Cambridge Research Facility Hearings

Hearings were held this week on Cambridge University’s proposal to build a primate research facility in Girton, just outside Cambridge.

The proposal has been rejected twice before on grounds that the research center is certain to become a focal point for animal rights protests which could disrupt traffic and create other public safety hazards. Earlier this year a planning commission rejected the plans 17-4 after hearing from police about disruptions that activists might create.

That decision led to criticism from Prime Minister Tony Blair who said that the problems obtaining approval for the site threatened Great Britain’s standing as a leader in medical research.

The laboratory would hose macaque and marmoset monkeys used as part of brain-related research. Science minister Lord Sainsbury told BBC2’s Newsnight that the research center was of national importance,

I was asked by the local planning authority what my view was and whether it was a project of national importance. Clearly it is a project of national importance. It is doing major research in a key area of science. It is now up to the planning authority to give their view as to whether this is right from a planning point of view.

Cambridge University has defended the research center as absolutely vital,

Advances in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, asthma and strokes have all been made as a result of research with primates. Ongoing research with primates offer the hope of effective treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and sight disorders, as well as the development of vaccines for malaria and Aids.

We understand that many people find the use of monkeys in medical research distressing. Research methods are continually evolving and while scientists and medical researchers aim to reduce work involving animals to a minimum, some of this work must continue if we are to make essential life-saving advances in medicine.

Animal rights activists, predictably, attacked such research as both cruel and unnecessary. Dan Lyons of Uncaged Campaigns told The Guardian (UK),

This research will cause suffering. The government tries to promote this centre as a scientific one, but it’s more to do with trying to create an impression of a business-friendly environment to attract more biotech and pharmaceutical companies. It’s a global business concern that’s driving this, rather than pure science.

Our concern is that the government is trying to present a commercial interest as a national interest. What’s ethically right is at odds with that commercial interest.

Regardless, the center is likely a done deal given Blair’s support and the fact that this time the decision rests solely with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Wendy Higgins of the British Union for the Abolition of Animal Vivisection told The BBC,

It is a political decision that will be made, not one about planning. The prime minister has already made his position absolutely clear and now that John Prescott has decided to recover the final decision for himself, it is highly unlikely that he will go against Mr. Blair.

But, of course, the decision not to build it before was predicated largely on unruly animal rights activists. Surely, those who engage in hooliganism should not be rewarded for their behavior by allowing its possibility to prevent the construction of a research facility. Lets just hope the British government is committed to dealing with animal rights extremism that will inevitably be directed at the facility once it is built.


Cambridge argues for monkey research. The BBC, November 25, 2002.

Minister backs animal testing lab plans. Polly Curtis, The Guardian (UK), November 26, 2002.

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