The Independent London Newspaper
24th April 2017

Thoughts on the ‘superlab’

    Published: 23 September, 2010

    • A REPLY to UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (Our scientists have an exemplary safety record, Letters September 16).

    You tell me some day I may die of cancer
    and so to aid me you’ll obscure the sun
    and raise a monstrous hump above the landscape
    beneath which healing miracles are done.

    You tell my neighbour with a dicky heartbeat
    that you’ll help him if he acts gutlessly
    and others need not fear the worst from aging
    if they will only let you have your way.

    You say the scale you’re working on is global
    and must be ranked before community
    and if it dominates the local landscape
    then why should those who live here disagree.

    We say you have no need or right to be here
    whereas we need the land that you abuse
    UKCMRI is for the comfort
    of those insisting on the shortest route.

    At Mill Hill you will flog thirty five acres
    where you experiment in space and safety
    in Hampstead Road you own a prime location –
    build high on that with reinforced foundations.

    You say there is no other place but Brill
    where you can wage war on all global ills
    and scientists like homing birds will cluster
    in a utopia above disaster.

    Despite the accidents in British labs
    which we have listed and you can’t refute
    your hubris easily triumphs over safety
    when you ignore cross channel rail and tubes

    Amongst whose bowels a dangerous infection
    could not be easily healed with penicillin.
    And wealth creation is another goal –
    as it was off the Gulf of Mexico.

    SPA (St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action) have scheduled a public meeting about the Brill Place laboratory for Monday October 4, from 7pm to 9pm in Somers Town Community Centre, Ossulston Street NW1.  

    We have invited Camden Council planners and the United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation to take part. 

    We and our fellow residents have only 'til October 6 to respond to the planning application.

    Contact or phone 07967 417859
    Rob Inglis


    • JOHN Cooper (Letters, September 16) seems to miss the point.

    The issue is not the status of Camden as the “home to an impressive array of medical research institutions”, nor is it the value of medical research in general, both of which are beyond dispute. 

    The point is rather that it makes little sense to locate a large laboratory undertaking research on potentially lethal viruses in a densely populated area close to St Pancras and King’s Cross stations with transport links to continental Europe and the rest of the UK. 

    The spread of foot-and-mouth disease from the Pirbright laboratory in Surrey in 2007 has shown that such outbreaks are possible even when strict safety precautions are in place.


    • ST Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action understand that UKCMRI and Camden Council may take a responsible attitude to energy consumption and climate change considerations via a combined heat and power plant at Brill Place. 

    But SPA believe those parties would act more responsibly by taking out life insurance cover for Somers Town residents and St Pancras rail travellers against possible accidents at the superlab.

    Siting the UKCMRI within the overcrowded, underprivileged, community of Somers Town and beside Europe’s biggest rail terminal is unwise in case there is an accidental escape of pathogens into the air or of infectious material into the water table and network of rail tunnels.

    John Cooper, interim chief executive, UKCMRI, could not disprove our contention (Letters, September 16) that accidents have happened and could happen again in the near or distant future.

    If UKCMRI believe there are no dangerous risks in their Brill Place undertaking (despite the history of accidents in British laboratories) then SPA propose that the most equable action for UKCMRI and for the council would be to take out insurance on the lives of residents against any damage to life or health in the event of such an accident. Insurance provision should also be made for rail travellers and staff.

    The various partners within UKCMRI would be wise to discuss what percentage of insurance cover each should take out. Thus they and council could avoid the acrimonious public recriminations which BP and its partners exchanged after the Gulf of Mexico fiasco.

    Vince Cable and numerous government spokesmen have stressed how dynamic and business-like they want medical research centres to become. 

    The pursuit of profit blunted BP’s concern over safety issues. Could UKCMRI and Camden Council be similarly afflicted?

    Or it may be wiser and safer for UKCMRI to quit Brill Place (as they have quit the National Temperance Hospital) and continue conducting their experiments on the 35 acre site at Mill Hill research centre. 

    That would reduce their Brill Place carbon footprint.


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