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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
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Taken before the Science and Techology Committee
on Wednesday 9 February 2011
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Malcolm Grant, President and Provost, University College London, Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK, Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council, and Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive, Wellcome Trust, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome everyone. As you know, we gave a commitment when we were first formed as a new Committee of the House that we would undertake a short inquiry into UKCMRI. This is the first formal session of that inquiry. May I welcome everyone this morning and ask the four witnesses to kindly introduce themselves for the record?
Professor Grant: I am Malcolm Grant. I am President and Provost of University College London.
Harpal Kumar: I am Harpal Kumar. I am Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.
Professor Savill: I am John Savill, Chief Executive, Medical Research Council.
Sir Mark Walport: I am Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust.
Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. May I ask the four of you how much you are each investing in the project and what do each of you expect to get back? Secondly, are there any plans to open the consortium to other interested organisations?
Professor Grant: UCL has been involved in the project since 2004. Our investment in it will be in the region of £45 million, although that may well abate if other academic partners join us.
What do we expect to get out of it? It is the most exciting science project in Britain today. We are a university uniquely co-located with it. Our contribution to it will be through investment in further biomedical research but also, unusually and perhaps uniquely, as a university that also has great strengths in engineering and physical sciences, there is an ability to have a horizontal relationship that introduces a capacity for the institute to work at the interstices of these different disciplines. That also, of course, has a cross-fertilisation for the strength of science at UCL.
Harpal Kumar: Cancer Research UK will be investing in cash terms £160 million into the capital of the project, plus the provision of some facilities at our Clare Hall site for some of those activities that can be carried out off site. In total, that comes to about £180 million of investment. We will, of course, also be funding on an ongoing basis much of the research, or a considerable amount of the research, that will be carried out in the institute once the new building is completed.
For Cancer Research UK, this represents the opportunity to build on what has been for us a tremendously successful research institute that has been for almost 50 years now in the centre of London, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, our London research institute, which has carried out some of the most fundamental work into the understanding of cancer, how it occurs, how it spreads and the factors that drive that. For us this is about the continuation of that work, but much more so it is about making sure that we have access to resources and the creative energy that will enable us to accelerate that progress through the sorts of interactions that will be possible through this new institute.
Q3 Chair: Are you in discussions with any of your sister organisations-the other cancer charities?
Harpal Kumar: Constantly. We work in partnership with many other organisations, although not specifically in regard to this project.
Q4 Chair: I know you talk to them about other things, but specifically, in terms of this project, are there any plans to engage with any of them in the consortium?
Harpal Kumar: Not at this stage.
Professor Savill: The Medical Research Council has invested an awful lot of time, energy and enthusiasm in this project. Obviously, the MRC is a non-departmental body allied to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so it is spending public money. Therefore, it has to invest very wisely. It is also under scrutiny from Government and from an independent council with an independent chair. We have earmarked £300 million of capital investment into the project, but, obviously, we see a very bright, long-term future for our science, funded at around £42 million per year recurrent that is currently at the National Institute for Medical Research. It has tremendous strengths in infection, immunology, structural biology, neuroscience and developmental and stem cell biology.
The most exciting thing about this for the MRC is the prospect of added value through interdisciplinarity, joining with other like-minded groups of scientists in creating what will be the biggest and most exciting development in the UK. The MRC’s involvement really does signal that this is a development for the UK and not just a corner of London. We are very keen to see interactions right across the UK. Indeed, I have close affiliations with the university of Edinburgh. A university that far away has been consulted and is very keen to be part of the vision.
Q5 Chair: We will be coming on to some of those issues later on. Sir Mark?
Sir Mark Walport: The first thing to say is that this is a very strong partnership. All of our organisations have been involved from the inception. The Wellcome Trust is contributing £120 million in capital, and we expect to contribute to the revenue costs of the science that goes on in UKCMRI. The vision of the Wellcome Trust is to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health, which we do by funding the brightest minds. For us, the vision was obvious from the beginning, which is that this will be a global facility that will attract the brightest minds, that will train them and enable us to achieve our mission and our vision.
Q6 Chair: At what stage are the discussions with Imperial and King’s College, and what do they offer to the project?
Sir Mark Walport: The discussions with Imperial and King’s are ongoing. We hope that we will reach a position where they are able to join as partners. They are proceeding well.
Q7 Chair: Now that the London Borough of Camden has, essentially, granted planning permission, are there any further planning obstacles to be encountered?
Harpal Kumar: Essentially, no. We are in the final stages of completing the various agreements that go with that planning approval, but there appear to be no significant obstacles-indeed no particular obstacles at all. We are expecting to move forward relatively shortly.
Professor Savill: I would not refer to the Government agreeing the MRC’s business case as an obstacle. Throughout the Government have been very supportive of the MRC. I have just heard that the MRC’s final full business case has been approved by the Government. I don’t know the details as we sit here, but, again, that is a very significant development and good news for the project.
Q8 Chair: Thank you for that. Finally, before I hand over to colleagues, how important is the support of the pharmaceutical sector in this project?
Sir Mark Walport: The issue is one of partnership. If we are to translate the products of discovery into benefits for humans in terms of new preventive strategies and new treatments, then partnership with the pharmaceutical industry is a key element in that. The pharmaceutical industry is supportive. I know that you have received a submission, for example, from GSK.
Q9 Stephen Metcalfe: Good morning, gentlemen. Could you run me through the overall funding? You have said how much you are putting into the project. Can you tell me what the headline figures are in terms of capital expenditure and then ongoing annual expenditure?
Harpal Kumar: The overall project cost is estimated at about £650 million. We have each told you what our individual contributions are to that. If you add those up, those will add up to £650 million. Of that £650 million, about £85 million was the land purchase. The bulk of the rest, obviously, is associated with the construction, all of the associated professional fees and a reasonable level of contingency given the complexity and nature of the project.
Q10 Stephen Metcalfe: What do you get for your £650 million?
Sir Mark Walport: A flagship institute.
Q11 Stephen Metcalfe: What does a flagship institute look like? From my reading of the report, this is about people and brains. I want to know what you are getting for your £650 million.
Sir Mark Walport: It is an environment in which those brains are going to be able to pursue state-of-the-art research for the 21st century. First of all, it is going to be an environment that encourages interactions internally and externally, so its location near to great teaching hospitals is extremely important. It will have the state-of-the-art facilities that scientists need, such as confocal microscopes, imaging equipment, all of the essential equipment, much of which is now individually very expensive.
Q12 Stephen Metcalfe: The equipment that you are talking about is included in the £650 million?
Sir Mark Walport: There will be additional equipment costs over time. You don’t equip an institute just like that from scratch.
Q13 Stephen Metcalfe: For clarity, how much of the £650 million is for bricks and mortar as opposed to equipment?
Professor Savill: If I can clarify that, the £650 million is essentially to deliver the building and some of the fittings. There is a separate tranche of funding that will be needed for equipment and other transitional costs. Again, the MRC’s contribution to that will be some £65 million in addition to this. These are good questions, but I’d like to say that all four of us travel internationally and we see the scale of investment that our competitors are making internationally. While these sums are eye-wateringly large, they are commensurate with the kind of investments we are seeing in Singapore, the USA, Germany or China. We believe that this is an appropriate scale of investment. I hope you would agree with that.
Harpal Kumar: I would like to add two comments. First of all, on the equipment point, one of the ways that we tend to describe buildings like this is that, if you turn them upside down, everything that doesn’t move-in other words, everything that is fixed in terms of equipment-is included within the cost of the provision, so within the £650 million. All fixed equipment would be included within that figure. Anything that is moveable tends not to be.
In answer to your other question, this will deliver a project of a scale that will be certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, institutes in Europe. That is important because it gives us the opportunity to create or facilitate some of the interactions that hitherto have not been possible, whether between biologists and other scientists, whether between people working on cancer and other diseases, whether in terms of the access to the technologies that we are going to be able to provide in this institute that, individually, is much more difficult for us to do because of the cost of doing so.
Q14 Stephen Metcalfe: I might come back to that in a minute. What will be the ongoing cost per annum of running the institute?
Sir Mark Walport: We are estimating about £100 million as the baseline, but it is likely to be much larger than that. This is an institute where the scientists will write grants. They will have the capacity to raise research funds from the whole diversity of UK funders, the European research councils and the national institutes of health. It is impossible precisely to define that now, but we are talking about a baseline of, probably, around £100 million.
