The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

No 10 ‘interfered to push through £600m plan for virus superlab’

January 20, 2011
1 Comment
London Evening Standard
Mark Blunden
20 Jan 2011

Campaigners against a maximum security “superlab” in the heart of London are calling for a parliamentary inquiry claiming that there was political interference in the bidding process.

The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, behind the British Library in St Pancras, will be capable of containing flu viruses, malaria, tuberculosis, cancer cells and HIV.

Residents living close to the centre are calling for an inquiry into the £600 million project after Cabinet Office emails, seen by the Standard, revealed that the previous government was keen to “make it happen” before the tendering process had closed.

They also claim Camden council failed to inform residents fully of the severity of the diseases to be tested at the 3.6 acre site and is stonewalling their questions.

Today, it can be revealed that in July 2007, Jeremy Heywood, a Cabinet Office civil servant, emailed officials, including the Department of Health and the Chief Scientific Officer, stating: “The PM (Gordon Brown) is very keen to make sure the government departments are properly co-ordinated on this project – and that if there is a consensus that this is indeed an exciting project, then we do what we can to make it happen.”

The email, released under the Freedom of Information Act, was sent the week before the first bids were due in and six weeks before the shortlist was finalised.

Other documents reveal that among 27 competing proposals for the site were a multi-faith centre and hundreds of affordable homes in a borough with 18,000 people on its housing waiting list. Both of these proposals complied with Camden’s brief for the site, but it is alleged the superlab initially did not.

Resident Robert Henderson, a retired civil servant, 63, said: “Camden went against their own original plan for a mixed-use development.

“There’s been political interference with the bidding process as well as the grave security issues. There should be a parliamentary inquiry because £250 million of public money is at stake.”


Letter sent to Evening Standard 21 Jan 2011
I can expand upon Mark Blunden’s report “No 10 ‘interfered to push through £600m plan for virus superlab'” (20 Jan) .  
I am the person who obtained the evidence of Brown’s interference using the FOIA. I have a mass of documents showing that Brown was pressing for the sale to UKCMRI before the formal  bidding process had ended and afterwards before a formal decision was made. Here is an example of the documents: 

  Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09


Cc: _[40]_____________

Subject: RESTRICTED – Land to the North

 Hi Nicholas,

 Jonathan spoke to Jeremy Heywood this morning. Jeremy said he needed the bid to be agreed by next Wednesday – 5 Dec (or Thursday latest) as PM wanted to get MRC in then (or possible public announcement.

Jonathan explained that there are two issues from our point of view: .No revised formal offer has been received by DCMS .HMT are not being helpful of recycling returns – without an improved offer from HMT JS said it would he v hard to justify.

JR said he thought the offer was sent to us yesterday – have checked but nothing in JSs post or email – JH will chase. JH also said he would go back to HMT to see what  more they can do, but that ultimately PM may have to arbitrate.


 Private Secretary  to Jonathan StephensDepartment for (Culture, Media and Sport 2-4 Cockpur Street, London SWlY) 

  This was a public bidding process. The decision was supposed to rest with the the Minister heading the DCMS. Brown as Prime Minister should have played no role in the decision. There were 28 bidders of whom 9 were placed on the short list. It would be interesting to know how they feel about the conduct of the bid.


Yours sincerely,


Robert Henderson

Notification of planning irregularities to Boris Johnson

January 14, 2011

Boris Johnson esq

Mayor of London

City Hall

14 January 2010

Dear Mr Johnson,

                        The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation  (UKCMRI)

You have sanctioned the building of a very large research facility on land behind the British Library (the Brill Place site). You have made this decision in ignorance of the irregularities which have taken place in the handling of both the sale of the site by the DCMS  and the handling of  the  application for planning permission by Camden Council.

The sale of the land

It is clear from documents I have received from the  Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the DCMS and Camden Council through FOIA requests that Gordon Brown when Prime Minister in interfered illicitly with the public bidding process. The decision on the sale of the land was meant to be entirely in the hands of the DCMS and decided on the criterion of “value for money”.   The documents I have received under the FOIA make clear that Brown not only made it clear that he wanted the site sold to UKCMRI,  but took steps to insure it happened. He was doing this before the official bidding process was closed.  That rendered the bidding process a sham. On the face of things, a fraud would appear to have been perpetrated against the failed bidders  and the British public.  

Camden’s handling of the application for planning permission.

I submitted a most comprehensive objection to the application. This,  contained amongst other things,  the details of Brown’s interference with the sale of the land and the level of biohazard  likely to be used on the proposed site.  The report prepared by the Camden planning officers for the planning committee  excluded any mention whatsoever of Brown’s interference with the sale of the site and omitted mention of the probable level of biohazard which would be introduced to the research centre if it is built.

UKCMRI claim that there will be no biohazard level 4 toxins on new site. However, the leading member of the  consortium, the Medical Research Council,  currently has a level 4 licence on its Mill Hill site. UKCMRI have confirmed that the site is to be sold once the new centre is built and the MRC work moved to the Brill Place site. It is not unreasonable to suppose that level  4 work will be undertaken at  the new research centre.  The Council report failed to mention this information despite it being included in my objection to the planning application.  Moreover, UKCMRI have introduced the concept of biohazard level 3+ which they say will cover some of their work. This appears to have no official standing and the suspicion must be that it is level 4 in disguise.

