In 1995, the NSW Department of Agriculture was implementing continued Government cost-cutting measures, seeking to find savings of $35 million across a number of its sites. Research and extension activities were particularly targeted for redundancies and facility closures, among them the Biological and Chemical Research Institute (BCRI) in Parramatta.
The campus had been the centre for state-wide research and diagnostic services on plant diseases and insect pests since its opening in 1961, first as the laboratories of the Division of Scientific Services, then (from 1970, and in partnership with organisations such as the CSIRO and Amdel Sugar) as BCRI. Though its presumptions were later questioned by the NSW Audit Office and in Parliament, the Government sought to decentralise research away from BCRI, and to sell the site. In the NSW Budget Speech in October 1995, the Treasurer indicated that agriculture would seek to integrate its research activities into ‘key centres’ which would preferably be with universities.
As Pro Vice-Chancellor Research at Nepean, Trevor Cairney considered this an ideal solution to UWS’s lack of laboratory and scientific space, and set about obtaining the Parramatta North site at the most reasonable price possible ($6.2m). ‘It was a bargain’, he later remembered, regardless of the ongoing commitments at Parramatta South.
During the unification of the University, 1999-2002, several of the senior scientists on Penrith campus (Peter Williams, and Peter Leverett, for example) took advantage of the newly refurbished facilities to move departments of the School of Science, Food and Horticulture to the site’s expanded facilities. It was familiar to UWS scientific staff (many of whom had worked in such government instrumentalities), had existing laboratory and staff spaces, and was not constrained by heritage issues in the way that the colonial buildings on the Parramatta South campus were. It has since become a significant part of the solution to Parramatta South’s parking problems, and provides an important westward extension of what, in the future, the University hopes will be an extensive campus along the north side of Parramatta Road, on both sides of James Ruse Drive. In 2009, UWS Village – a partnership between the University and ‘Campus Living Villages’ — opened on the western edge of Parramatta North, providing much-needed accommodation for non-Sydney-based students finding the rental-market of Sydney quite daunting.