Thursday, April 25, 2024

National says it would review research hubs 

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Wellington Science City planned to increase collaboration on climate change and disaster resilience, among other key areas.
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The National Party’s science spokesperson, Judith Collins, says that a National government would need to review a $451 million proposal to co-locate researchers in three Wellington hubs.

The government allocated $400m in capital funding and $51m in operating funding in the 2023 budget for the Wellington Science City proposal.

The proposal aims to improve the scientific research system by increasing collaboration and includes creating three dedicated research hubs.

When the funding was announced in May, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said each hub would focus on a distinct area of research: climate change and disaster resilience, health and pandemic readiness and technology and innovation.

“The ability to capitalise on our excellent science and research by building stronger connections between industry, iwi and academia is essential in the transition to a high-wage, low-emissions economy,” Verrall said at the time.

The hubs are meant to unite Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) such as GNS Science and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) with universities and other researchers.

It was first proposed as a response to capital investment proposals being put forward by several CRIs and advanced in a report by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), which formed the basis for the budget bid.

However, the Treasury advised against allocating funding in 2023 because the MBIE report didn’t provide enough detail about the financial and commercial viability of the project. A business case isn’t due to be finished until next year.

“We note that the current costings are likely to be inaccurate as they are general estimates based on the costs of other large-scale infrastructure projects rather than detailed bottom-up costings,” the Treasury said.

Collins said the party is interested in the concept of the hubs, but if it wins the election it will want to review where the proposal has gone before making any commitments.

“National was not included in discussions nor decisions by the Labour government, and we need to make sure that this is the best way to bring about the desired effect of joint projects and better commercialisation of research and discoveries,” she said.

In a statement to BusinessDesk, Verrall said Labour is still committed to the science city proposal, which she said is an important part of reforms to the research, science and innovation system called Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways.

There was collaboration between MBIE, Crown infrastructure company Rau Paenga and the institutions taking part to finalise a programme business case by July 1 of next year.

“Wellington Science City is an essential part of the future of New Zealand’s research, science and innovation sector,” Verrall said.

“National has failed to outline how they will take the sector forward. Judith Collins’ statement will only create uncertainty for Kiwi scientists and the sector.”

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