Published: 26th May, 2011
by DAN CARRIER
A HOUSE of Commons committee has criticised plans to build a £660million “superlab” in the heart of Somers Town.
The Science and Technology Committee, which scrutinises research in the UK, published a report this week into the project due to be built on land behind the British Library.
Formerly known as the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI), the new building in Brill Place will be called the Francis Crick Institute after the British scientist who co-discovered DNA, it was announced.
Sponsors Wellcome Trust, University College London and Cancer Research UK hope the new building will lead the fight to find cures for cancer and flu. But the controversial scheme is opposed by civic groups and animal rights protesters, who say the medical research building should not be built near homes.
The select committee’s report says that, while MPs “commended” the plan’s scientific vision, they “expressed reservations about the location”.
The report says that, while the decision to build the 15-storey building in Somers Town could not be overturned, “...the advantages of co-location with universities and hospitals and access to good transport links, which the committee accepts play a fundamental role in the centre’s vision, come at a price: extra construction costs; a site incapable of expansion; and the concentration of medical sciences in the ‘golden triangle’ in the south of England.”
Committee chairman Labour MP Andrew Miller said: “This is an exciting project and we are in no doubt of the significant benefits it could bring to life sciences.”
But he questioned whether it should be sited in the South-east, which already has a high concentration of research.
“Every effort must now be made to ensure the whole of the UK receives the maximum benefits from the centre, and we intend to continue our close scrutiny of this project,” he added.
The committee’s report says: “We remain unconvinced that, in these financially stringent times, building the UKCMRI in central London outweighs the benefits.”
Last week, the scheme’s community engagement manager Katie Matthews gave a presentation at St Pancras Community Centre outlining details of a legal agreement signed with the Town Hall to provide jobs and services for people living nearby.
She said the centre would offer 40 year-long apprenticeships during construction and jobs when it opens in three years’ time. It includes a schools science lab.
Ms Matthews said a planned Living Centre – criticised for being ill thought out – would be funded to the tune of £180,000 a year.
“It could be a place offering health checks, post-natal classes, advice surgeries and adult education courses,” she added.
Demonstrators held a rally outside the site on Thursday. Organiser Rob Inglis, of St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action group, said: “They already have nearly 40 acres in Mill Hill – and this is three-and-a-half acres, so it will be squeezed in, and far too bulky for the space here.
“They say they need to be here as it is more central. Haven’t they heard of emails, telephones and the Tube?”
A spokesman for the Francis Crick Institute said: “In their report, the MPs describe UKCMRI as a project of national importance with the potential to deliver significant improvements in health.”