TELEVISION presenter Lorraine Kelly has backed a campaign to stop Dundee’s public observatory closing for half the year due to funding cuts.
Kelly, a keen astronomer and former rector of Dundee University, described the proposal for the Mills Observatory, the only full-time observatory in Britain, as “short-sighted” and called on the people of Dundee to show their support.
Kelly joins a host of astronomers campaigning to keep the Mills open year-round, including Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, who launched the campaign.
The Royal Astronomical Society in London is writing a letter of protest to Ken Guild, leader of the SNP-controlled council, voicing its concerns.
Council officials claim the sky over the city is “too bright” for stargazing in the lighter months despite the Mills being home to a solar telescope used for studying the sun in daylight, and have targeted it in their budget cuts.
The observatory, which opened in 1935, is owned by Dundee City Council but run by Leisure and Culture Dundee (LCD), a trust mostly dependent on council subsidies.
Last month the council’s finance sub-committee agreed to cut £7.6 million from its £344.5m budget for 2014-15, including a savings target of three per cent for third-party organisations, such as LCD, receiving over £100,000 through grant aid or management fees.
Proposals for the Mills include closing it from April to September.
Kelly, who lives in Dundee, said: “As the UK’s only full-time public observatory, it is an invaluable asset to the city, and a remarkable place where anyone interested in astronomy can come and use the telescope and have a talk with the enthusiastic guides for free.
“I have been interested in astronomy since my dad bought me my first telescope when I was five years old, we have both visited the observatory and even did some filming there for a feature for my show.
“There’s something magical about entering the building which stands in woodland at the top of Balgay Hill near the city centre, but feels like another world.
“It is hugely atmospheric and a place to feed children’s imaginations, enthuse anyone interested in space and hugely gratify local and visiting experts.
“Dundee is undergoing a dramatic and exciting renaissance and attention, quite rightly, is on the New Waterfront and the V&A museum will be the jewel in the crown, but the observatory is another gem that simply must be protected.
“I would hate to see it mothballed for half the year and people in Dundee need to show support for their observatory and make sure they use this remarkable facility and make it known that they want it to stay open all year round.”
Prof Brown said: “I am absolutely delighted that Lorraine Kelly has jumped at the chance to join the outraged crowd fighting the huge cuts Dundee City is proposing for Mills Observatory. The proposed cut to Mills is essentially mothballing for 50 per cent of the year.”
A spokeswoman for LCD said: “Leisure and Culture Dundee will continue to operate the Mills Observatory seven days a week in the winter period and will deliver a targeted programme of science learning and engagement activities during the summer period.”