The failure to include these centrally important matters in the planning officer’s advice to the planning committee members is a serious irregularity and  should nullify the planning permission.

Supporting documentation

To allow you to verify what I am saying I enclose my notification of the irregularities in Camden’s handling of the planning application. These include the documents which demonstrate  Gordon Brown’s interference with the sale of the site.  

In view of these various serious  irregularities,  I ask you to remove your sanctioning of the Camden planning permission.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


17 December 2010

Mr Nasim Ali


Camden Council

CC all other Camden Councillors

    Neil MacDonald (Planning Officer)

    Aiden Brooks (Lawyer)

Dear Mr Ali,

Development Control Committee 16 12 2010 Town Hall 7.00 pm

Subject: The granting of planning permission to ULCMRI for a research centre on land behind the British Library. (The discussion of the planning application a ran approximately between 7.15-9.45 pm) (Application Ref: 2010/4721/P, Associated Ref: 2009/2565/NEW)

In my objection to the planning application I included the fact that Gordon Brown when Prime Minister had illicitly interfered with the bidding process for the land on which the research centre is to be built. This was not some fancy on my part,  but irrefutable fact based on civil service documents which I obtained using the Freedom of Information Act. These were included with my objection to the planning application.  A copy of the relevant section of my objection together with the necessary supporting documents is at the bottom of this email.

Despite this irrefutable proof of the contamination of the bidding process – Brown was interfering even before the formal bidding process was over – no mention is made of Brown’s interference in the Camden Officer’s report – see section 4.41 “Objections”. Nor was any mention of Brown’s interference made by the case planning officer Neil MacDonald in his summary of the case last night or by any other speaker,  whether council officer, councillor or deputation member.

The failure to bring this very important objection to the planning application invalidates the granting of the permission. Apart from nullifying the sale of the land to UKCMRI, the other bidders,  who made their bids in good faith,  would have the opportunity to seek compensation from the government and also from Camden if the building goes ahead. Camden could be liable because they have both been advised of the difficulty and have excluded that advice from the formal submission on which the Development Control Committee.

This brings me to why my objection on the grounds of Gordon Brown’s interference was omitted from the officer’s report. There are only two rational explanations. First, that the objections of private individuals were never read and the Camden officers responsible simply guessed at what the objections would be. Second, that the omission was a deliberate political act of censorship. Please write to me and tell me (1) which of these two explanations is the true one, (2) what action you will be taking against the culprits and (3) what you intend to do about the illegitimately granted planning permission.

There is a second area of concern. Section 4.46 cites UKCMRI as never going beyond level 3+ viruses.  This very dubious. Let me cite a section from my objection to the planning application:

“There is good reason to believe that toxins officially classified as more dangerous than influenza will be used. The MRC site in Mill Hill – the site Brill Place is meant to replace –  has 11 laboratories licenced for level 3 biohazards and one licensed for level 4 biohazards (see document 3).  The license for level 3 work allows the following to be used for research:

Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist, such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, variola virus (smallpox), tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level.

The consortium is applying for level 3 licenses for the proposed medical centre. Once they have these they can work on any of the viruses and bacteria listed above regardless of what is promised now.  

Presumably whatever work the MRC has been conducting under the level 4 licence will continue. If it comes to the new centre work on these toxins would be covered:

Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases. When dealing with biological hazards at this level the use of a Hazmat suit and a self-contained oxygen supply is mandatory. The entrance and exit of a Level Four biolab will contain multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, autonomous detection system, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard. Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors opening at the same time. All air and water service going to and coming from a Biosafety Level 4 (P4) lab will undergo similar decontamination procedures to eliminate the possibility of an accidental release.

If the level 4 work is not to come to the proposed research centre the consortium’s claim that their work has to be done at the Brill Place site is discredited. If it does come to the site then risk is raised considerably. As to whether it  will come to the site, answers given by John Davidson at a meeting held 11 10 2010 in the Ossulton TRA Hall  provide a strong pointer. Questioned by myself, he stated that the Mill Hill facility would definitely be closed if and when the centre was built and he could not rule out all the Mill Hill work being moved to the Brill Place site including the level 4 risk work.

The DCMS were certainly led to believe that the centre would deal with viruses other than influenza, viz.:

“4. MRC anticipates that some £205 m of additional investment will be secured from consortium partners for the development of the UK Centre

for Medical Research and Innovation. This is investment which would otherwise be Lost to the public purse. This additional investment in the work of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) will support the delivery of high quality research on:

“ The origins of the AIDS epidemic, detecting tuberculosis (TB) infection, variations in the structure of the bird flu virus H5N1 all of which could Lead to more effective breakthroughs in drug development. Scientists at NIMR have also:- (With the University of Hong Kong) isolated the gene responsible for sensory development in the inner ear, which may lead to significant advances in the development of treatments for the deaf and those with severely impaired hearing; and determined the structure of the enzyme that regulates cellular energy levels which could lead to new drugs for type II diabetes, an illness that affects more than two million people in the UK. Taken together, these important results emerging from the UKCMRI could substantially improve the quality of life and allow those who benefit from the findings to continue to make their important contribution to the economy.”