Q15 Stephen Metcalfe: I think the project as an institute is very valuable, but I do have great concerns about the amount that is being spent on building a site in the middle of London. I cannot quite grasp why that is so important. I understand that when this project was first identified in 2007 the world was a different environment. We now live in a much more challenging economic state. Have you looked at alternatives to spending this money, because it strikes me that that capital investment could be much better spent on putting people outside London and on equipment and research rather than on a very grand project, which might have been great three years ago but perhaps does not quite tick the boxes now? There are sites that have become available recently. For example, there is the Pfizer site in Sandwich. Have you looked at alternatives outside London? Have you looked again at the Mill Hill site?
Professor Savill: Can I answer that because, in one way or another, I have been involved in this thinking since 2002, when the MRC first decided to review its major investment sites? Very careful thought was given to where the best place to have a major interdisciplinary institute would be. We took international advice. We consulted widely. There is unanimity on central London being an attractive site because of its international connections and its attraction to international scientists. If you look at the United Kingdom Clinical Research Collaboration analysis of health research spend in 2006, it shows that 33% of the UK’s health research money was spent in London. I think it makes sense to have a high scale institute here. We have looked very carefully at this site and conclude that it is in the right place.
You mentioned Sandwich. One of the reasons why that might have been less attractive for Pfizer is precisely the issue that we face were this institute not to be close to major universities and hospitals. Sandwich is distant from University College and other London colleges. It is distant from the major teaching hospitals. The MRC is absolutely clear that we have given this matter very close scrutiny. Don’t forget that this project has received scrutiny and approval from the previous Government. It has received scrutiny during the Comprehensive Spending Review when very hard decisions were taken by the Government about where capital investment should be made. It continues to be scrutinised through events such as this. These are important questions but we have been thinking about them at the MRC for nearly nine years now.
Sir Mark Walport: You need to look internationally as well. Science thrives best in a clustered environment where there is actually a critical mass of scientists from different disciplines and hospitals. Look at Boston, where there is an enormous cluster which has developed around Harvard and MIT. UKCMRI is positioned at the absolute heart of the cluster in the south-east, so there are the London colleges, Stevenage, Cambridge and the Sanger Institute just up the road, with Oxford not far to the west. It is absolutely in the right place. It is at the heart of what will be the south-east cluster.
Professor Grant: I would add another issue in relation to the funding, which is that this, uniquely, is levering about £300 million of charitable contribution to put alongside the Treasury investment. It is a consequence for highly successful science in Britain that has brought together a partnership of like-minded investors. This is not wholly a taxpayer-borne cost.
Q16 Stephen Metcalfe: I appreciate that, but it is still money being spent on a facility rather than on research. You said, Sir John, that you wanted this to be a development for the whole UK. You don’t think that we should look again at that. You are absolutely convinced that this has to be a very expensive building in the middle of London-I can understand the arguments for getting the scientists together and the connections-but it is the sheer expense that concerns me.
If that is the absolutely correct solution to the problem, how robust are your finances now in the light of the fact that land values and things like that have changed, and in terms of getting this project fully funded, and who carries the can when, perhaps, it overruns or the money doesn’t add up?
Sir Mark Walport: It is not going to overrun. We have done the estimates very carefully. We are starting the contracting process. We are confident that this will be delivered on time and in budget.
Q17 David Morris: Who has the final say on decisions within the consortium? Who controls, for example, the finances, staff matters and the scientific vision?
Professor Savill: In setting up this institute, there was a long discussion about how it could be governed. Again, after careful thought, we arrived at the right conclusion as a set of four stakeholders, and that is a single form of governance with a single director. That director reports to the board of UKCMRI, which is now in existence and is chaired by Sir David Cooksey. Ultimately, the board of the UKCMRI, which is now recognised as a charity, commands the institute and our four organisations are stakeholders in that new charity.
Q18 David Morris: If it is going to be a charitable company limited by shares, how are the shares going to be divided between the four partners? Is it going to be 25%? How would other partners come into it and how would the shares be divided up accordingly?
Professor Savill: Again, it is set out in great detail in the joint venture agreement which Government scrutinised and allowed the four of us to sign back in the autumn. Again, if you need further written information, we can provide that, but it is in the JVA.
Q19 David Morris: Who appointed the professional team to manage the consortium in the first place?
Sir Mark Walport: We came together as a partnership. We have appointed an executive team. We have created a charitable structure that is now in existence. The board exists. There are very clear lines of governance with a very strong executive team who you will be seeing in a week or so.
Q20 David Morris: Has the final business case been submitted to the MRC or BIS yet? When do you expect to hear the outcome of the BIS consideration?
Professor Savill: The MRC submitted its final full business case to BIS in early January. This has been scrutinised by Ministers and, as I mentioned earlier, I have just heard that the Government have approved it, although I have not yet seen that in writing because I have been preparing for this discussion.
Q21 Chair: You are not aware of any qualifications on that approval?
Professor Savill: I am not aware, but I anticipate that, inevitably, there will be some clarifications and qualifications because of the sums of money involved.
Q22 Chair: I would be grateful if you could notify us of that when it becomes available to you.
Professor Savill: I will liaise with BIS. I am sure that can be done.
Q23 Gavin Barwell: I want to ask you questions about the planning and construction of the centre. As I understand it, your intention is for the building to be handed over in the third quarter of 2015. In one of the submissions that we have received, that has been described to us as a "tight timeline". How confident are you of delivering that and could you give me some milestones along the way by which one could measure progress towards that deadline?
Harpal Kumar: Assuming that what John has said about the MRC business case approval is confirmed, then our expectation is that there will be a start on site in May of this year. Very broadly, we are expecting a two-year construction period and then a two-year fitting out and commissioning period, which gets you the four years. In fact, we are expecting that the building will be handed over some time in the first half of 2015. The occupation will start some time thereafter, obviously. That gives you a broad sense of the timelines. Obviously, it is difficult to be much more specific than that at this stage. As you will also be aware, there has been a tender process under way for the main contractor for this project. All of the discussions with the tenderers have suggested that these timelines are eminently achievable and present no concerns to those potential contractors at this stage.
As Mark touched on earlier, all of us, as organisations, have been involved in complex laboratory projects, and we have experience of ensuring that they get delivered on time and in budget, so we are pretty confident that this one will be also.
Q24 Gavin Barwell: I want to pick up on a couple of points. When is the tender expected to be awarded for the main contractor?
Harpal Kumar: We are waiting for the MRC business case approval. Once that is done, then we are in the final stages of discussions for the appointment of the main contractor. So the answer is, soon. We would hope to have in place the first agreement by around March.
Q25 Gavin Barwell: The briefing that we received said that the full transition would not be complete until 2017 or 2018. Can you give a little bit more detail about what happens-you claim to be slightly earlier than that-from the point when, by the second quarter of 2015, you are expecting to get the handover?
Harpal Kumar: Yes. It will simply take some time in logistical terms to transfer something of the order of 1,200 to 1,500 scientists and associated staff into a building of this nature, plus all of the equipment. 2017 is a guesstimate at this stage. It is not something that just happens overnight, obviously. That is taking into account the full-scale completion of all the transition arrangements that have to go into creating this new institute with all of the associated issues, particularly for the MRC and Cancer Research UK, for our existing employees and the related transitions with them.
Q26 Gavin Barwell: Can you just give me a little more detail on that by way of background? Before I was elected to the House, I was a councillor in my home town. I am familiar with the project they have there where they are moving the council HQ and a similar number of employees who are transferring from a number of locations to the new location, obviously not necessarily with all the complex technical equipment that would be involved in this case. Two to three years is quite a long period from handover to the full transition. Would you give me a bit more detail about what is involved in that process?
Sir Mark Walport: I am afraid that you have to look at track records. The largest partnership that we have been involved with, which was a partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the Government, was the building of the Diamond Synchrotron at Harwell, the largest facility built in the UK for very many years, which was delivered on time, in budget and occupied effectively. We will manage the occupation of UKCMRI effectively. It is very difficult to give you precise timescales of a building that will be opening in 2015. We will manage it efficiently and effectively. It is more complicated than an administrative building. There is scientific equipment, there will be some commissioning of instruments and it will take a bit of time. We will do it efficiently.
Harpal Kumar: It is in everyone’s interest for that process to be as rapid as it possibly can be, so that will be the intention.
Q27 Gavin Barwell: In terms of the complexities of the site and the construction work involved, am I right in thinking that the lowest floor of the building is actually below the water table level, and there are complexities also in terms of proximity to the Northern Line? Can you say a little bit more about the risk management on those issues?
