Partners defend London home for £650m flagship UK research centre

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 10 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d952
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

The four partners in what is hoped to be the UK’s flagship leading medical research institute have defended the decision to locate it in London and the high costs of doing so.

MPs on the parliamentary science and technology committee were quizzing witnesses on 9 February as part of their inquiry into the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI).

The £650m (€766m; $1043m) centre is designed to be an interdisciplinary medical research institute. Created as an independent charity, it is scheduled to open in 2015, employing 1500 staff, including 1250 scientists, with an operating budget of more than £100m. It will be housed in a newly built centre at St Pancras in central London.

Work is due to start on the centre in May. The committee does not have the authority to stop the plans, although a negative report could be damaging to the stakeholders.

MPs were questioning four witnesses from the scientific and academic institutions involved in the project—the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, University College London, and the Wellcome Trust.

The committee was told how much each of the four partners was contributing to the centre—University College London was contributing around £45m; Cancer Research UK £180m; Medical Research Council £300m; and the Wellcome Trust £120m.

Committee member Stephen Metcalfe, Conservative MP for south Basildon and east Thurrock, said: “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.

“Have you looked into alternatives outside of London? That sort of capital investment could be much better spent on putting people outside of London and on equipment and research rather than on a very grand project.”

John Savill, Medical Research Council chief executive, giving evidence, said the council’s final and full business case for the project had just been agreed by the government.

“All four of us travel internationally and we see the scale of investment that our competitors are making internationally and while these sums are eye-wateringly large, they are commensurate with the kind of investment we see in Singapore, the US, Germany, or China. We feel this is an appropriate scale of investment,” said Professor Savill.

“Very careful thought was given to where the best place to have a major institute would be. We took international advice and consulted widely and there is unanimity around central London being an attractive site.”

Fellow witness Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust added: “Science thrives best in a clustered environment where there is a critical mass of scientists from different disciplines and hospitals.”

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, also giving evidence, said: “What this will deliver is a project of a scale which will be one of the largest, if not the largest institute in Europe.”

Opponents of the scheme—the St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action group, a community group formed to look into any planning application put forward locally to ensure the residents’ interests are upheld—also appeared before the committee.

Natalie Bennett, chair of the group said: “We are not at all opposed to medical research and we respect the work that scientists do.

“But this project has been rushed along with some very influential people saying it’s great. We are talking about £220m of government money. We hope the government looks at that money and thinks of many other important things that they could do with it.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d952

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