It would appear that there is a very real possibility of level 4 viruses being researched at the new site. Yet both the Camden officer’s submission and verbal replies from UKCRMI representatives during the hearing of the application were dogmatic that level 4 was never going to be a possibility. Clearly it is if all the MRC work is transferred to the new  site.  Please write to me and explain why my advice of the true situation has been ignored by Camden officers.

I would appreciate a rapid answer to all my questions as this very obviously is a matter which needs to be cleared up as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson  


Relevant extract from my objection to the planning application

Gordon Brown’s interference with the bidding process

Document 25


To James Purnell Margaret Hodge, Jonathan Stephens,Ros Brayfield

From Nicholas Holgate

Date 18 September 2007 ____________


Issue: mainly for information but also to ask how you would wish to be involved in this transaction.

The Department owns 3.6 acres to the north of the British Library. With the completion of the new train terminal, we are able to sell it and have been conducting a competitive process so that Ministers can choose what represents best value, comprising not just the proceeds from sale but also the use to which the bidder intends to put the land.

2. We are bound to be concerned about proceeds:

a. There is an obvious obligation, on Jonathan as the department’s Accounting Officer, to secure the best return we can for the taxpayer;

b. the Government is close to breaching its fiscal rules and has set itself a demanding target for asset disposals. Your predecessor strongly rebutted the Treasury’s proposal that we should sell assets worth £150m by 2010-11 and it has not formally been debated since your arrival; but we are likely to have to raise some funds from disposals. In any case:

c. proceeds from this sale are earmarked to contribute towards the budget of the Olympic Delivery Authority for 2007-08.

3. Subject to Treasury agreement, we can nevertheless also take public value” into account. We are aware of two such bids one led by the Medical Research Council, with support from the Wellcome Foundation and others for a research facility; and one that wishes to remain confidential but which is essentially related to faith and education.

4. The facts are:

a. We have now received 28 bids in response to a prospectus. Amongst other things, the prospectus drew attention to the local planning policy guidance, which steers bidders towards a scheme that is roughly 50:50 commercial and residential development with 50% affordable housing. It is Camden Borough Council and the Mayor who will have the last word on what is in fact built on the site;

b. Our professional advisers have scored the bids on various criteria and are interviewing the top seven plus two others (the medical research bid is one of the two others) next week;

c. There is a significant financial gap between the top bids and the medical research bid.

5. Jonathan and I are meeting Jeremy Heywood (who is aware of both public value bids), Ian Watmore (Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills) and John Kingman (Treasury) tomorrow. We need to agree an orderly and appropriate process for selling the land, given the public value bidders, other Departments’ interest and the likelihood that the Prime Minister might wish to take an interest too.

6. We will report back to you then. Subject to your views and others’, one potential way forward is a. DIUS economists be invited to assess the public value of the medical research bid. We will need some such calculation if we sell at a discount. DCMS should not do this as we should display some neutrality between bidders . We decide whether we expect the medical research bid to match the best bid, improve their offer but not necessarily to match, or take a lower value on the chin. Given their backers, they can afford to match. But they may refuse to play; and/or we may not wish to be seen to be reducing their funding for good causes just to maximise proceeds;

c. We see whether there is a Government champion for the other bidder;


d. We then fairly characterise the two public value bidders and the best commercial bid (or bids, if they differ significantly in what they propose) to Ministers and No 10 for a decision.

Nicholas Holgate

Chief Operating Officer


Document 26

Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09


Cc: _[40]_____________

Subject: RESTRICTED – Land to the North

Hi Nicholas,

Jonathan spoke to Jeremy Heywood this morning. Jeremy said he needed the bid to be agreed by next Wednesday – 5 Dec (or Thursday latest) as PM wanted to get MRC in then (or possible public announcement.

Jonathan explained that there are two issues from our point of view: .No revised formal offer has been received by DCMS. HMT are not being helpful of recycling returns – without an improved offer from HMT JS said it would he v hard to justify.

JR said he thought the offer was sent to us yesterday – have checked but nothing in JSs post or email – JH will chase. JH also said he would go back to HMT to see what more they can do, but that ultimately PM may have to arbitrate.


Private Secretary  to Jonathan Stephens

Department for (Culture, Media and Sport 2-4 Cockpur Street, London

SWlY 5Dl1 email: [40] tel: 0207211 fax: 020 72116259


Document 27

From: [40]

Sent: 29 November 2007 11:49




Subject: RE: British Library land


Thanks for this. The SoS has seen your note and is content. Grateful if you could keep us updated on whether the PM will be announcing this next week as part of his science speech.

Many thanks,


Private Secretary to the Rt Hon James Purnell MP

Department of Culture, Media and Sport

2-4Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH

Tel@ 0207 7211 [40]


Document 28

Treasury document

From – name censored

Sent: 04 December 2007 19:49

To: name(s) censored.