Sir Mark Walport: All the way through the planning process we have considered all of those contingencies. In terms of buildings near tube lines, that issue has been raised. For example, at University College, just off the Euston Road, there is a combined nanoscience centre where vibrations are absolutely critical. It is within yards of the tube line. Modern technology enables that to be handled without difficulty. This has all been thought of.
Professor Savill: If I could reinforce that point, you will note that in the submission that the NIMR director made that 42 members of NIMR staff have been involved in the scientific planning. I have had the opportunity to speak to the director of research who leads on nuclear magnetic resonance analysis where vibration is a potential issue, and I have been personally reassured that the expert scientists are completely happy with the provisions. Again, as Mark said, there is a very useful example.
Q28 Chair: It can be addressed. We accept that. We have seen plenty of examples of that ourselves in this Committee. We have recently been to CERN as an example. However, Sir Mark, you drew your comparison with the building of the Diamond Synchrotron. Let’s face it. The geological environment is much more simple where the Synchrotron was built than in London. How can you be so certain that that analogy is a fair one?
Sir Mark Walport: Because we have done it before.
Q29 Chair: No, you haven’t done it before, or not on that scale.
Sir Mark Walport: The answer is that there were special measures that had to be taken for the Diamond Synchrotron. For example, the concrete there had to be impregnated with barytes. This was a facility where the electron beam had to be managed within microns. The answer is that this is hi-tech engineering and it can be done. It can be done in London, it can be done at Harwell, and we have done it on the Euston Road at the nanosciences centre.
Q30 Gavin Barwell: I have one final question, which, rather than about the building itself and the planning of the building, is about its contribution to the wider community of which it is going to be part. The vision document talks about its contribution to the regeneration of the King’s Cross area and the potential for holding community events there as well as research. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the building will be integrated into the local community?
Harpal Kumar: Through the planning process we have been in discussions with the London Borough of Camden about a whole range of ways in which the institute will interact with the local community. We have now agreed a range of provisions through that process that go all the way through, from the establishment of what has been called the Living Centre within the building itself, which will be available to the local community and largely driven by the local community in terms of precisely what provision will be in that space, to a very active programme of engagement with local schools, both in terms of scientists going out to schools as well as providing public space within the institute to engage people with the science that is going on within it. I won’t go on at length but we have had a range of discussions about how this institute will interact with the local community, provision to improving local housing, local energy schemes and so on. There is a range of aspects of this.
Professor Grant: I would add that there has been a lot of interaction regarding the design of the building. The original design of the building had an air of impermeability about it. The design has been worked up, and I have to pay tribute to our relationship with the Camden planners in trying to put here a building which, despite its bulk and mass, none the less has a permeability and an openness that previously it did not have in its first iterations.
Q31 Graham Stringer: Sir Mark, Committees of this House have heard people in charge of projects from the Jubilee Line, Wembley Stadium to the Olympic Games-one can go on and on-say that those projects were going to come in on time and on budget. None of them did. Why should we accept what you are saying? I understand the issues you talked about of engineering and science, but you are not totally in control of the London building market, are you?
Sir Mark Walport: We have built contingencies into it. I am afraid you have to look at track record. There is no use saying that, because a series of projects haven’t come in on time, therefore all projects will not come in on time.
Q32 Graham Stringer: No, I am not saying that. I am not arguing about it.
Sir Mark Walport: If you look at our track record, the Diamond Synchrotron did come in on time and in budget, the headquarters building of the Wellcome Trust on Euston Road, which is a very large building, came in on time and in budget, and the extension to the Sanger Institute which we built, which is a major scientific institute outside Cambridge, came in on time and in budget. The answer is that we intend to bring it in on time and in budget. Can I guarantee that events outside our control won’t conspire against us? No; no one can guarantee that. I can’t predict the future. It is much easier to predict the past. It is in all our interests to deliver this project. We have paid great attention to governance. We have a very strong executive team to whom you will have the opportunity to speak. We will do our level best to do it on time and in budget. I can’t say more than that.
Q33 Graham Stringer: What is the size of the contingency?
Sir Mark Walport: I would need to write to you with the precise figure.
Q34 Graham Stringer: You don’t even know it as a percentage of the project, when you are being so precise about it coming in on budget.
Sir Mark Walport: It is 15%.
Q35 Graham Stringer: 15%. That is helpful. If something goes wrong, as you have acknowledged that something could go wrong, whose head is on the line?
Sir Mark Walport: It has a very clear executive structure. Governance is absolutely clear. It has a board, an executive and proper mechanisms for accountability. One of the attractions of this partnership to the Government was the strong track record of public-private partnerships of this sort delivering in the science arena.
Q36 Graham Stringer: We have heard that this is an appropriate site because of its connections to teaching hospitals and some of this country’s great universities. I understand that. But what were the arguments for a relatively small site of 3.6 acres? Isn’t that a difficulty? Can you run us through the arguments for and against using a site that is relatively small?
Professor Grant: Shall I start? The original proposal was for the group at NIMR at Mill Hill to join us at UCL. The site that had been chosen for that was the National Temperance Hospital site in Hampstead Road, which was significantly smaller; indeed it was under one acre. As we worked through our proposals in the years 2004 and 2005, it became increasingly clear that on that site we would not be able to absorb the activity from Mill Hill, let alone future expansion. By 2007, it had become clear that the site that we had long looked at, which was the land at the rear of the British Library, would be coming on the market. Previously, we had had to strike it off our list of options because it was not available. When it came on the market, it opened up for us an opportunity not merely to re-locate Mill Hill but also to bring in with it the CRUK laboratories from Lincoln’s Inn. With financial assistance from Wellcome and with engagement from ourselves, we managed to piece this together. 3.5 acres in the middle of London is not an easy site to find or to piece together.
Secondly, the co-location is absolutely vital. The major teaching hospitals with which we are co-located, within a quarter of an hour’s walk, are UCL hospital, Great Ormond Street, Moorfields, the Royal Free is nearby, the Eastman Dental hospital, the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital and, of course, UCL itself and our other colleges in London. So trying to get a combination of co-location and suitability of site meant that this was the best game of the lot.
Q37 Graham Stringer: Can this site expand?
Professor Grant: No. There is very limited scope for expansion on the site. However, as the institute grows and succeeds, we would envisage some satellite operations. UKCMRI are branded, but potentially at UCL, Imperial, King’s or with other partners, there is an ability to ensure that the science which grows within the building itself is also continued and supplemented elsewhere.
Q38 Graham Stringer: How will space be allocated within the building?
Professor Grant: A critical decision was made at the outset that this was not simply to be a co-location of different laboratories. The decision was taken that this would be one institute and that it would be under the guidance of a single director whose responsibility it would be to set the scientific priorities, to recruit the teams and to allocate the space.
We, as an investor in this institute, do not command any specified floor area. It is critical to understand that. This is not an acquisition of floor space. This is a right for us to support research in the institute for up to 100 seconded staff from UCL. We are happy to put those staff under the direction of the director of the institute.
Q39 Graham Stringer: The implication of that is that there won’t be a bidding process from the different organisations for space. It will be centrally directed.
Professor Grant: Indeed.
Harpal Kumar: Absolutely. So the director of the institute, the first of which will be Sir Paul Nurse, will establish the scientific strategy. The scientific programme will determine who needs to be given space in the building in order to accommodate that scientific programme and will allocate space and other resources accordingly, entirely driven by that programme and strategy, which, of course, will be signed off by the board of UKCMRI but entirely driven by what Sir Paul Nurse determines is the right programme of research.
Q40 Graham Stringer: It was mentioned earlier in questions from the Chairman that you envisage linking up, potentially, with universities and research institutions outside of London. Can you expand on that a little?
Professor Savill: Yes. Perhaps I could address that because prior to taking up the MRC role I had been the head of the medical school in Edinburgh for nearly 10 years. The science planning committee that was chaired by Sir Paul Nurse before his appointment as CEO was scrupulous in engaging all the medical schools and universities in the UK in discussions about how we could interact with a major facility such as this. Obviously, Edinburgh is 350 miles away.
If I can just go back to your insightful questions about space, restricted space actually confers a discipline on the institute. One of the objectives of the institute is to seed talent right across the UK. This is not a place where people are going to spend their whole career, by and large. What they are going to do is spend an early part of their career at the institute and then, I very much hope, seed biomedical research right across the UK. In Edinburgh, for example, we have a very strong programme, co-funded by the Wellcome Trust, in training young clinical academics to PhD level, but we tend to want to send them away for their post-doctoral training. Frequently they go to the USA or Europe at the moment. The availability of UKCMRI as a place for these young folk to go for a few years is very attractive. I imagine if we were sitting in this room in 15 years’ time that we would be able to trace a whole load of living links right across the UK from the institute to the major research-intensive universities and medical schools. The space does determine that discipline and it will drive these very desirable living links because people will leave.
