The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

The new leader of the Greens knows how to keep mum

September 9, 2012
2 Comments

Robert Henderson

Natalie Bennett  has been elected leader of the Green party in England and Wales (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19462474). I know  Miss Bennett through my participation in a campaign to prevent the building of the Francis Crick  Institute (FCI),  a gigantic research laboratory. The primary objections to the Institute (formerly the UK CENTRE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH AND INNOVATION or UKCRMI) arose from the fact that research would be done on dangerous  diseases at  an  unreservedly inappropriate site – the FCI is being built  just behind the British Library and next door to the  new Eurostar  terminal at St Pancras.  Those wishing to discover more should go to my blog  https://ukcmri.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/objection-to-ukcmri-planning-application-for-a-research-centre-in-brill-place-london-nw1/.

Miss Bennett took a leading part in that campaign which lasted several years and ended in very predictable failure.  That was because the project had the wholehearted  support of both the Labour Government and the Tory Opposition. Normal campaigning on such  grounds as  danger and its contradiction of Camden Council’s public planning policy  was irrelevant, because  the supposedly impartial decision on who should be allowed to purchase the site  had  been taken before the bidding process  even closed. (There were several other serious bidders with alternative uses such as housing and commercial development). The decision was meant to be taken by the Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)  on the grounds of value for money. No one outside DCMS was meant to be involved.  The other bidders were spending their money (and these types of bids are very expensive) with no hope of success.

The one serious chance to stop the building of the Institute was to expose the illegitimate nature of the decision on who should purchase the site. This I did  using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  The information gained by this means revealed that Gordon Brown when Prime Minister had intervened to ensure that the consortium backing the FCI  bid got the land.  The documents showing Brown’s interference are at the bottom of this post.   They should be read in the context of powerful men getting their will done through expressing their desires rather than issuing direct orders. However, many of the documents are directly explicit about the involvement.

At the time of the campaign Miss Bennett was  editor of  The Guardian Weekly, a post she occupied  from December 2007 until March 2012.  She was in a  position to get the story of Gordon Brown’s illicit involvement in the bidding process into the mainstream media . I supplied her  with copies of  the documents showing Brown’s interference. Miss Bennett refused to use them, something more than a little surprising because  not only was she campaigning against the building of the FCI on the site,  the interference  was a category A political story and ostensibly one right up the Guardian’s street because it dealt with government  misbehaviour behind closed doors.   Miss Bennett  also failed to use the information when she was called before the Commons Science and Technology committee to give evidence.

I will leave it to the reader to speculate about  Miss Bennett’s motives for not using the information , but  here are a few objective facts relevant to the question:

1.  Despite being a  mainstream journalist, she refused to use information which  could have stopped the building of the FCI  and which was, regardless of her  involvement in the campaign against the FCI, the basis for a heavyweight  political story.

2. Miss Bennett’s politics are hard core politically correct. Here are a few  gems from her personal website http://nataliebennett.co.uk/ to give you an idea of her mentality and politics:

Home page: Natalie Bennett, Journalist, Writer, Green, Feminist

Resurrecting Our Foremothers:

The Prime Minister Miss Bennett refused to expose was someone very much to her political taste, namely, someone who headed a Government reeking with political correctness.

The honesty of her behaviour and words as leader of the Greens should be weighed in the context of her behaviour over the Francis Crick Institute campaign.

The honesty of her behaviour and words as leader of the Greens should be weighed in the context of her behaviour over the Francis Crick Institute campaign.

————————————————————————————————-

Gordon Brown’s involvement in the sale of the land to UKCRMI | February 21, 2011

To make  the matter as simple as possible to follow,  I have selected from the  documents in my possession which show Gordon Brown’s illegitimate involvement in the sale of  the land to UKCRMI six which form a paper trail from the period before the closing date for expressions of interest  to the announcement of the sale of the land by Gordon Brown.  Some of the  documents are lengthy. To prevent readers having to plough through them   I have highlighted  (by bolding) the passages in the documents which refer directly or indirectly to Brown’s interest.  Where a figure such as  [40] appears, that means redaction has occurred under the exemptions in the FOIA –  the number relates to the clause number of the exemption.  These documents  also give a good sketch of the background to the bidding process.

NB This document shows that  Brown was interfering even before the closing date for expressions of interest was closed.  The relevant date is not that on Rosemary Banner’s letter, but the enclosure which came with the letter, i.e., 1 August 2007. 

