Future uncertain for Stawell’s underground physics lab

A landmark $1.75 million plan to convert the Stawell Gold Mines into a groundbreaking particle physics laboratory may not go ahead for some time. 

Premier Daniel Andrews announced the plan for 215 high-skilled jobs to be created at the laboratory after the Stawell Gold Mines closed in 2014. 

The site reopened shortly after, but then entered into a care and maintenance phase in December, 2016.

Western Victoria MP Jaala Pulford said this had impacted on the development and delivery of the physics laboratory project. 

"The original proposal assumed the mine was open, but with it in care and maintenance it fundamentally changes the proposition and that project is just no longer ready to go," she said. 

"It is a real shame because it is a magnificent opportunity for Stawell."

The underground physics laboratory which would have been the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere was set to be completed at the end of this year.

But signs promoting the project in a popular walkway between Stawell Woolworths and Main Street were recently removed. 

This confirmed the suspicions of Stawell ratepayer Cherrie Hunt.

“Ever since the Gold Mines went into care and maintenance myself and many other residents knew that was it – it was always going to be hard to deliver the project from then on,” Ms Hunt said. 

“It would have been great for the town, but it is not surprising it is not going ahead at this time.

“Stawell is so close to the Grampians and we have a clear pathway to Melbourne, so there needs to be more of a focus on promoting our town and tourism.”

But Ms Pulford said she was still committed to delivering Stawell’s underground physics laboratory at the appropriate time.

“We still remain committed to the physics laboratory vision, but our focus for much of the last 12 months has been working with council to identify alternative projects that are ready to go. 

"We have been having some very constructive discussions with council and hope for us to be in a position to make announcements about that in the new year.

"I think what’s best for the Stawell community and council at the moment is that we get on with projects we can get on with now and we come back to the physics laboratory at a time when it’s ready to proceed."

Ripon MP Louise Staley said it was disappointing the state government could not live up to its promise. 

“It is very disappointing that Daniel Andrews has failed to keep his promise to find an alternative path forward for the Stawell Gold Mines which hosts the proposed lab and has instead abandoned Stawell and the Stawell Underground Physics Lab,” she said. 

“I remain full of hope that there will be a future for gold mining in Stawell and through that a future for the Underground Physics Lab.”

Ms Pulford assured residents there were plans to continue investing in the town. 

“I don’t think it’s right for Stawell to have to wait while there is so much uncertainty, so we're getting on with other things,” she said.

“Some of the underlying questions here are when the Gold Mines will be sold, if it will be sold and who it will be sold to – these things well beyond the control of anyone in Stawell and well beyond the control of the state government.

“So we still believe the dark matter laboratory is a really exciting opportunity and we remain committed to it, but we don’t want to sit around waiting for those things we can’t control – we are shifting our focus to other projects that can provide benefits and jobs boosts to  the community.”

Northern Grampians Shire Council was contacted for comment, but did not respond. 

This story Future uncertain for Stawell’s underground physics lab first appeared on The Ararat Advertiser.