Press release: SPA response to the Science and Technology Select Committee report on the UKCMRI (UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation)
SPA (St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action) has warmly welcomed the report of the Science and Technology Select Committee report on the UKCMRI, released today.
Natalie Bennett, the chair of SPA, which represents residents in the ward in which the UKCMRI is planned, noted that there were two key points on which the MPs agreed with her organisation:
1. That no convincing case had been made for any need the proposed medical research laboratory to be located at the Brill Place site beside St Pancras
2. That there is a “strong case” – we would say it is essential – that “the housing intended for the St Pancras site [be replaced with] housing at the National Temperance Hospital site”.
Natalie pointed to the words of the committee: “We remain unconvinced that, in these financially stringent times, the high cost of building the UKCMRI in central London outweighs the benefits of these links.” (p. 55, 167)
She said: “We call on George Osborne to reconsider the government funding of £220m being given to the project, out of its total cost of £660m. As the committee said, the costs of this project are being hugely boosted by the central London location, and the committee was not at all convinced by the claim that this was the best, or even a suitable, site for the structure, noting in particular the lack of capacity to expand. Certainly money has been spent on planning and a little preliminary ground work, but it is quite possible that choosing a cheaper site – for example the existing National Institute for Medical Research site at Mill Hill – would more than make up for the money spent thus far.”
Natalie added that the MPs were sceptical, as were members of SPA after looking into the issue, of the claim that, to quote the committee “face to face collaborations are as important and or likely as they have been described to us” [by the consortium], which had been given as justification for the choice of site. Natalie said: “As I said to the committee, in the age of Skype, of videoconferencing, and other international ‘virtual’ interactions, this looks like a 20th-century project being built in the 21st century.”
Regarding the fate of the National Temperance Hospital site, Natalie said: “The MPs have clearly shown their sympathy for the loss of the community of St Pancras and Somers Town of the Brill Place land, and an understanding of the financial and social disadvantages suffered by many residents.” (The MPs said: It is “imperative that the UKCMRI contributes directly to relieving some
of the problems of its residential neighbours.”)
She added: “The UKCMRI have consistently said that they plan to sell the National Temperance Hospital site – bought some years ago for a failed similar plan – to the highest bidder. It is imperative that Camden council make it clear to them that the site should only be used for housing – and ideally for council housing, but certainly for social housing that will do something to tackle the extremely unhealthy overcrowding in this ward, and other poorer parts of Camden, which now has a waiting list for council housing of some 18,000 households.”
Concluding, Natalie said that the MPs had referred to the proposed “living centre” on the side of the UKCMRI as an important part of its community contribution. Natalie said: “We remain gravely concerned, at a time when local community centres and other community cutbacks face savage cutbacks in the funding for their programmes, about whether this centre will be able to add to services for local residents, or simply result in the movement of services around the community, putting the survival of existing facilities further at risk. The UKCMRI is promising core funding, but the question is where the money for actual services, classes etc will be found.”