HM TREASURY

I Horse Guards Road London SWIA 2HQ

Rosemary Banner

Head of Information Rights Unit

Tel: 020 7270 5723

Fax:

rosemary.banner@hm-treasury.x.gsi.gov.uk

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

Mr R Henderson

24 June 2009

Dear Mr Henderson

Freedom of Information Act 2000: medical research centre   We wrote to you on 27 August 2008 conveying the conclusions of the internal review carried out in relation to your complaint to the Treasury about the handling of your April 2008 request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.

In light of your complaint to the Information Commissioner we have reconsidered the single item of information that falls within the scope of your request that has not already been disclosed. As a result of this re-examination we have identified additional information that we are now able to provide to you. Please see attachment at the end of this letter. For the avoidance of doubt we should make it clear that the Treasury continues to regard its original decision not to release this information as correct at the request and review stage. However, given the passage of time, we believe that the public interest in withholding has diminished and can now be released.

We have, however, decided to continue to withhold two sentences from this information under section 35(1 )(a) of the Act. These sentences continue to relate to ongoing policy. We have explained our position to the ICO regarding this, and are able to clarify that the redacted sentences contain information on a bid for funding from the MRC that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills are assessing in the normal way. Funding decisions have not concluded. As always the Government will publish actual funding provisions once a decision has been reached. Due to the way funding bids are negotiated and assessed this was been a live issue at the time of the request; internal review; and remains so at this present time. To be helpful we refer to evidence published by the select committee in December 2007. You will see that at that time the bid was £118 million.

http://www. parliament.the-stationery-office.com/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmdius/1 85/1 85we02.htm

The Treasury is not able to comment as to what the final figure will be until a decision has been made, I reiterate that once decided it will be announced publicly.

Rosemary Banner

Head of Information Rights Unit

For HM Treasury

EXTRACT of relevant information extracted from a report prepared

1 August 2007

NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL RESEARCH (NIMR)   MRC concluded some years ago that the NIMR’s future location should be close to a London Teaching Hospital. With this in mind, MRC purchased at their risk for £28M in March 2006, but with Treasury’s knowledge, a one-acre site at the National Temperance Hospital location (NTH) in London.

MRC has recently learnt that its earlier preferred site for NIMR, a three-acre site adjacent to the British Library, has now become available. This larger site would have the major advantage of accommodating more translational research. Encouragingly MRC has most recently proposed that the site would be developed in partnership with Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Wellcome Trust and UCL as a potentially strong consortium. The Wellcome Trust have mentioned that they would be prepared to make a sizeable investment to help establish a new world class medical research facility in North London if they can secure DCMS-owned land and planning permission from Camden Council. At present the consortia has registered its interest in buying the site.

This project has had a very long gestation period, during which the arguments for the strong scientific case for relocating within London (which has a cluster of medical research and teaching hospitals) and the need to retain MRC’s highly skilled staff.

The recent preparation of a suitable business case has been further complicated of late by both the re-emergence of the British Library site as a possible location.

The PM is also most recently stated that he is very keen to make sure that Government departments are properly coordinated 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. This is extremely helpful from a DIUS and MRC perspective, but, formally a NIMR relocation project in London has yet to receive Lyons approval from Treasury (for either the first planned NTH site or the possible BL site).

MRC have employed Deloitte to prepare a full business case for the relocation project.

The scientific and operational case for a London location is strong in our view.

Key Dates for the Preparation and Appraisal of the NIMR Proposal

– July 2007 — Letter to Treasury to inform CST of MRC’s proposed bid for the BL site.

-July/August 2007 — Expression of interest in the BL site registered by  the MRC Consortium.

-September 2007 — further substantive discussions with MRC/Deloitte  on Lyons and emerging business case material.

-September 2007 — MRC NIMR project included by RCUK in the 2007 Roadmap consultation.

-October 2007 — first full draft business case prepared by MRC/Deloitte.

-October 2007 — MRC consortium formally bid to DCMS for the BL site.

-November 2007 — Full revised business case received and Lyons case consideration undertaken by Treasury.

-December — Progress submission to Ministers.

-December 2007 — MRC Consortium formed and, if successful in bidding, payment to DCMS for the BL site.

-December 2007 — MRC’s NIMR project prioritised by Research Council Directors for receipt of DIUS funding through the Large Facility Capital Fund.

-February/March 2008 — Submission to Ministers for approval of LFCF allocation to support the MRC’s NIMR project, subject to our final assessment of (a) the outcome of the Lyons case (b) the full business case and (C) prioritisation by RCUK of the use of the available LFCF,

April/May 2008 — DIUS Ministerial announcement of NIMR relocation project approval (subject to all the above).

