has had from local employees and residents, he adds, he hopes that Shell will not to walk away from Thornton without “investing in the community”.

The announcement follows a series of setbacks for the UK’s pharmaceutical industry. In February 2010, pharma giant Pfizer announced it would close its base in Sandwich, Kent, with the loss of 2,000 jobs.

A spokesman for the Royal Society of Chemistry said that the government needs to act to plug emerging gaps in UK industrial R&D. “We hope the government is taking notice: hundreds of highly-skilled jobs are seeping out of the country. They must act now to help plug the gaps before it’s too late. With massive R&D job cuts like this, alongside those in the pharmaceutical industry, how can they justify their vision of a high-tech British economy?” said the spokesman.

The Guardian reports on 16 January that it has been informed by Shell staff privately that they were “seething that the oil firm had been gradually cutting staffing at Thornton after closing R&D bases at Sittingbourne in Kent and Egham in Surrey”.