Q41 Stephen Mosley: Earlier you very briefly mentioned the scientific vision. I know that Sir John in the last question mentioned the scientific planning committee. Could you briefly explain how your scientific vision was formulated?
Professor Savill: From my perspective, this has been done by a collegial process involving scientists directly likely to move and other expert scientists under a then independent chair. It is relatively early days in the scientific strategy because, obviously, to secure the funding the proposals are going to need to be seen in more detail. For example, at the moment, the MRC is only just scrutinising the existing NIMR programme of research, which we have to do every five years. The bones of the strategy exist. You will have seen them in the submission and the flesh will come as we move towards establishment and occupation. Clearly, from the point of view of two major funders, we will have to scrutinise proposals very carefully to make sure that we are going to get the best value for money. It is a little early to be expecting precise details.
Harpal Kumar: Perhaps I could add a couple of words to that. From very early on in the genesis of this project the four partners decided that we wanted some strong scientific advice from around the world on the vision for this institute and so we formed what was called the science planning committee. We asked Sir Paul Nurse to chair it. As I am sure you will be aware, Sir Paul is currently or just finishing as President of the Rockerfeller university in New York. At that point he had not been thought of as the first director and he had not been appointed as President of the Royal Society. So he was an appropriate choice as a Nobel Laureate to lead this thinking. He enlisted a team of scientists from across the world to advise on this project. That included scientists from NIMR and the London Research Institute as well as from Wellcome and UCL, but it also included people from the US and other countries around the world. They then sought other advice through less formal interactions but they came together as a group a number of times to develop this vision that you have now seen.
Q42 Stephen Mosley: You mentioned the two major funders: Cancer Research and Wellcome. In our pack we have some very good quotes from Cancer Research saying that the UKCMRI will "significantly accelerate progress in the fight against cancer." From the Wellcome Trust we hear that you think it will generate "breakthroughs in knowledge and innovations that will enable major advances in health." We also have comments from GlaxoSmithKline that talk about "improved patient and economic benefit for the UK ." How do you think the UKCMRI will drive forward the translation of research into the wider benefits?
Sir Mark Walport: If I could just add a qualification to what you said, there are three major funders, of course. There is the Medical Research Council as well. These are the three largest research funders in the UK. We absolutely share the vision. It is about understanding human biology in both health and disease. The answer is that when discoveries are made that have the possibility of application, and an obvious example would be the MRC invention of the technology that led to monoclonal antibodies, which has translated into many therapies that have generated billions of pounds in revenue and treated many diseases. There are many opportunities arising, for example, from the Cancer Genome Project at the moment to develop new therapies for cancer.
As I said earlier, predicting the future is always a difficult thing to do, but it is the nature of the science that comes out of institutes such as UKCMRI. The philosophy will be, wherever possible, to recognise where there is a potential for application and to do that. That will involve collaboration outside the institute, in the hospitals around the country and with industry, because it is a complex ecosystem in terms of translating something from a basic laboratory discovery into a health benefit. It is an explicit part of the mission of UKCMRI.
Q43 Stephen Mosley: You mentioned the possibility of billions in revenues from some of the treatments that have been developed. How will the intellectual property be managed within the UKCMRI?
Sir Mark Walport: The intellectual property will be held by the institute itself. We expect that it will be managed effectively for the benefit of humans.
Q44 Stephen Mosley: Within your submissions and also today you have made much about this weird cluster of people whom you will be bringing together in generating a critical mass of research and staff. Is there any documented evidence that clustering scientists together does facilitate better research? You talk about the cluster, but then you do talk about the wheel and the spoke model that you want to develop in future. There does seem to be a bit of a contradiction in those ideas.
Sir Mark Walport: The best evidence is if you look at the major research discoveries and see where they have come from. If you look at the strengths of the Bay area around San Francisco, around Cambridge and the universities of London, that is where discoveries originate. They tend not to come from isolated environments.
Professor Savill: Researchers are often criticised in the lay media for discovering what everyone knew was obvious in the first place, but there is a peer-reviewed paper which says that co-location is the best form of driving collaboration and added value. Again, we can submit that to the Committee, which might help you. So there is published evidence on that.
Q45 Stephen Mosley: Sir John, wearing your research council hat, is there a fear or a danger that other sciences, whether it is zoology, ecology, astronomy, oceanography-those kind of things-might suffer or might lose funding because of the large amount of funding that the MRC is putting into this project?
Professor Savill: Yes. That is a good question. I can reassure you that that is not the Government’s plan. They recently published a detailed booklet with the allocations to the research councils. You will have seen that they managed to maintain flat cash in all the other six research councils. MRC did a little better with flat real, in part because of the need to co-align with charities and with the Department of Health. Of course, the capital component actually came from the Department of Health, which was an unforeseen but very welcome piece of cross-departmental support from Government. In terms of whether medical research would suck money out of astronomy or animal science, the answer, categorically, for the next four years, in this spending review period, is no.
If I can go further, your question also would test the degree to which within the MRC there might be over-concentration of funding into UKCMRI. In terms of the headroom that we have to commit, we heard earlier from Mark that the notional running figure is about £100 million a year. If you add the two notional elements from the two main funders together, that is over £80 million. So we are looking for another £16 million to £18 million. The MRC can make new commitments of nearly £400 million each year. Going back to Mr Stringer’s question, the space confers a discipline. It will stop money being sucked into this thing because it is only so big. We have given a great deal of thought to that in the MRC.
Q46 Chair: Can I push you a little further on that point, Sir John? Stephen Mosley and I heard an extremely good lecture last week by three medical physicists. Amongst them was Steve Keevil from across the river, and Carl Rowbottom from The Christie. There was a third chap from Gloucester whose name slips my mind at the moment. Among other things in their presentation, they were focusing upon the advances there had been in radiation therapies and less invasive techniques such as proton therapies and so on. As I recall, they were saying that there are 29 or 30 such centres around the world but none in the UK yet. Does this kind of investment in your project militate against such developments in the UK?
Harpal Kumar: Not at all. You may or may not be aware that there is a piece of work under way at the moment with the intent to deliver two proton therapy centres in the UK. Those have already been allocated, one to UCL and one to The Christie, with a possible third at Birmingham. That very directly answers the proton therapy question. But if I can broaden that question out a little bit, radiation therapy is continuing to go through a very considerable amount of development in terms of the more targeted nature of it for cancer patients. There is a huge amount of work going on right across the UK, which is in large part funded by Cancer Research UK, but the Department of Health funds a considerable amount of work in that area as well. The new technologies are absolutely being both developed and adopted across the UK. There is great promise for further development of radiation therapy and there are a number of potential new developments in looking at new particles for delivering radiation in different forms to different tumour types. All of that work is currently being assessed and planned for. None of it is precluded by what we are doing here at UKCMRI. Indeed, it is going on in parallel.
Sir Mark Walport: Indeed, the work in UKCMRI ought to facilitate this because actually physics is a major contributor to the understanding of biological science. Discoveries made in UKCMRI will have to translate into new therapies.
Q47 Roger Williams: Neighbours of the proposed development have been very concerned about biosecurity and other safety issues. How have you been able to assure them that the facility will be safe and secure?
Professor Savill: If I can explain, I have been in post as chief executive only since October. I, personally, have not had the chance to talk to local folk. Obviously, considerable efforts have been made by the consortium to initiate those discussions. People in the area have been ill served by some very alarmist reporting that we will all have seen in the media concerning the potential biohazard that the research we anticipate UKCMRI doing would confer on the area.
The first thing to emphasise is that, if there were some problem with the escape of hazardous organisms, the first people to be exposed would be our scientists. We are responsible for them and, therefore, we are absolutely determined to do everything we can to ensure that the very best levels of containment are delivered.
If I can walk you through one or two of the organisms that we would need to study, it illustrates that the hazard might not be as great as is feared. For example, there is an important programme in malaria-that is at containment level 3-but the parasite is only dangerous if you inoculate yourself. The same goes for human immunodeficiency virus-HIV.