Further Background to the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) The NIMR is one of the MRC’s largest and oldest research institutes. The NIMR is recognised as once of the UK’s foremost basic research institutes with a strong scientific track record and reputation. NIMR currently  houses the World Influenza Centre (WIC), which was established by  World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1948. The Centre, works with a  network of collaborating laboratories to detect and characterise the emergence of new influenza virus anywhere in the world including avian virus H5N1. NIMR is also at the forefront of international research to discover how molecular changes in the virus affect its ability to infect people and cause disease.

The NIMR has been at its present site since 1950. If it were to remain there the buildings would need substantial refurbishment. It is currently a ‘stand-alone’ Institute not physically linked to any University, Medical School or Hospital. In 2003 the MRC set up an expert Task Force to examine the strategic positioning of the NIMR research within the MRC portfolio. The Task Force concluded that their vision for NIMR would be best delivered through an intramural — i.e. with the staff employed by MRC — research institute on a single site in central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital (they received proposals from King’s College and University College) and this would enhance: – The multidisciplinary nature of NIMR’s work, providing access to other biologists, physical scientists, engineers, and mathematicians – Opportunities to collaborate more closely with clinicians and strengthen the focus of translational research.

Remaining at Mill Hill was considered by the Task Force where the majority view was that this would not be a viable option as it would not deliver Council’s vision for a world class research institute carrying out basic, clinical and translational research in partnership with a leading university and hospital. The position was endorsed by the MRC Council. This disappointed some staff at NIMR and there has been much lobbying of Ministers and MPs and as a result the issue has received some media interest.

MRC Council selected UCL as its preferred partner for the renewal and relocation of NIMR in Central London, in close proximity to a major teaching hospital (University College Hospital) and relevant university departments, including chemistry and physics.

The MRC Council approved an outline Business Plan for the renewal and relocation of NIMR in July 2005. The Business Plan confirmed the feasibility of developing the renewed Institute on the National Temperance Hospital (NTH) site in Hampstead Road, which MRC bought (at its own risk but with Treasury’s knowledge), for £28M in 2006, suggesting that the new site could provide accommodation for up to 1,058 staff, including 248 from UCL and potentially 40 additional research staff.

MRC have recognised that their development of the business case needed to ensure a successful project and to satisfy the requirements of DIUS and Treasury requires additional skills to those residing within the MRC and most recently further advice has been procured by MRC from Deloitte for assistance with preparation of the business case.

It was also not our intention at review stage to withhold names of senior civil servants of the email provided at initial request. While we explained that the sender was Jeremy Heywood from the Cabinet Office we overlooked to state the other officials who were recipients of that email. They were: The Permanent Secretaries of DIUS and DCMS Ian Watmore and Jonathan Stephens; the Managing Director of Public Spending in HMT, John Kingman; and the Chief Operating Officer, DCMS Nicholas Holgate.

————————————————————————————

NB This document shows Brown’s  interest just before the short list of bidders was decided. 

RESTRICTED – POLICY & COMMERCIAL

To James Purnell Margaret Hodge, Jonathan Stephens,Ros Brayfield

From Nicholas Holgate

Date 18 September 2007 ____________

SALE OF LAND TO THE NORTH OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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;

and

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

————————————————————————————

NB This shows Brown’s interest a few weeks before the sale to UKCRMI was agreed.

BRIEFING NOTE FROM POLICY ADVISERS DATED 12 NOVEMBER 2007 TO THE PRIME MINISTER COPIED TO No 10 OFFICIALS.

THE NOTE WAS ENTITLED: PROJECT BLISS – CREATING A WORLD-LEADING MEDICAL RESEARCH FACILITY IN LONDON

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?

Background

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.

————————————————————————————

NB This document shows Brown’s involvement just prior to the sale of the land.

BRIEFING NOTE FROM NO 10 POLICY ADVISER TO THE PRIME MINISTER DATED 27 NOVEMBER 2007

COPIED TO NO 10 OFFICIALS

ENTITLED “MEETING WITH PAUL NURSE ON BLISS PROJECT”

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

————————————————————————————

NB This document from just before the sale of the land shows  the extent of Brown’s involvement with the suggestion that he would arbitrate.  

Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09

To: HOLGATE NICHOLAS

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.

Cheers

[40]

[40]

Private Secretary  to Jonathan Stephens

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

SWlY 5Dl1 email: [40]@culture.gsi.gov.uk tel: 0207211 fax: 020 72116259

————————————————————————————

NB This document shows Brown’s state of mind immediately after the sale of the land was agreed.

