Activists to fight monkey lab at Cambridge

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Animal rights campaigners have vowed to block a new laboratory at Cambridge University that will experiment on apes and monkeys, after it was given planning permission by John Prescott yesterday.

The pressure groups Animal Aid and the British Union Against Vivisection said there would be opposition and demonstrations "day after day" if the university tried to build the laboratory. Animal Aid said the centre would turn Cambridge into "the monkey torture capital of Europe".

Doubts remain over the university's ability to fund the planned Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, intended to research brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The estimated cost has risen from £24m to £32m in five years. The university, meanwhile, is expected to run up an operating deficit of nearly £20m in the next two years.

A spokesman said financial problems had delayed the project, which previously had a start date for building in the middle of next year. "Time is needed to address the funding shortfall," he said.

The rise in costs was due to increased security requirements needed against animal protesters, and tighter Home Office regulations to safeguard the welfare of animals, he said. There is now no scheduled start date for the work.

The decision to grant permission surprised many observers, because Mr Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, overruled his inspectors. They did not think the case had been made. Mr Prescott said the centre "would have national significance". Delaying it carried "a risk that leading scientists would be lost from Cambridge and the UK".