A SCIENCE laboratory complex near York has been sold by the Government for £13 million to a private landlord.

The site of the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) at Sand Hutton - once known as the Central Science Laboratory - has been bought from Defra by Capita plc.

A Defra spokeswoman said it had decided last year to seek a new landlord ‘in order to ensure the Sand Hutton site continues to be a world class science innovation campus,’ She said: “Capita plc has a strong track record in supporting businesses and has committed to developing and growing the Sand Hutton site to ensure its status as a crucial national asset is maintained.

“This new arrangement will safeguard the future of the campus, with government and our economy still benefiting from its fantastic work protecting the nation from plant and crop disease.”

She said the sale had been subject to rigorous scrutiny to ensure value for money was achieved.

“Defra has, over a number of years consolidated scientific activities and organisations from across the UK on to their site at Sand Hutton near York, particularly in the fields of food, environment and agri-tech including plant, animal and bee health, wildlife and food safety and authenticity.

“The Sand Hutton site remains strategically important to the work of Defra and wider government.”

The sale comes just over a year after Capita paid £20 million to acquire a 75 per cent stake in Fera, with Defra retaining a 25 per cent stake.

At the time Capita said it would be creating 50 new science-based jobs, in addition to almost 400 scientists already employed at Fera, as well as 40 new research posts, but The Press reported last September that almost 50 jobs were at risk at Fera. Capita said then it still planned to grow its science-based roles, but was looking to cut a number of back office jobs.

The union Prospect, which has many members on site at Sand Hutton, said it did not have immediate concerns on the sale.

“Fera Science Ltd, will continue to be the anchor tenant of the National Agri-Food Innovation Campus at the Sand Hutton site,” said a spokesman. “We hope that the expected new opportunities for further research partnerships and investment will accelerate now that this sale has concluded.”