CC: name(s) censored)

Thanks for everyone’s help and support in making the announcement tomorrow happen. The PM is truly delighted that departments have been able to work together to secure this huge opportunity for Britain



Document 29

To James Purnell

From Nicholas Holgate


4 December 2007

cc Margaret Hodge

Gerry Sutcliffe

Jonathan Stephens

Mark Ferrero



Issues: the sale of this 3.6 acre site; and the recycling of the proceeds to benefit DCMS causes.

Timing: urgent, albeit for information.

As you know, we have been marketing this site. The highest commercial bid was £105 mn. But a consortium of the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London have also entered a bid to re-site the Mill Hill research laboratory on this land and thus establish a world class interdisciplinary facility in central London.

2. Their final offer was £85 m. We have accepted the assessment of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills that the public value’ in addition to the sum offered, in terms of increasing the pace of medical research and its practical application, is well worth a discount on a fully commercial sale price of £20 m.

3. The Prime Minister has taken an interest in this proposal; and is expected to announce the deal tomorrow at a breakfast seminar (8-8.45 am).

4. I attach the final press release and some questions and answers.

5. We will be able to re-cycle some of the proceeds: notably, we can meet the tax bill for the proposed acquisition of a major collection; and he deemed to have met almost all of our disposals target for the next three financial years, thus underpinning your proposed capital allocations to the NDPBs.

Nicholas Holgate

Chief Operating Officer


Document 30



Disclosable extracts:

We are close to being ready to announce Government support for the creation of a world-leading medical research facility in London.

The key component being finalised is the sale of land, which will allow the BLISS partner organisations (the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London) to develop their detailed proposals for the creation of the centre.

We anticipate that the deal will be finalised over the next few days and we should be able to announce the outcome of the process In the next few weeks. On current plans, we would expect the sale to complete during December and preparations for development to begin straight away. The expectation is that the Institute would be up and running by 2012.

This is an important opportunity to demonstrate what the UK’s commitment to medical research really means in practice. And it fits very well with the focus of your intended health speech.

What would you be announcing?

• We would be committing Government support to the creation of a new centre for UK biomedical research, with 1,500+ scientists, at a level commensurate with the very best institutions in the world.

• The BLISS consortium brings together four of the leading medical research institutions in the UK – the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London.

 • The Centre responds to the vision, outlined in Sir David Cooksey’s review of UK health research presented to Treasury in 2006, of better integration and translation of research into patient and public benefit. The Centre will benefit from economies of scale, enhanced infrastructure, the critical mass to optimise collaboration, and the capacity to take scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the hospital bed.

 • These four key partners, together with the expectation that other organisations would come forward to invest In the centre or to lease research space, bring a powerful combination of skills and capabilities — basic research, applied research, the capabilities to convert research and innovation for public and commercial use, and the skills and opportunities presented by access to a leading university and teaching hospital. The potential, In terms of understanding disease, and developing new drugs, treatments and cures, is huge.

How to announce?

The suggestion is that you announce this a few days before your health speech, planned for 6th December. We would suggest a visit to a high-tech medical site in the morning to get pictures, followed by a meeting at No lO with all relevant stakeholders (primarily the four partner organisations) at which you make the formal announcement and ‘launch’ the project. Let us know your thoughts on whether this is the right way to proceed with the BLISS announcement?


The vision for the BLISS Centre has six themes:

Research innovation and excellence • Bring together outstanding scientists from two world-class research institutes (MRC NIMR and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute), collaborating with UCL, to address fundamental questions of human health and disease. • Through Wellcome Trust funding, development of tools for integrative biology, with an emphasis on the development of advanced microscopy imaging and on the mathematicaland computational needs in this field.

• Increase scientific innovation through new links with the physical sciences, life sciences, mathematics, engineering and the social Sciences at UCLI

 • Develop close links between the Centre and the outstanding hospitals nearby (Including the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases at Queens Square, Great Ormond Street, Moorfields and University College Hospital) and other major hospitals in London (including Hammersmith Hospital and the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Hammersmith, and the Maudsley Hospital and the Institute of Psychiatry)1 State-of-the-art research facilities

 • Develop a multidisciplinary research complex operating in state-of-the-art facilities, with the size and diversity to be internationally competitive with the world’s top research institutes.

 • Establish a new centre for development of advanced imaging technologies and analysis. A national focus for biomedical science

 • Interact with other local centres of excellence to foster and facilitate collaboration between basic, translational and Clinical scientists1  Host national and international research meetings and conferences, facilitated by its proximity to national and International transport links and the conference facilities of the British Library. An effective interface with technology transfer and development

• Facilitate the effective development of therapeutic and diagnostic devices and drugs, by allowing the technology transfer arms of MRC and Cancer Research UK to work closely together.

• Drive innovation in developing tests and technologies through interaction between researchers and development laboratories.

Finding and developing the scientists of the future • Provide an attractive environment to secure and retain world-class scientists by providing an outstanding setting for research and collaboration. • Boost the recruitment and training of scientists and doctors of the future by providing an excellent environment for postgraduate and postdoctoral training, and for training outstanding clinical scientists committed to medical research.

Engaging with the public

• Educate the public on important issues in health and disease.