Obviously, we all know that tuberculosis is infectious and serious but it can be treated. I would be confident that I have been exposed to tubercle bacilli in the London Underground on the way here this morning. Particularly, the same goes for influenza viruses as well. One has read of alarmist claims that there are other very dangerous organisms that are going to be studied there. They are not and they can’t be at the level of containment that we are planning. It must have been pretty difficult if you lived in the local community, you opened a newspaper and you saw these claims. I hope one of the things that your scrutiny can clear up is this unfortunate misunderstanding.
Q48 Roger Williams: One of the things you have to guard against is a deliberate intent to cause harm either by extremist organisations or whatever. How is the building designed to minimise those sort of risks?
Sir Mark Walport: We have been aware of all of these issues. There have been extensive discussions with security advisers and the Metropolitan Police, and we are satisfied that the building design will manage all of the risks. As John Savill says, the organisms that will be studied in the building are organisms that are studied in many laboratories in the United Kingdom in city environments. There are many category 3 facilities scattered around research institutions in cities. The term "category 3" reflects the fact that health and safety is taken very seriously. It is managed in a very secure way.
Q49 Roger Williams: This facility will be very close to some important strategic hubs of people being moved around in transport facilities.
Sir Mark Walport: That is absolutely true, because as John Savill has just pointed out, the risks of infection are far more from people outside of facilities by people travelling around. Influenza and tuberculosis is in the community, but malaria is not a disease that is in the UK. So there are no new principles at stake here.
Professor Savill: If I can further reassure you, I hope, I took the trouble to get some numbers from the Health and Safety Executive. There are 781 containment level 3 facilities licensed in the UK, with probably well over 100 in Greater London alone. There is nothing particularly unusual about this facility. I think it has rather been blown out of proportion. I understand the concerns. Clearly, any major building in London, including the one we are sitting in, is a terrorist target, and that has been carefully considered. I do not think that release of the organisms we are going to study at the dose one would find would constitute a major chance for terrorists to inflict harm.
Q50 Roger Williams: You have told us that you propose to use level 3 biohazard elements in your research work. Can you confirm now that there won’t be any level 4 biohazards in this facility?
Professor Savill: Absolutely, correct.
Sir Mark Walport: Correct.
Q51 Roger Williams: I visited Pirbright shortly after the release of the foot and mouth virus. It seemed to me that the prosaic rather than the spectacular was the cause of many of these virulent materials. One of the problems on the Pirbright site was that it was not only a Government facility but there was commercial activity going on. In the end, nobody took responsibility for the release, which I thought was very unfortunate considering the commercial damage that had been done. You have quite a complicated partnership set-up here. Who is ultimately responsible for safety?
Professor Savill: If I can answer that, this was one of the factors that led us to agree that we needed a single structure and a single governance. Health and safety was crucial in this. There is a single structure, a single governance and a single director. Although the genesis of that single body may look complicated, it is going to be one thing with one person ultimately responsible. That was one of the considerations in the beginning so as to avoid this uncertainty.
Q52 Roger Williams: Will it be a nominated person who is responsible for this?
Sir Mark Walport: The chief executive will be responsible for health and safety and we will have a delegated structure as in any good research institute.
Q53 Roger Williams: Can you tell us whether there are going to be any experiments on live animals taking place?
Sir Mark Walport: Yes, there will be. There will be rodents.
Q54 Roger Williams: You will have 1,500 staff. If there had to be an evacuation, where would you put them all?
Sir Mark Walport: An evacuation plan will obviously be part of that. Health and safety involves that, and health and safety will be properly managed. I can’t tell you the precise assembly site at the moment, but that will be planned.
Q55 Roger Williams: Apart from scientists and highly trained technologists, there will be other staff employed, such as security, cleaners, maintenance and whatever. How will their record on security be scrutinised?
Sir Mark Walport: Again, there are no new principles for UKCMRI than for any of the other laboratories in London, around the country and in any city. The answer is there will be proper HR procedures for all staff. In terms of health and safety, health and safety is the responsibility of everyone working in a building. Good health and safety management, which will happen, has very clear lines of responsibility and accountability, which all ultimately devolve to the chief executive.
Q56 Gavin Barwell: I am grateful for the answers in relation to biohazard. I think it would be very helpful if one of the things that comes out of our investigation is to provide some reassurance. You said that you were only going to work with up to level 3 agents. The National Institute for Medical Research currently works up to and including level 4. Is that correct?
Professor Savill: It has a facility licence for that. There are some confusions around the particular legislation and whether it is COSHH or SAPO. It is in our submission. Again we can clarify that for you in writing. It would be important to do that. It is clear that the scientific plans will work with the level 3 facility, as Mr Williams drew out earlier.
Q57 Gavin Barwell: Will the work that is done at NIMR now in terms of level 4 go if it is not going to the new centre?
Professor Savill: Would you say that again?
Q58 Gavin Barwell: The briefing we have says that the National Institute for Medical Research currently is licensed up to level 4. So the work that is done at level 4 at the moment clearly cannot come into the new centre because you are only going to work up to level 3 agents.
Professor Savill: We are going to have to look very carefully at the legacy of the NIMR. Again, my understanding is that the facilities available will allow transfer of the work that we plan.
Q59 Pamela Nash: That leads me on to NIMR. Are there any arrangements as yet in place for the closure of the Mill Hill site?
Professor Savill: Again, the first thing to say is that, clearly, this project has been subject to a series of scrutiny events. Indeed, if the business case had not been approved, that might have stopped the project in its tracks. So it is only now that we can be more confident that the project is going forward. As you heard earlier, staff at both of the two major parent organisations have been deeply involved in thinking about the new institute. I recently visited staff at NIMR, met a good number of them at a town hall event and there was much useful discussion and enthusiasm. Obviously, staff will now need to be consulted as we understand how UKCMRI will go forward. Clearly, the human resources departments of both MRC and CRUK will be working closely with staff.
I emphasise staff because the people are the most important asset. They do the science and they are very important. It is important to make sure they understand what is happening and that they can buy into it. Certainly the MRC anticipates that the vast majority of staff would relocate or positions would relocate.
As regards the site, again, we touched earlier on transition. There is going to be a need to decommission facilities and so forth. Ultimately, the plan is that that site would be sold if Government permission is given for that.
Q60 Pamela Nash: Just to go back to staff, I am glad that you have given that reassurance. We received a submission from the national trade union side who expressed concern that they have not yet been consulted on what will happen to the staff. When do you plan on involving the trade unions?
Professor Savill: I made one or two inquiries about that and I am not sure that that statement is absolutely true in that the convenor of the national trade union side was not involved. The crucial point is that we have not been able to consult anyone because we have not reached the point where that is appropriate. We are now moving towards that.
Broadly speaking, all the stakeholders would like to understand the shape of the institute and its staff within the next 15 or so months, so we are moving now into an important consultation phase with staff. Irrespective of the provenance of that submission, MRC could not have consulted with staff because we didn’t know the project was going to go ahead.
Q61 Pamela Nash: Are you confident that any uncertainty about the future of NIMR or the future of the staff and their possible positions at the new centre will not have a negative impact on the work that is going on there at the moment?
Professor Savill: I think we are going to have very clear evidence as to whether that is the case later this year because we are engaged, as I said earlier, in the five-year scrutiny, the quinquennial review. If there has been destabilisation of science, it will be very clear in terms of output and productivity. So far, the information we have is that things are going extremely well at NIMR. Having met the staff, there is an enthusiasm about looking forward. It is paramount that we don’t lose momentum. I think we will have good evidence to reassure us within a few months.
Q62 Pamela Nash: We will look forward to that. Just briefly before we finish, you mentioned the site at Mill Hill. You said the plan was to sell it on. Are there decontamination issues with that site? Would it be possible just to lock it up and pass it on?
Professor Savill: Decontamination is a strong word. Decommissioning, yes, because in any biological facility or medical research facility you have to be scrupulous about making sure that no hazards are left behind. That will be an issue. It has been part of MRC’s financial planning as well because it is part of the transition.
Chair: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your evidence this morning. We look forward to the additional information that you have undertaken to pass to us. Thank you.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Natalie Bennett, Chair, Rob Inglis, Press Officer, and Frankie Biney, local resident, St. Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action, gave evidence.
Q63 Chair: Our second group of witnesses is from the St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action group. May I, first of all, invite you to introduce yourselves for the record?
Natalie Bennett: My name is Natalie Bennett. I am the chair of SPA.
Rob Inglis: My name is Rob Inglis. I am the press officer of SPA.
Frankie Biney: I am Frankie Biney and a member of SPA.
