65 years of Brixham history will come to an end in April 2014 when AstraZeneca closes its facility in Freshwater Quarry. Currently one of the best ecotoxicological laboratories in the world it began life in 1948 as a marine science field station for the Paints Division of ICI.
Although ownership of the laboratory passed to Zeneca in 1993 and subsequently to AstraZeneca in 2000, the site is still known to many Brixham folk as “the ICI” or even “the paint factory”, the latter despite the fact that no paint was ever made on the site!
In addition, and to dispel two other “well known facts”, the laboratory never had anything to do with the Torbay Paint Company with their factory in New Road, nor with the paint proving station on Rae Barn which was owned by International Paints, one of ICI’s main rivals. However it was responsible for most of the paint rafts moored alongside the breakwater.
When ICI arrived in Brixham in 1948, they set up their base in Cumber House, the old Brixham Vicarage, but soon these premises became too small and in 1950 a site in Freshwater Quarry was leased from the Brixham Urban District Council. Initially a small hut was erected on the site but this was soon followed in 1957 by the construction of a purpose built laboratory by the Dartington firm, Staverton Builders.
The buildings and staff numbers continued to increase steadily over the next 30 years until in the mid 1980s there were over 100 members of staff and the site was bursting at the seams. In 1988, and after a long and difficult period of negotiation, ICI bought both the lease of the existing site and an equivalent area of the adjacent car park from Torbay District Council. The first phase of a major development began immediately with the construction of a state of the art laboratory building which was opened by the then UK Minister of the Environment, Chris Patten. Over the next ten years the remainder of the site was subjected to major alteration and rebuilding and then in 2008 the second multimillion pound building was opened by HRH The Princess Royal.
The work (and the staff!) of the Laboratory has changed dramatically over its 65 year history. In the 1950s and 1960s work was dominated by research into antifouling paints with a growing interest in the environmental impact of industrial effluents. In the 1970s and 1980s, work on paints was discontinued and the focus of the laboratories activities were on monitoring and reducing the impact of industrial and domestic wastes with a growing interest in the evaluation of new and existing products. In the 1990s the laboratory became involved with the investigation of contaminated land with continued interest in the development of laboratory and computer techniques to evaluate the potential impact of new products. Since 2000 the focus has been on the development of new drugs.
Although the staff will be dismissed and the commercial business will have ended, a new era dawns for the site in 2014. AstraZeneca has announced that it is proposing to give the physical assets including the land, buildings and all the associated equipment to the University of Plymouth. The University has said that it plans to use the site to create a global research and education facility and also plans to offer commercial innovation opportunities through the facility via the region’s Growth Acceleration and Investment Network (GAIN).
Hopefully the town can continue to look forward to continuing to be the home of a world class environmental laboratory and will also now be able to call itself a University town.
Photos by kind permission of Brixham Environmental Laboratory