Fuels and additives technology centre to close in 2014 with research being moved to overseas sites

Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell is planning to shut its principal UK R&D centre. The research currently carried out at the facility will be transferred to overseas sites. The announcement has fuelled concerns in the UK research community that the country’s opportunity to become a high-tech economy is slipping away. 

The Shell Technology Centre Thornton based in Chester employs 280 people. It carries out research into a wide range of areas, including technologies associated with fuels, lubricants, additives, engineering and the environment.  

"We hope the government is taking notice: hundreds of highly-skilled jobs are seeping out of the country" - Royal Society of Chemistry

A spokesperson for the firm says that the majority of the research will move to sites in Hamburg, Germany and other R&D centres overseas. The closure of the centre is not expected to result in any job losses. Employees at the technology centre will be given the opportunity to move to Shell’s site in London or work remotely from Manchester. The technology centre is expected to close in 2014. 

The closure of the site is part of Shell’s strategy to consolidate research centres into global hubs that can attract top technical talent from around the world. Many of the staff whose jobs will be relocated are product developers and Shell says that moving them to its London site will improve efficiency. 

The closure of the centre comes as another disappointment for the UK coalition government, which recently staked its hopes of future economic growth on developing the high-tech sector. At the start of the year, the science minister David Willetts spoke at the Policy Exchange think tank of the need to link the UK’s academic excellence with industry. This R&D site closure follows two others at Shell UK, as well as the high profile closure of Pfizer’s drug discovery facility at Sandwich. 

’We hope the government is taking notice: hundreds of highly-skilled jobs are seeping out of the country,’ an RSC spokesperson said. ’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?’ 

Imran Khan, director of the UK Campaign for Science and Engineering, says that the closure is undoubtedly a blow for the government. ’We give the best bang for our buck for academic research anywhere in the world,’ he says, ’and yet when you look at industry investment in science we’re behind the times.’ He points out that Germany, despite making budgetary cuts is increasing its investment in science and wonders if maybe this closure wouldn’t have occurred if the UK wasn’t cutting its investment in science. 

Patrick Walter