Q64 Chair: Thank you very much. You heard the earlier evidence that we have taken. No doubt that is going to help inform some of your responses. There is a group of MPs who represent a diverse set of constituencies here, including mine, which, supposedly, has the second biggest hazard site in England. We might be pressing you very hard on some issues but not without some understanding of your concerns.
In your written evidence to the Committee you acknowledge the benefits of creating a medical research centre in the UK . Is that correct?
Natalie Bennett: Very much so. We are not at all opposed to medical research. We very much respect the work that scientists do. There are, as has been referred to earlier, some opponents of the labs who have concerns about that, but that does not represent either our view or the view of the people of St Pancras and Somers Town ward. However, it is interesting that the consortium, when they first started talking to us, said the things that they were going to do were going to be great for the health of the people of St Pancras and Somers Town. Perhaps we will have a chance later to tell you a bit more about St Pancras and Somers Town, but it is a very disadvantaged community, a very low-income community, where people don’t often have access to healthy food or the chance to exercise. They live in overcrowded housing. There is a lack of hope and economic opportunity. We don’t need research or medical science to give us the answer to those things. In terms of the health of Somers Town, there is not a lot to offer, but we think medical science is a good thing and we are not opposed to it in any way at all.
Q65 Chair: Having a concentration of high-quality jobs on your doorstep is not a disadvantage, is it?
Natalie Bennett: Under the section 106 agreement they have made with the council, they are offering 20 building apprenticeships. Of course, that will only be during the construction period. They are talking about five lab apprenticeships a year. In a community of 13,000 people, many of whom are unemployed, five jobs a year is obviously not to be sneezed at, but we are not talking about a significant impact on the community in that sense.
Q66 Chair: Do you agree with the evidence that you have heard from the four partners that clustering scientists together will be beneficial to medical research in the UK?
Natalie Bennett: It is immediately obvious that we are not medical experts, but because we have been very interested in this project we have had a lot of calls to look into it. I come from a science background. My first degree was science, although I don’t call myself a scientist. One of the things that I, personally, have been very interested in is that Sir John Savill said he produced one peer-reviewed paper which indicated that there were benefits from the sort of clustering that he was talking about. That is interesting, because I have been asking for at least the last year-I have been involved with this particularly wearing another hat-for evidence from peer-review journals that showed the evidence for this rather than just an assertion that this was the case. I am pleased that there is one peer-reviewed paper, but one peer-reviewed paper perhaps only goes so far.
One of the things that did not come up in the discussion earlier is the idea that physical proximity is necessary for clustering in this day and age, given that we all have Skype, video-conferencing and instant messaging. I am sure that most of us in our daily lives use those and are quite close to people we may never even have met but with whom we have regular contact. Why is it the case, in this day and age, that clustering requires a physical proximity? That is a very 20th century idea in the 21st century.
Clustering is one thing, but packing people in like sardines, which some of your questions have attested to, is another question altogether. If you look at our submission, there is a memorandum from Steven Ley from the NIMR from 2004 that your predecessors heard. He was expressing great concern about the move into central London. The expansive 47 acres at Mill Hill being crammed into 3 acres in central London was something about which he expressed great concern. That was an expression of concern from within the medical research community. There really have to be some questions about cramming people together in this tiny space.
Finally, there is one more point I would like to make on this. Pharmaceutical companies seem to be moving away from large centralised research facilities, as we have seen recently with Pfizer at Sandwich. Is this actually the way forward or is this a 20th century dinosaur that is being left? Having raised that point, I am going to refer to Rob, who has some more to say on that.
Rob Inglis: I want to put some contrasts in scientific research. Guido Pontecorvo, the geneticist who became the head of Cancer Research UK, had previously pioneered genetics at Glasgow University, where he had made important discoveries in a very modest setting- originally a bombed-out basement, with one 15-year-old apprentice and a wastepaper basket for a filing system.
Let us leap forward to the present, where scientists at Mill Hill on 47 acres have achieved Nobel awards and have developed translational science in collaboration with Cancer Research UK, UCL and hospitals, clinics and universities throughout London, Britain and overseas.
Now we envisage a superlab on 3.6 acres at St Pancras to speed up the time it takes to develop new treatments from bench to bedside because the cathedral for science will be within walking distance of the partners-Wellcome, UCL and Cancer Research. If speed is so important, why within walking distance? Why not sprinting distance? And St Pancras would be convenient for visiting scientists. It would also be a short distance for any infectious escape from the lab, but that was not considered.
Q67 Graham Stringer: This project has funding permission; it is funded. What are your objectives now?
Natalie Bennett: In short, we are relying on you. You are, realistically, our last hope. Perhaps there is a faint hope that there might be a Government reconsideration given the fact that we are talking about £220 million of Government money. I am sure that all of you in your individual constituencies can think of a lot of things that you could do with £220 million. What has happened with this project all along is that it has been rushed along with some very influential people going, "It’s great, it’s great, it’s great." It’s a high prestige, high profile project.
We are the people of Somers Town. People have been opposed to this, but for many of the people who have been opposed to this, like Steven Ley, about whom I was speaking earlier, it is very difficult to oppose from within the scientific community. As I am sure you are all aware, the scientific community is quite close-knit. If you are involved in medical research, you know who will be peer reviewing your research papers and who will be considering your application for research funding. It is a very close-knit community. It is very difficult.
For us to directly answer your question, there are two things. We can hope that the Government look at that £220 million and think that there are many other important things they could do with it, or, secondly, having looked at this project critically-and I was very impressed by the questions this morning that you clearly are looking at it critically-you could say, "This is a really bad idea and we are the people who are going to say that this is a bad idea and you should stop." That is what I would very much hope for.
Rob Inglis: Could I add to that that the financial situation in Britain is degenerating rapidly? It is going to take four years, so UKCMRI say, to build this and four years to bring people from one place and all the instruments in. But what if something happens as happened with the construction of the British Library, which was delayed for 15 years because of various things, including flooding and the water table, into which they had to drive piles as deep as the engineer knew anywhere in London. The same sort of things will have to happen with UKCMRI. Who knows what unforeseen delays there may be? How many years will it be before this vast construction is completed and before it begins to deliver science?
We ask that you consider the tremendous cost of the building, the time involved and that during that time money is not being spent directly on scientific research. So far as cancer goes, we heard one of the councillors who was on our side, in the hearing in Camden, saying that she had collected money for cancer charities. She said, "How will cancer charities feel if they think their money is going into this massive building when it ought to be going more directly to help with research?"
Q68 Graham Stringer: Can you tell me what your main safety and security problems are? You have heard the evidence of previous witnesses.
Rob Inglis: Yes.
Q69 Graham Stringer: There is nothing unusual about having this level of hazard within urban areas. The people involved have very good safety records. Why don’t you believe them? What are your concerns?
Rob Inglis: First of all, Mill Hill has a level 4 allowance. Why spend all this amount of money shifting to 3.6 acres at St Pancras if you are going to have a lower level? Level 3 was quoted a lot today. Level 3+ has been quoted via Camden Council and at a public meeting with John Cooper, a representative of UKCMRI on 4 October, he said, in response to a question, "Well, the levels may change over time." That is one thing.
The next thing is, though there may well be places in London that could be considered a biohazard in case of an escape, is there anything so dense in such a sensitive place as what is being mooted here? I accept that British scientists have an exemplary safety record. This is what I have been told by UKCMRI, but they do not have a perfect safety record. We published a long list of fines issued against British labs for spillages over recent years. It is a big list, and I am sure your Committee could get a much vaster one than we were able to get. These spillages could occur so near to St Pancras station and the Northern Line. In the basement of the British Library I am told they can hear the Northern Line going through, and it is very near to the water table. It is a big consideration if there is any spillage in a densely domestically populated area. To me, it is terribly important if there is any spillage that seeps through in innumerable ways into St Pancras station. What are the repercussions and who is responsible for that?
We felt so strongly about this that we have sent letters to senior Cabinet Ministers and to the Prime Minister asking them whether they acknowledge a duty of care. Nobody has replied in regard to the safety of Londoners and visitors to London via St Pancras. Nobody has said that this is a stupid question, nobody has said that they acknowledge this duty of care and nobody has said that they don’t acknowledge it. They have all passed their letter on to somebody else, but nobody will answer this question: who can take responsibility for anything, unlikely as it may be, unforeseen, in the next 50 years? Those are our feelings about the scheme.
Natalie Bennett: I think that Frankie might like to make a point.
