Invermay: Ire at comments by AgResearch boss

The head of AgResearch has been criticised over comments he made stressing the importance of ''regional innovation'' in the Waikato, with politicians saying the remarks contradict his plan to ''gut'' Invermay.

Dr Tom Richardson made the comments in response to plans for an ''agricultural research hub'' in Waikato being developed by the Hamilton City Council, AgResearch, Waikato University and other groups.

''Driving the doubling of exports through strong regional clusters is a core strategy for AgResearch.

Agriculture is critical to Waikato's economy, and having a strong regional innovation cluster here will help us deliver the science needed to create growth,'' Dr Richardson said in a press release yesterday.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms and Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead all agreed yesterday plans to shift 85 jobs from Invermay - leaving only 30 staff - contradicted Dr Richardson's comments.

About 180 jobs would also move from Ruakura, near Hamilton, if the proposal goes ahead.

Ms Timms said the plan would leave Invermay an ''outlier'' and far from a ''strong regional innovation cluster''.

''The guts [are] going to be ripped out of Invermay.''

This was ''absolutely'' contradictory to Dr Richardson's comments.

''I don't know which side of his mouth Tom Richardson is talking out of.''

She said a critical mass of local scientists was needed in order to achieve ''sustainable increases'' in agricultural production.

''We have got specific problems, specific aquifers and soil types that they don't have in Canterbury.''

Otago and Southland did not need to replicate the idea of a ''research hub'' because the links Invermay had with industry, the University of Otago and regional councils already represented a ''hub'', she said.

Mr Woodhead said the comments would be put back to Dr Richardson as part of the ''alternative proposition'' for the future of Invermay, being put together following last week's summit on the issue in Dunedin.

''We will be putting that to him and saying we don't believe a base of 30 is a strong regional cluster.''

He was pleased Dr Richardson had acknowledged the importance of the regions, which gave him some confidence more jobs could be kept at Invermay.

Mr Cull said Dr Richardson's comments were ''odd''.

''It's odd that they on the one hand recognise the importance of regional clusters for research ... and yet they are [proposing to] centralise in the South Island.''

Good progress had been made on the alternative proposal for Invermay, which would likely be completed within the next three days, he said.

Dr Richardson said in a statement his comments were ''not at all'' contradictory to AgResearch's restructuring plans.

''We are proposing to continue to have a presence in all four of our current locations and will be focusing on our science that makes the most difference there.''

Asked if the backlash against its plans could have an impact on its final decision he said: ''The decision we make will be based on feedback from our staff.''


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