• Bring together and enhance partners’ public information and education programmes, with a particular focus on engaging younger people.


Document 31




You are meeting Paul Nurse who is likely to lead the BLISS institute, along, with Mark Walport, Director of The Wellcome Trust, and Harpal Kumar, Head of Cancer Research, two partners in BLISS

We are close to being ready to announce Government support for plans to create a world-leading medical research facility in London, led by the BLISS consortium made up of the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London.

We have now effectively finalised negotiations on the sale of the 35 acre site, adjacent to the British Library: a price has been agreed with DCMS, and the deal is complete subject to agreement on how much of the proceeds DCMS will retain. We are therefore ready for an announcement next week on the sale of the land – but will not be announcing full details of the project overall, as there remain various Issues to resolve, including reaching agreement on business plans and gaining planning permission. We would therefore announce the Government’s support for the vision of the new centre – rather than definitive support for the centre itself. The Project BLISS consortium brings together four leading medical research institutions in the UK and will create a new centre for UK biomedical  research, with 1,500+ scientists, at a level commensurate with the very best Institutions in the world.

The Centre responds to the vision, outlined in Sir David Cooksey’s review of UK health research presented to Treasury in 2006, of better integration and translation of research into patient and public benefit.

The Centre will benefit from economies of scale, enhanced infrastructure, the critical mass to optimise collaboration, and the capacity to take scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the hospital bed. The Centre will create a place for:

• collaboration, between leading scientists and clinicians, working on some of the most pressing medical problems of our time;

 • excellence, maintaining the quality of the UK’s life sciences research base;

• application, making links between research, medical practice and the pharmaceutical industry;

• innovation, translating research innovation into new treatments;

 • learning, bringing forward a new generation of scientific leaders; 

  •discovery, showcasing the challenges and potential of life sciences to a new audience.

• Using the close proximity to the British Library, the Centre will develop a public engagement and education programme.

Sir Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse is President of Rockerfeller University, formerly Joint Director General of Cancer Research UK and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine. His appointment has not yet been publicly announced,but he is set to lead the project as chair the Scientific Planning Committee.

Briefing note from Bliss

Boris Johnson gives the go-ahead to UKCMRI laboratory

January 14, 2011
1 Comment

The heading from the mayoral website – “World class medical research centre given go-ahead in London ” – says it all, namely, Johnson was behind the project from the word go. In fact, we know this from earlier reports such as this:

“London must lead the way in  research and development to advance medical science, and it is fantastic news that the capital will now be the home of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI),” says Johnson. “It’s quite clear that linking research to delivery in the NHS will significantly advance our fight against major diseases and improve health care.”  April 18, 2008

The planning application was referred to him because although Camden Council had granted permission, the building is of a height  which requires the mayor to also give his approval. I would be most interested to know  how Johnson could make an impartial decision on the particular application . Robert Henderson

Extract from press release on the mayoral website

World class medical research centre given go-ahead in London

14 JANUARY 2011

Plans to build Europe’s largest biomedical research centre in Camden have today been approved by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

The pioneering laboratory and research institution, located in Brill Place, will become a world class facility for cancer research, securing 1,500 jobs, strengthening the capital’s reputation as centre for excellence for medical science and helping maintain its competitiveness in health education.

Plans for the 90,000 square foot environmentally sustainable centre were submitted by the UKCMRI Consortium, consisting of Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council (MRC) and University College London (UCL). Once completed, its staff will develop life-changing new treatments for illnesses including cancers, heart disease, strokes and flu.

Read more at:

Camden’s response to my notification of planning permission irregularities

January 7, 2011
 on   Friday, 7 January, 2011, 14:29 (Councillor) <> wrote 
Dear Mr. Henderson
Thank you for your emails dated the 17th and 19th December regarding your concerns with the procedures surrounding the UKCMRI planning application which was heard at the Development Control Committee on 16th December 2010. I have looked into this matter and now am in a position to respond to the issues you raise.

Inclusion of Objections in the Committee Report

The committee report summarises all the issues raised by yourself and 36 other neighbouring occupiers at the site at paragraph 4.41, you can access the report at: .

You should find that all your comments are covered by the points listed albeit condensed into bullet form and generically with other peoples’ comments. The individual identity of those objecting or supporting the application was not given in the report; only groups and organisations were named.

Recording of individual votes of Councillors

It is not a requirement at committee meetings to record the individual votes of Councillors unless immediately after the vote is taken,  any two voting members request the vote to be officially recorded in the committee minutes. I can confirm that a recorded vote was not requested at the meeting of the Development Control Committee on 16th December and therefore information on who voted for, against or abstained was not officially noted in the Committee minutes. The relevant extract of the Council’s Constitution relating to this can be found in Part 4, section D.15 (page of 161) and I have attached a copy for your reference.

I understand that you have also written to the members of the planning committee asking them to confirm how they voted. As set out above they are not compelled to reveal how they voted although I believe some have responded. 