Frankie Biney: Yes. I have lived in Somers Town for the past 20 years and been involved in numerous projects like bicycle projects. We had a community centre by a local pub, which is where we had our bicycles fixed, the parents knew each other and so on. When they came to build St Pancras station, we were all promised, "Oh, it’s all good for your community", blah, blah, blah, blah. That went up. Most of the community broke up. The pub was taken out. We couldn’t have our bicycle projects where we wanted them to be. We have got that big building. We have got the Unison building. If you live in St Pancras and you see all these things going up, then you wonder, "What are they doing for us and the community?" We are not getting anything out of it.
To the best of my knowledge, that plot, when it was sold, was supposed to be 50% housing for the community, whereby we will have a community facility where we can socialise, and that’s for the people who live in Somers Town. All we are seeing is buildings coming up. The university has put a big building up there somewhere. They are just taking over. Basically, there are a whole lot of people leaving the community. We are just a handful left. So what advantage is all this? Yes, we want some science, but why use the little plot that we have? It is the last plot in Somers Town. Why should they have that? Why can’t we use it as something for the community?
Natalie Bennett: I am so sorry. We did get a little away from your question. To sum up, we have a site that is almost literally within spitting distance from the Eurostar Terminal, where you can get to Paris within two hours and you will soon be able to get to Berlin in four hours or something. If you stood at the entrance gate and you’ve got really good lungs, you, literally, could spit into St Pancras station. If you are going to employ a precautionary principle of, "Does it really make sense to put this major facility with health risks there?", of course it is true that there are many labs broadly in the area that do some of this work already, but that is a historical accident. Some of those historical science buildings have been there for, literally, a century or more when that was the outskirts of London. Just because things have happened in the past and have historically developed, it does not mean that we have to continue them.
Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that often the consortium has been saying, "Oh, we are only dealing with flu." That is what they often say to the community. Now, that would be the virus that killed between 50 million and 100 million people in 1918 that has caused widespread panic with H5N1 and swine flu over the past couple of years. While I would agree that there have been some exaggerated tales going around, I believe that the security and safety concerns of the community are very strong, well-founded and perfectly reasonable.
Q70 David Morris: Much of my question has been answered by yourselves. It is a fact that the UK is a world leader in biomedical research and this is an area where we have to build on our success. It has been explained through Mr Stringer’s question about the strategic importance of the rail links and the networks. We have also heard an explanation about the larger site at Mill Hill and how that does have expansion properties. However, as to the St Pancras site, Professor Malcolm Grant, in the previous panel, said that there is no room to expand. Overall, why should we disregard the initiative of the four leading organisations to have this facility placed in St Pancras?
Rob Inglis: We think this wondrous vision seemed to have come into existence before Sir Paul Nurse was involved to give it vision. It seemed to be an exciting cluster to accelerate the pace of translational science, convenient to the partners and a good place for scientists dropping off. The actual vision, about which you asked questions, seemed to come later, and it still seems to be uncertain. Speakers for UKCMRI said, "That will become clearer as time goes on."
Could I quote Sir Paul Nurse from the American magazine Science dated 23 July 2010? When asked to describe his vision for UKCMRI, Sir Paul Nurse said: "Size is important for multidisciplinary approach. Because it’s large, it doesn’t have to have a particular focus. It won’t be divided into academic departments. Individuals can belong to several groups and can withdraw from one to join another." When asked about the push for more translational medicine research, Sir Paul said: "I’m beginning to think that this is something that nobody has got on top of properly. We have scientists, clinicians, the pharmaceutical industry. I’m not certain we’ve worked hard enough on the sociology of that, to get that to work well." It seems to me as though Sir Paul’s very important contribution came later in the day after the original convenience-I say it is a cosy convenience-of this site for the partners that had caused them to come together.
Q71 David Morris: So you believe that the Mill Hill site should be developed because of its size and it can be expanded?
Rob Inglis: Absolutely. We have submitted a paper, an amendment, which came from six or eight workers at Mill Hill some years ago saying that animals are housed in four or five different buildings some distance from the main building and if there is a biochemical breakdown, it can’t spread rapidly. It can be controlled. They also feel that the use of animals will be much more economical there; there won’t have to be so many used and put to death. Moving those facilities into London is much more difficult.
Beyond that, if we take this claim seriously of building an institution which is a challenge to the world, an example to the world in science, then, surely, we want to do it not by an accident of this being convenient for these partners, and then Sir Paul Nurse being asked to join. Surely it needs to be better planned over a long-range period. We are convinced that Mill Hill is a much better research site.
Natalie Bennett: There are lots of practical things, too, in terms of construction costs. I am sure you are all well aware, in terms of central London, that construction costs are much higher and the potential for interference in construction costs is much greater. Because of the small size of the site-I have seen varying figures-they are going either four or five storeys down. I can’t tell you precisely the cost per square foot of excavating five storeys down into a water table, into a site with which the British Library had huge problems. Clearly, there are massive extra costs involved. Just think of all the trucks, in a site of more than 3 acres, carrying five storeys’ worth of spoil out of the site besides St Pancras station, on to the Euston Road and all those sorts of things. There is a cost factor in that.
Also, is this really a suitable site? John Mason, who is here today, did some figures on this, and of this whole construction, 57.5% of the floor area is plant-so nearly 60% of it is plant-41% is lab space and 6% is public area. This is really an industrial building in central London. That is basically what they are putting in, at a far higher cost than it would be if it was at Mill Hill.
Q72 David Morris: To be devil’s advocate, do you think all of these new construction jobs coming into the area would be beneficial to the local economy and to its general development? Do you think it would be a good thing for the local economy?
Rob Inglis: The history of such things-the CTRL, all the work on the railways to the rejuvenated St Pancras station, and so far the 67 acres at King’s Cross Central-shows that they have resulted in very little local employment. We are very sceptical about that.
Natalie Bennett: I think it would be useful, perhaps, to paint a picture of what this community is. Maybe you think of central London and this isn’t what you think of. St Pancras and Somers Town has a large, white, traditional working class community. It also has large Bangladeshi and Somali communities and lots of other minority communities. More than 30% of the people are 19 or under. 20% of them have life limiting long-term illnesses, despite the fact that only 14% of them are 60 and over. Only 66% of people describe their health as good. Nearly 10% describe themselves as permanently sick or disabled. 50% of them rent from the council and 20% from social housing landlords. Nearly 50% of them have a household income below £25,000-this, of course, is in central London-and 33% have no qualifications. Also, many of them live in hugely overcrowded houses. I was talking to a lady outside the school recently and she has four children and two adults in a two-bedroom flat, and that is a small two-bedroom flat.
As Frankie alluded to, if you think about community use of this land, the planning brief was for 50% housing and 50% social housing. If you think about what would happen to that, some of that, no doubt, would be sheltered housing, which would be caring jobs. There would be lots of jobs. You would generate at least as many construction jobs in the work. So the alternative uses for the land would be considerably-hugely-more beneficial for the community, as was recognised by the planning brief that said that this is what was necessary.
If you think about Somers Town, it is a community that grew up to support the railways. People traditionally worked on the railways and in associated industries. What has happened is that the land has been carved away from the community. The British Library was built. Very few members of the St Pancras and Somers Town community have a job in the British Library. St Pancras station ditto. What you are talking about are, basically, minimum wage retail jobs that are extremely difficult to live on long-term and build a life on. These things simply haven’t catered to the pre-existing community that is there or helped them at all. We think this is the last piece of land left.
The UKCMRI could go anywhere. We think that staying at Mill Hill would be sensible, but for the people of St Pancras and Somers Town this is the last space we have left. If the building is constructed, then we are, literally, hemmed in, crammed in and squashed in upon. We will have had our last opportunity taken away from us.
David Morris: Thank you for a very informed answer.
Q73 Stephen Metcalfe: Can you tell me what sort of level of engagement you have had between yourselves, the council and UKCMRI? What are the lines of communication between all the organisations involved?
Natalie Bennett: You could, basically, say that we have been very disappointed by this. The community is, broadly, very uninformed. It is a community, as I alluded to, that needs things in different languages. It needs lots of access and lots of time. They have tended to open things during working hours. The display centre on the site has mostly been opened during working hours and one Saturday a month. When letters went out, even about the development control hearing meeting, they went to some 700 households. We can count in the estates, along the two sides, that there are 1,200 households in the immediate vicinity to the site. We think that the engagement of the community in terms of information has been very poor. It is interesting to note, as you will see in the UKCMRI’s own submission, that the largest public meeting was the meeting that we called and held just before the building application went in.
Rob Inglis: On 4 October.
