Peter Iredale obituary

Other lives: Last director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire

My father, Peter Iredale, who has died aged 87, was the last director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire, a pioneering institute that housed Europe’s first nuclear reactor.

Having joined Harwell in the late 1950s as a scientific officer, Peter progressed through various scientific and leadership positions there, with a focus that eventually expanded to embrace non-nuclear energy technologies such as wind and wave power. At one stage he led the marine and technology support unit at Harwell, and from 1979 to 1984 he chaired the UK wave energy steering committee.

He was appointed deputy director at Harwell in 1986 and then director the following year. However, in 1990, following a ministerial decision – the implications of which were not known at the time of his appointment – drastic cuts in government funding led to a radical restructuring. It fell to Peter to preside over the ending of Harwell’s role as a homogenous research establishment.

Before stepping down in 1992 he produced a plan to develop the campus as a centre for scientific innovation, and this came to fruition in the form of what is now the Harwell science and innovation campus.

Born in Brownhills, near Walsall, to Annie (nee Kirby), a maid, and Henry, a grocer, Peter excelled academically at Lichfield grammar school and in 1949, aged 17, he went to Bristol University to study physics. There he met a fellow student, Judith Marshall, whom he married in 1957. After graduating, Peter undertook a PhD, supervised by the Nobel physics laureate Cecil “CF” Powell, before, in 1955, becoming a scientific officer at Harwell and working his way up within the organisation.

After leaving Harwell, Peter sought another strategic role to satiate his intellectual restlessness, and found fulfilment as chair of Oxfordshire area health authority, a position he held from 1992 until 2001. In that role he managed several large NHS reorganisations, including the merger of all the main Oxfordshire hospitals into one trust; a process fraught with difficulty.

Navigating these complexities while maintaining stability in the local health system required great fixity of purpose, clarity of strategic vision and an outstanding ability to persuade people to work together.

In parallel, Peter recognised the importance of building a stronger relationship between the Oxfordshire health sector and the University of Oxford, and his work in that direction led to the creation of several world class clinical research institutes, including the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism and the Centre of Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain.

In his spare time he enjoyed gardening and operatic music. He is survived by Judith, their four children, me, Susan, Helen and Alison, and 13 grandchildren.

John Iredale

The GuardianTramp

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