Challenging the Planning Decision

If you wish to challenge any planning decision on the grounds of Irregularity, you should follow the correct Judicial Review procedure. For this, a claim form must be filed promptly with the courts and in any event not later than 3 months after the grounds to make the claim first arose. This 3 month time limit for lodging a judicial review application will therefore run from the date of the grant of planning permission. This does not rule out the bringing of a challenge at an earlier stage if the court in its discretion considers that a useful purpose would be served by such a challenge. As the application has been referred to the Mayor of London for a final decision the 3 month time limit will run from the Mayor’s decision and not the committee resolution. However, as stated above, this may not preclude you from filing an application at an earlier stage as the court may still entertain it.

If you would like further advice on these legal matters, please do not hesitate to contact Camden ’s Principal Planning Lawyer, Aidan Brookes, by post at:

Legal Services

Camden Town Hall

Judd Street



Thank you again for raising your concerns and hopefully I have provided further clarification to you on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Nasim Ali OBE

Leader of Camden Council

  Cc: to all Camden Councillors


 Cllr Nasim Ali OBE

Leader of Camden Council

CC To all Camden Councillors

7 January 2011

Dear Mr Ali,

Challenge to the UKCMRI planning permission

Thank for your email which I received today. I have looked at the report at . It contains  the same information as given in the Public Document Pack for the Development Control  Committee Meeting of 16 December – this  was the document upon which  I based my challenge to the planning permission..  

As I told you in my previous emails, there is NO  mention at all in the  report of  my complaint that Gordon Brown  illicitly interfered with the bidding process for the site  or of the facts that (1)  the MRC have a level 4 licence for their Mill Hill site; (2) that  the Mill Hill site will be sold  when the Bill Place laboratory is built and (3) UKCMRI have confirmed that the Mill Hill work will be transferred to the Brill Place Laboratory. If you read paras   4.1 to 4.49 of the report you referred me to  you will find that this is the case.  Nor was any mention made orally to the two issues  during the Development Control Committee meeting.

I can only presume that neither you nor your staff has  bothered to  read either the relevant parts of my objection to the planning application or Camden’s own information.  You rather give the game away when you  write “You should find that all your comments are covered by the points listed albeit condensed into bullet form and generically with other peoples’ comments.”  You do not write “should” when you know something can be found for certain.

If you still want to maintain that my complaints about Gordon Brown and biohazard levels are covered by the report, send me the paragraph references in the report which you say mention those complaints.  If you are unable to do this,  please write to me and (1)  admit that the information was withheld from the Development Control Committee; (2) explain why it was withheld and  (3)  explain  what action you have taken or will take against those who  censored the information.  

If you cannot demonstrate that the information is in the report, the granting of  the planning permission is clearly irregular.  It is even conceivable that a criminal offence has been committed by excluding objections  which would be very  politically embarrassing. There would be  a crying  need for the planning application to be heard again. To suggest that a judicial review is the way forward is disingenuous,  because  you must be aware that a council tenant is not going to have the funds to mount such an action which could easily swallow up £40,000 per day in court in costs to both sides. What is required is action at the council level to re-hear the planning application.

I find the failure to routinely record individual councillors votes profoundly anti-democratic. Please explain to me how electors can hold councillors to account if such votes are not recorded,.

Yours sincerely,



Robert Henderson 


From: McGuinness, Andy
Subject: RE: UKCMRI – challenge to the granting of planning permission continued
Date: Monday, 10 January, 2011, 17:19

Dear Mr Henderson,

Cllr Ali has asked me to thank you again for your email to him and to say that he will be responding to the three points that you raise in your email in due course.
Kind regards
Andy McGuinness
PA to Leader & Deputy Leader of the Council

Telephone: 020 7974 5707


11.January 2011  

Andy McGuinness
PA to Leader & Deputy Leader of the Council

Telephone: 020 7974 5707

CC all Camden councillors
Dear Mr McGuinness,
Thank you for your email. Please ensure that I do not get another nonsense reply. 
The question of whether the issues of Gordon Brown’s illicit interference in the bidding process and the information relating to the biohazard levels contained in my objection to the planning application are or are not in the report prepared for the Development Control Committee is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact.  Neither is in the report.   All you need to confirm this is read paras 4.1-4.49.  I suggest you do this and then report their absence to Cllr Ali.
Cllr Ali should be able to send a reply very rapidly because little  effort is required to discover the truth. It is shameful that my previous  emails did not cause anyone within the Council to actually read the report to see that what I was saying was the simple truth.
Yours sincerely.
Robert Henderson


Dear Mr Henderson,

Thank you for your email of the 7th January which was in response to my emailed reply to your earlier enquiries (17th and 19th December) regarding your concerns about the Council’s consideration of the UKCMRI planning application.

As I understand it the points that you raise fall into 2 principle parts and that you are concerned that there was no mention in the committee report or at the Development Control Committee meeting of these which are as follows:

1)       that Gordon Brown had illicitly interfered in the government’s bidding process for the Brill Place site to the UKCMRI’s advantage

2)       that the MRC will carry on their current level 4 licensed activities at Brill Place once they have sold their site and the UKCMRI laboratory is built.