Natalie Bennett: The UKCMRI declined to come to that meeting until 12 o’clock on the day of the meeting, when they decided that they were going to come to the meeting after all, which created some difficulties for us.
On the broader question of engagement, there is, of course, a section 106 agreement with the council, which contains some useful things in terms of contributions to combined heat and power, to decent homes and those sorts of things, but they are not giving the community what it really needs, which is land, space and housing. What is happening is that the consortium is saying, "Because we are a charity we don’t have to meet many of the normal requirements of these things", which is where, of course, the terms of the pharmaceutical industry’s involvement starts to become of interest and a question for the community. If the pharmaceutical industry is heavily involved in this, where is the contribution?
The UKCMRI used to call it a "Healthy Living Centre", but they are now calling it a "Living Centre", which is, basically, a little room tacked on to the back end of the actual lab. It is, basically, a room. They say, "We are going to do things like have yoga classes" and that sort of thing. St Pancras and Somers Town, I am sure, is an area similar to what many of your constituencies have. We have the Hillwood Age Concern Centre, which is expected to close. We have two community centres that are both gravely concerned about their future in terms of funding of the programmes coming in. There is Plot 10, which is the play centre which has been in existence for 30 years, that is hugely valued by the community, and pupils from four schools walk in little crocodiles each afternoon to go to this play centre. All of those things are threatened and all of those things are buildings and structures that are in place. A couple of years back, when they were talking about this, they might have said, "Oh, it would be nice to have another community centre where we can have some more space and do some more things", but that is really no longer the issue. The issue now is who is going to find the funding to run programmes? We are not short of rooms but we need the programmes, the services and funding for those things.
In terms of the views of the community, huge numbers of letters did not go in on the planning application. If you went into the council office and saw the folders and folders of the planning application, and if you tried to download the PDF off the council website, which has thousands and thousands of pages, it was very difficult for this community to engage in this process, but the consortium has not made it easy.
Frankie Biney: It is so disheartening. When you try to gather people to come down and say, "Look, we’ve got to go to a meeting and go and fight about this laboratory", they say, "No, forget about it. It’s going to be built anyway." From past experience, everything that we have fought for, we have never got anything. So people are just disheartened.
Rob Inglis: Whether it has been propaganda or whatever, from one of our MPs all the way down, there has been the statement, "It’s a done deal." That is because of the commitment of Prime Minister Brown, previously, and seemingly of this Government, particularly bearing in mind the policies which Vince Cable might pursue. People have felt powerless before this. That is why there has not been the degree of response and protest that we would have liked. At Camden Council, just in response to 700 letters, there was a spokesman representing 456 households in one of the densest areas and there were half a dozen local groups that were represented.
Q74 Stephen Metcalfe: How many attended the public meeting that you held with UKCMRI?
Natalie Bennett: It was about 80 people.
Q75 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you feel that they have taken any of your views into account? Were there not some proposals to the change of the design of the building that were incorporated?
Natalie Bennett: They did change, basically, the roof line of the building. In a way that was a reaction to the fact that the first design was even more bluntly and obviously an industrial building. It looked like a building that belonged on an industrial estate that you would find on the outskirts of Luton or some such-I am sorry, at many other places and industrial estates on the outskirts of towns. They changed that design because there was an outcry, but that was an outcry about appearance. Whether it looks more attractive now you can argue about. Perhaps it does. It was more glass mirrored walls before. They have now put in some fake stone. So it is less like that.
If you look at the submission that came into the council from the conservation area committee, because it is on the edge of a conservation area, that committee was strongly opposed to the plan on appearance grounds. This is right besides St Pancras station, which is grade 1 listed. It is one of the most valued architectural buildings in the country. It is right beside the British Library, which, although it may not be old enough to be listed yet, I am sure will be one day. It is also right beside Chamberlain House and Levita House, which are grade 2 listed examples of very valuable early social housing. What it looks like, really, is an alien spaceship that has come down and been plonked right in the middle of these valued historic buildings. It now might be a slightly more attractive spaceship than it was originally, but that is basically the extent of the change that has occurred in response to lots of community complaints.
Q76 Gavin Barwell: I would like to pick up on one of Stephen’s previous questions and then we will give you a general wrap-up question at the end. One of the things that struck me when you were replying to Stephen is that this building is very constrained in terms of floor space compared with the provision at Mill Hill. It does seem to be strange that they are giving you, albeit you say a room, this Living Centre, that you don’t actually want, and what you would rather have is some kind of contribution to keep the existing centres going that you have in your community. Have you made that point directly to the consortium?
Natalie Bennett: This is an issue that has only just arisen. As you are all well aware, the rate of funding cutbacks has shocked everyone in the past few months. That isn’t a discussion we have had with them. We have had a long discussion about the issue of housing. As was alluded to earlier, in an earlier incantation they were going to move on to the National Temperance Hospital site, which, although it is not actually in St Pancras and Somers Town ward, is basically just on the other side of the railway line. One of the things that we have talked to them a great deal about, or certain people have, is the potential of that going for housing instead as a contribution to the fact that they are not providing the housing that the planning brief provided for on the site.
This morning with us is Councillor Roger Robinson, who is a long-time representative of this area. He will often refer to the fact that Camden Council has a waiting list of 17,000 households. The consortium owns, on the National Temperance Hospital site, a site that would have the potential to do at least something. We would still much rather have this land but that land would be something else. They are still intending to sell that at commercial rates on a commercial basis.
Q77 Gavin Barwell: You have put on the record very clearly what you would consider to be a better community contribution if this plan has to go ahead. You have heard the answer that they gave in the earlier session in relation to whether the project will be delivered in budget and on time. I wanted to give you a chance at the end to make any comments that any of you would like to make about that as a final wrap-up question.
Natalie Bennett: I will start on that. I was taken by a quote. I didn’t write down who said it. One of the witnesses said that very careful thought was given to the site. When you think about that, it is astonishing. First, this is a project that started with two partners and they bought the National Temperance Hospital site, and then they decided it was too small. Your predecessors on a previous Science and Technology Committee were pretty scathing about the way they had rushed into that particular purchase. Then they rushed over here and basically tried to whack the largest possible thing they could get away with on to this site.
One of the other speakers said, "This will come in on time and on budget." Quite reasonably, a member of the Committee had some doubts about that. If you look at the history of the site, it would be astonishing if this project, on a site in central London with all the problems, came in on time and on budget. They don’t really know what they are going to do with this site. They are creating a big fancy thing and hoping it will fill up, work out and turn out to be wonderful. They are spending a lot of public money and charity money in the process.
Rob Inglis: We feel that, whatever they aim to do and state to do here, it could be done much more safely and in a much more building-for-the-future way at Mill Hill. We noted from one of the previous statements from Steven Ley to one of your previous committees that the decision to leave Mill Hill was irregularly arrived at. The vote was via telephone and email, it was 5 to 4, and the casting vote was the chairman’s. We feel that that clearly was influenced by the lure of moving to central London as though Mill Hill were an impossible journey. It is not. It is about 10 to 15 minutes on the train. The fact is that the National Temperance Hospital was bought and then there is sudden realisation it is not big enough. Then the partners get together and say, "Ah, how great. There is this site right besides St Pancras Station." I believe it is a matter of convenience and novelty. All those things come together in a whirlwind. Then Sir Paul Nurse is brought in to introduce a vision. We believe that the whole thing has hurtled along in an imprecise and ill-thought-out way.
Frankie Biney: Since it is our last bit of space, Somers Town needs something for the community. We have got everything around us but what about us?
Rob Inglis: If I could just add, John Mason, who is here, has made the point that what is this current plan for UKCMRI but Mill Hill transposed to a smaller space plus one public hall, and a fairly small one at that? What’s the difference? We query how much more effective and faster the furnishing of new medical developments will be because of the location vis-à-vis Mill Hill.
Natalie Bennett: If I could take one minute on that point, 60% of this is plant. Here you are in central London basically putting a factory there. The officer for the council said: "…assurances were given to Members that chemical fumes emitted from the building would be dispersed. They may give rise to smells in the short term, but would cause no harm." Just imagine if President Sarkozy hops off the Eurostar, sniffs and says, "Gosh, why did they put a factory in central London right beside the Eurostar Terminal?
Chair: You can’t have all the factories in other constituencies. Your group has made yourself very clear. You regard it as a carbuncle, although not necessarily a monstrous one. It is in the wrong place and it is the wrong project for the location. You have been extremely clear to us and we thank you very much for your helpful evidence today. Thank you.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 16th February 2011|