THE BOMBSHELL that Jodrell Bank's iconic eye to the skies is facing possible closure has brought near-universal condemnation.

Scientists, schools, funders and friends of Jodrell Bank have all made their views on its threatened future crystal clear - don't shut our observatory.

The future of Britain’s most recognisable observatory is in jeopardy after it was classed as a "low-priority" in a government-linked report last week.

Major funder, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), is looking to save an estimated £2.7 million-a-year in science spending from 2009.

This comes despite the near-completion of a £8 million upgrade to the eMerlin seven-dish network, which is being led by the Lovell telescope.

With more than 70,000 visitors last year, the world-renowned site near Alderley Edge remains a huge tourist draw and also generates valuable funds for the borough.

The observatory employs 50 people, with a further 90 researchers, engineers and other staff from Manchester University, which owns the site, working there periodically.

And as revealed in the Express in January, it is being looked at as a possible future UN World Heritage Site.

In 2006 the dish won a BBC public poll to find the most unsung landmark in Britain, while 2009 has ironically been declared the International Year of Astronomy.

Support for the observatory in the wake of the threat has left both it’s current boss and spiritual father "stunned".

Jodrell Bank director, Dr Phil Diamond, said: "I am stunned by the level of support from every corner. It has been fantastic.

"I've had emails of support from Australia and America. Sir Patrick Moore called me up on Thursday and told me he was outraged.


"There is a great deal of affection for Jodrell Bank and its place in British history. It's an icon of British science and I'm well aware of how the public feel about it.

"To be put on the low priority list I find incredible. It would be a catastrophic loss but it does need to be stressed that no decision has been made.

"We have to wait for this consultation process with other scientists to finish, which could take several weeks."

Dr Diamond believes the timing of the funding threat is bizarre.

"We have all but spent the £8 million which will turn the eMerlin network into one of the most powerful in the world, so we are working very hard to get this turned around.

"The STFC has said that all the projects on the list are doing good science and in previous reviews we have got excellent reviews, which makes it all the harder to understand."

Meanwhile the celebrated founder of the Lovell radio telescope, Sir Bernard Lovell, said the proposed cuts would be a "disaster".

The 94-year-old, who still visits the observatory every day, said axing the project would be senseless.

"I'm deeply attached to Jodrell Bank. It's still an inspiration.

"It's still one of the most important dishes in the world. I can't believe some money won’t be found."

Tim O’Brien, spokesman for academic staff, many living in the Wilmslow area, said he was heartened by the support and was "hopeful" for the future.

He said "We are in the middle of a consultation process and we are hopeful that our views will be recognised .

"The Merlin project is the primary activity at Jodrell Bank. If that is lost it would put a question mark over its future.

"We think we will have a very strong case for the e facility and we hope to persuade other scientists.

"We are the UK’s only national radio astronomy site doing pioneering research and have a bright future.The e Merlin £8 million upgrade will let us see the formation of stars, galaxies, distant planets and black holes in detail."

He decline to comment on the future of jobs saying it was too soon to speculate.

A spokesman for the North West Development Agency (NWDA), which part-funded the upgrade to the eMerlin telescope network, said: "We have put in £2.5million of taxpayers’ money to fund the physical infrastructure of Merlin. It will be very disappointing if this project closes."

And in a letter to MPs in the region NWDA Chief Executive Steven Broomhead called for the matter to be raised in Parliament.