In my previous email response to you, I had explained that your comments had been summarised generically in the planning report with the comments received from other objectors being condensed into bullet form. On enquiring with the planning case officer for the application, I understand that you had gone to the trouble of setting your comments out at some length and he assures me that your comments were indeed fully read. However, I am assured that the points you made were still substantially the same as those made by several others who had written in and could thus be satisfactorily summarised in a generic fashion. Indeed to have given special attention to your comments in the manner of the named groups and organisations listed in the report, would have been unfair to the 140 or so other individual objectors like yourself.

Accordingly your points have been covered under paragraph 4.41 of the report. Your concerns under part (1) above would fall under the subheading ‘use of public funds’ namely –“unfair bidding procedure/sale of site –giving preference to the UKCMRI”; and your concerns under part (2) under the ‘use related’ subheading being to do with the risk of outbreaks/leakage of viruses or other pathogens to the area that might arise from the types of research being carried out. These are clearly stated under paragraph 4.41.

 Whilst the summary of the objections does not expressly include your point about the existing level 4 license at the MRC’s Mill Hill site, paragraph 4.46 of the report responds in detail to concerns from objectors generally about biohazard containment issues. This conveys the applicant’s stated intention that the work to be dealt with at the Brill Place site would be categorised within Groups 1-3 out of the 4 standard biological hazard levels. There is no suggestion in the application that all the work currently undertaken at Mill Hill will go on to be undertaken by the UKCMRI and in any case as explained under paragraph 4.46 the containment categories are strictly controlled by the Government which would never be likely to allow any higher (level 4) category research at Brill Place.

With regard to the bidding process for the site and any involvement by Gordon Brown personally, there is no further mention in the report as this is in no way relevant to the planning issues to be considered by the Development Control Committee. However the mention in para 4.41 makes the Committee sufficiently aware of the concerns aired in this respect so that it could have enquired further about these if they wished.

Finally, I note your dissatisfaction with the absence of a recorded vote in this matter, however as already explained in my previous email to you the procedure taken at the Committee was fully in accordance with the Council’s Constitution. This is the document which sets out in full how the Council and its constituent Members are accountable to its electorate.

 I trust that the above now provides sufficient clarity as to how the consideration of the application has taken account of your concerns. I thank you again for raising these issues with me.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Nasim Ali OBE

Leader of Camden Council


24 1 2011

Cllr Nasim Ali OBE

Leader of Camden Council

Cc All Camden Councillors

Dear Mr Ali,

I note that unlike your previous email to me you have not copied it to councillors. That suggests to me you are somewhat embarrassed  by your response this time around. 

Do you honestly wish to claim that  a meaningful judgement on the fairness or otherwise of the bidding process could be made by the Development Control Committee  on the basis of this: “ Unfair bidding procedure/sale of site –giving preference to UKCMRI”?   The only way that councillors could make a meaningful judgement is to have the facts of Brown’s involvement put before them.

As for your claim that Gordon Brown’s involvement  was not a concern of the committee,  this is contradicted by the inclusion of “Unfair bidding procedure/sale of site –giving preference to UKCMRI” in the report. .  If it was not relevant why did was the objection included in the list of objections?  If it is relevant then how can Gordon Brown’s prejudicial involvement not be relevant?  If you wish to maintain his involvement was not prejudicial please explain to me how it could not be.  

If there is a question mark over the legality of the sale,  and there is prima facie evidence there is because of Brown’s involvement,  ownership of the site is not decided and consequently planning permission cannot not be legally granted because no valid planning application has been submitted for consideration.  If building was to go ahead and a challenge to the legality of the sale was successfully made, Camden could find itself being sued for very substantial damages for granting planning permission for which there is no legal basis.

You claim that all the objections  I made were submitted by others. I would doubt this very much,  because I am the person who obtained the FOIA material on Gordon Brown’s involvement  and it is improbable that  anyone else has obtained this material. I also doubt whether anyone has attacked the security matter to  the depth  I attacked it, including extracting a string of embarrassingly evasive replies from UKCMRI (these were in the appendix to my objection).  I want you to prove that my complaints against Brown  and security were made by other people.

As for the specific question of level 4 viruses, you admit this was not dealt with. Para 4.46  deals with something described as  “containment level 3+”.  I have been unable to track down any official reference to this term.  The suspicion must be that this is Level 4 material in disguise. Moreover, as the MRC site at Mill Hill has a level 4 licence and all their work is to be transferred to Brill Place if the centre is built,  it is a stretch too far to assume they will not transfer level 4 work there unless there is a legal bar to them doing so. There is no  such bar.

It is clear you have not read my objection yourself. I suggest you do so. That will show you how much has been missed.  

I await your reply with interest.

Yours sincerely,


Robert Henderson

Correspondence with Councillors about the vote

December 23, 2010
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   — On Thu, 23/12/10, Leach, Valerie (Councillor) <> wrote:

If you insist on publicing this, then please make sure that your record is a correct one. My apology for absence at the meeting was noted by the chair at the beginning of the meeting.

Valerie Leach

Councillor (Labour)

Highgate Ward

RH reply

Dear Councillor Leach,

How interesting that you imply that the publication of the votes of an elected representative should be anything other than the norm in a democracy.

