MPs' report questions true price of germ lab plans

RESIDENTS and Camden Council are calling for a crunch meeting with supporters of a £500million Somers Town medical research centre in light of a damning investigation by MPs into the scheme

Katie Davies

RESIDENTS and Camden Council are calling for a crunch meeting with supporters of a £500million Somers Town medical research centre in light of a damning investigation by MPs into the scheme.

A parliamentary select committee has concluded that the proposed centre, the brainchild of the Medical Research Council, University College London, Cancer Research UK and The Wellcome Trust, could lead to hundreds of millions in public money being wasted and the creation of a terrorist and biological hazard in the centre of London.

The report by the Innovation, Universities and Skills committee says: "The project is publicly funded by the Medical Research Council, which will contribute £300million of the final amount.

"We are concerned that these figures are unacceptably vague and the Medical Research Council should ensure as a matter of urgency that it is in a position to provide a more accurate breakdown of its contribution."

In evidence for the committee there is also a discussion that "dangerous pathogen" and animal research could be carried out at the centre, which one MP described as having "potential hazards" in "a central city site".

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The report has also criticised the fact that plans were being pushed ahead without planning permission. It said: "The partners [have] not opened discussions with Camden Borough Council.

"The objections expressed by residents to both the loss of land for housing and the proposed use of the site for a medical research centre indicates that gaining planning permission may not be straightforward."

And the council and campaigners agree more talks are needed in light of their concerns.

Their complaints were ignored by the government when the Department for Media, Culture and Sport sold the group the land in December.

Councillor Mike Greene said: "We were refused a meeting with Yvette Cooper and she also failed to suggest an alternative minister we could speak to about it, which is very disappointing. We've heard nothing, but are very glad that this select committee has found that, as we have said, there will be problems getting planning permission. Our position hasn't changed."

Members of the Somers Town People's Forum have demanded a meeting with Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council and lead figure in the scheme.

Forum chairwoman Candi Udwin said: "As far as we're concerned this shouldn't be going ahead at all and we should be meeting now. These MPs are not happy at all and have raised the things we've been saying from the beginning.

"If there's a chance this won't be safe then this isn't the place to do it. On the other hand if they do make it safe they'll make it into some kind of fortress - that's not something we need in the middle of where we live. The life expectancy in this area is 10 years younger than the national average - this is not what we need to help with that. We need housing and community facilities. We want someone to come and debate with local people."

A spokeswoman for the consortium, however, refused any meetings for the time being and said planning permission from the council could be bypassed.

"This project will benefit local residents and businesses, people across the whole country and throughout the world," she said.

"Planning is a matter for the council, but the London and national planning framework does support strategic projects of this type."