Cambridge research centre bid thwarted by protest fears

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The Independent Online

A Cambridge University research centre judged to be of national importance in the study of serious diseases has been refused planning permission because of police fears over animal rights protests.

South Cambridgeshire District Council's development control committee rejected the university's application on the basis that it was opposed by the county's police force.

"Cambridgeshire Constabulary, on the basis of recent experience of demonstrations against current sites which involve animal research, have commented that the proposal will result in demonstrations," the planning director said yesterday in his published report.

"Also, they are of the view that such demonstrations at this site will result in road blockages and a serious danger to public safety," he added.

The planning committee accepted that the new research centre did not breach other planning regulations and that it was in the national interest, but it considered that the site was "unacceptable because of the risk to public safety".

The committee accepted that the cost of policing any demonstrations and the loss of value to property were not planning issues, but that it had to take the view of the police into consideration.

"In coming to this decision, regard was had to whether conditions could be used to make the proposal acceptable. However, in discussions with Cambridgeshire Constabulary, it has been concluded that measures to limit the risk to public safety on this site would not be effective," the committee said.

A spokeswoman for the university said the decision would prevent the building of a research centre judged to be of international importance in the studying of the brain and serious behavioural disorders.

"The university is clear that this decision will have a deeply damaging effect on the search for the alleviation of devastating disorders of life-threatening diseases and potentially on the pharmaceutical industry of this country," she said.

Scientists were to use the centre to study a range of brain disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, as well as the effects of strokes, brain damage, tumours, anxiety, drug addiction, autism,and other mental illnesses.

Animals, including primates, were to be used in experiments, but this would only be done if there were no viable alternatives, the university said.

The Department of Trade and Industry, which was to fund the centre, wrote to the committee explaining its importance to the national interest.

Although the centre was to be built on Huntingdon Road in Cambridge, it has no connection with Huntingdon Life Sciences, the drug-testing company at the centre of animal rights protests.