The only reason why there was any inaccuracy in the list I presented was because no formal record of  the record was taken. I put you down as absent because Simone  Scott-Sawer sent me this information: ” All the members of the Development Control committee were present and voting except for Cllrs Leach and Neumark.”  As you were linked with Cllr Neumark who was at the meeting, it was reasonable to assume that you had been there also and no voted. I have amended the list of votes on my UKCMRI blog to show you as absent.

This was an extremely important matter. Why were you not at the meeting?

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


— On Mon, 20/12/10, Rea, Flick (Councillor) <> wrote:

I abstained on planning principles and on not liking local govt to be dictated to by Central Govt

Flick Rea

RH reply 

The problem with that, councillor, is that central government always gets its way. If you really want to stop central government interference in this issue take up Gordon Brown’s interference with the bidding process for the land.  You already have the details. If you have deleted them you will find them in the first post on my new UKCMRI website. Regards Robert Henderson


— On Fri, 17/12/10, Braithwaite, Paul (Councillor) <> wrote:

Date: Friday, 17 December, 2010, 18:53

You will have noted that I pressed the definitions of Hazard levels and Cooper answered – but categorically that there’ll be no level 4.

Councillor Paul Braithwaite

Cantelowes Ward

 RH reply

Dear Cllr Braithwaite,

MRC  are undertaking level 4 work at Mill Hill and they are selling that site  so all they will have left is Brill Place. Do you honestly imagine they will drop level 4 work? Moreover, they have this very odd level 3+ which as far as I can determine is unkown to man or beast. I supect that is level 4 by another name. It is also a fact that all we have is Cooper’s word which in legal terms is worthless.

What do you think about the failure to include Brown’s interference with the bidding process in the officers’ submission?

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


— On Mon, 20/12/10, Marshall, Andrew (Councillor) <> wrote:

I voted in favour.

 For the record, while I appreciate the desire to know how councillors voted (and in full council certainly under the standing orders, councillors can request a recorded vote), I would not be in favour of changing procedures to have recorded votes as a matter of course in committees, as I think the extra cost would not be a sufficiently good use of public money.

 You copied in Cllr Martin Davies, who passed away in the summer, perhaps you could ensure you take his email off your list.

 Best wishes for Christmas

 Andrew Marshall

RH reply  

Dear Cllr Marshall,

 Thank you for the information. I will remove Mr Davies from the list.

 On the question of recording who votes how, the additional cost would be trivial going on non-existent.  All that would be required is for the clerk to make a note.

 Unless electors know how councillors have  voted how can they hold councillors to account?

 best wishes Robert Henderson

Posted in Councillors

How councillors voted on the UKCMRI planning application

December 23, 2010
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Only one councillor (Andrew Marshall) has confirmed to me that they voted in favour of the planning application. Credit to him,  but I really wish the other seven who voted in favour had been willing to identify themselves. If you vote for unpopular measures, you should at least have the courage of your convictions and stand up for them in public.

Notwithstanding the failure of all but one of those who voted in favour  to identify themselves, by a mixture of subtraction of those know to have voted and a little help from friends,  I think I now have the correct vote breakdown, viz:

Those voting against

Claire-Louise Leyland, Conservative (Belsize)

Paul Braithwaite, Liberal Democrat (Cantelowes)

Sean Birch, Labour (Gospel Oak)

Matt Sanders, Liberal Democrat (Haverstock).

 Those voting  for

Milena Nuti, Labour (Bloomsbury)

Sue Vincent, Labour (Holborn and Covent Garden)

Sarah Hayward, Labour (King’s Cross)

Roger Freeman, Conservative (Swiss Cottage)

Heather Johnson, Labour (Regent’s Park)

Andrew Marshall, Conservative (Swiss Cottage)

Gillian Risso-Gill, Liberal Democrat (West Hampstead)

Jenny Headlam-Wells, Labour (Kentish Town).

 Those abstaining

Flick Rea, Liberal Democrat (Fortune Green)

Those present but failing to register any vote (including failing to abstain)

Thomas Neuwark,  Labour (Camden Town with Primrose Hill)


Georgia Gould, Labour (Kentish Town)

Valerie Leach, Labour  (Highgate)

If any of these identifications are wrong please let me know.

NB I have moved Cllr Leach on her advice from being present but not voting to absent.

On the general subject of  councillors votes being recorded,  it  is essential that votes be recorded and made easily accessible to the public because otherwise judgements of councillors cannot be made.  It is rather shocking that it is not done.

Councillors asked directly about who voted and how

December 21, 2010
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To all Camden councillors
I have set up a blog dealing solely with UKCMRI. This can be found at
You will be able to follow the Brill Place Research Centre saga with ease using this site.  
I would be grateful if all councillors  who voted on the granting of planning permision  to UKCMRI to identify themesleves to me. That should include those in favour, those abstaining, and those failing to vote.
The information I have at present is that 8 voted in favour, 4  against with one abstention and two no votes with these names attached or far:
For: none
Against:  Cll Sanders,Cllr  Birch, Cllr Braithwaite, Cllr Leyland
Abstain, Cllr Rea

If any of the named cllrs are incorrectly identified please let me know ASAP.  


Posted in Councillors


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