Govt deals blow to Invermay hopes

Paul Goldsmith.
Paul Goldsmith.
Any remaining hope of saving dozens of AgResearch jobs in Dunedin have been dealt a blow after a government announcement yesterday.

Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment and Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith announced it was investing $85 million in a $206 million Lincoln facility.

The Lincoln facility is set to be shared by AgResearch and Lincoln University.

It forms a major part of AgResearch’s long-delayed restructuring plan, which involves shifting jobs  north from its Invermay facility on the edge of the Taieri Plain.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson confirmed yesterday four roles had already shifted from Invermay as part of the restructuring, with a further 43 set to move once its plan  was  complete.It expected 30 staff would remain at the facility.

Dunedin North MP David Clark said the investment in the facility was about the Government "desperately trying to prop up Lincoln University".

The decision to move AgResearch jobs north to the facility and repeated delays had caused significant damage to the crown research organisation, Dr Clark said.

This was because rather than making the shift, many senior scientists had jumped ship to other Dunedin institutions, including AbacusBio and the University of Otago, or gone overseas.

This was signalled as the biggest risk in 2013 when the plan was first announced to shift 85 jobs.

Despite yesterday’s announcement, he still held some hope "common sense" would prevail and the Government would abandon the investment.

And despite early works starting on the site within weeks, he said if Labour was elected he would push for investment in the facility to be reconsidered.

However, he could not make any promises on the issue, given it was not part of his portfolio.

Mr Goldsmith said the funding for Lincoln University would help it recover from the  Canterbury earthquakes by replacing earthquake-damaged buildings with modern teaching and research spaces.

This new facility, which would also be used by DairyNZ, would  benefit  students and make an important contribution to "creating a globally competitive agri-tech industry".

"By creating better links between research and industry the new facility will improve innovation and the applicability and speed of technology transfer to industry."

Lincoln University vice-chancellor Prof Robin Pollard said the Government’s investment in the facility was not only a major step forward in promoting new value in New Zealand’s primary sector economy, but represented a significant sign of confidence in the future of Lincoln University.

Dr Richardson said it was pleasing to see the university’s part of the funding equation now in place following funding approved for AgResearch’s part in the joint facility last year.

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