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

RESTRICTED – COMMERCIAL

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MPs back £660million medical research superlab

June 7, 2011
3 Comments

Evening Standard

MPs back £660million medical research superlab

Mark Blunden

6 June 2011

A maximum security “superlab” has been given a clean bill of health by MPs despite financial concerns about its central London location. The planned £660 million Francis Crick Institute, behind the British Library in St Pancras, will be capable of containing flu viruses, malaria, tuberculosis, cancer cells and HIV. Following a parliamentary inquiry, the science and technology select committee released a report on the facility. It called it “impressive and clearly in the public interest” but expressed concerns about the location.

Campaigners fear the 15-storey site, which is close to hundreds of homes, could pose a risk if viruses escape. The centre denies this. The building, formerly the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, will be secured to “biosafety level three-plus” and has pledged to become a “global centre of research excellence”. The committee said the case for the location near St Pancras station “was not overwhelming” and another area of the UK could have benefited.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23956747-mps-back-pound-660million-medical-research-superlab.do

 

 


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MPs back £660million medical research superlab

June 7, 2011
2 Comments

Evening Standard 

MPs back £660million medical research superlab

Mark Blunden

6 June 2011

A maximum security “superlab” has been given a clean bill of health by MPs despite financial concerns about its central London location.

The planned £660 million Francis Crick Institute, behind the British Library in St Pancras, will be capable of containing flu viruses, malaria, tuberculosis, cancer cells and HIV.

Following a parliamentary inquiry, the science and technology select committee released a report on the facility. It called it “impressive and clearly in the public interest” but expressed concerns about the location.

Campaigners fear the 15-storey site, which is close to hundreds of homes, could pose a risk if viruses escape. The centre denies this. The building, formerly the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, will be secured to “biosafety level three-plus” and has pledged to become a “global centre of research excellence”.

The committee said the case for the location near St Pancras station “was not overwhelming” and another area of the UK could have benefited.

 http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23956747-mps-back-pound-660million-medical-research-superlab.do

 


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New Scientist reports on the Science and Technology Committee’s reservations about UKCRMI’s location

May 31, 2011
3 Comments

   The
S
Word: The policy and politics of science

Is Britain’s big biomedical institute in the right place?

00:00 25 May 2011

Roger
Highfield, editor of
New Scientist magazine

The project has been billed as the most exciting biomedical research initiative for a generation.

 Now plans to build the giant research centre in London have been given qualified backing by members of parliament.
The Science and Technology Committee publishes its report on the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) which commends the scientific vision for the centre but expresses reservations about  the project’s location.

The case for the centre’s central London site near St Pancras station was far from overwhelming and it could have been built elsewhere, says the committee.

The  advantages of a central location for up to 1500 staff come at a price: the cost of construction is higher at St Pancras than any viable alternative site; a site incapable of expansion; and the concentration of medical sciences in the south of England.

The “initial investment” for the project has risen to an estimated £645 million but do not include the full cost of fitting out the UKCMRI.

The operating costs are estimated to be around £100 million a year, though the evidence before the committee suggests that they could be significantly higher.

The Committee’s concerns were assuaged by evidence from the government that the taxpayer will not be liable to any further costs above the £200 million already committed, should the project overrun:

Read more at

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/thesword/2011/05/is-britains-big-biomedical-ins-1.html

———————————————————

Dear Mr Highfield,

I write in response to your “Is Britain’s big biomedical institute in the right place?”  There is an issue relating to the siting of UKCRMI of which you will be unaware: Gordon Brown when Prime Minister interfered with what was meant to be a bidding process so as to invalidate the process. He did this by actively promoting the sale of the land to UKCRMI even before the closing date for expressions of interest. The sale of the land was supposedly to be decided by the DCMS Secretary of State, yet Brown was instructing the various government  departments involved to facilitate the sale to UKCRMI. How do I know this? Through the use of the FOIA.

I have set up a blog http://www.ukcmri.wordpress.com/ which deals with Gordon Brown’s interference and the other objections to the site, especially the security of the institute and provides a good deal of background to the protests against the institute being placed on the site.

To allow you to get into the story quickly look at these blog posts first:

https://ukcmri.wordpress.com/gordon-brown%E2%80%99s-involvement-in-the-sale-of-the-land-to-ukcrmi/

https://ukcmri.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/objection-to-ukcmri-planning-application-for-a-research-centre-in-brill-place-london-nw1/

You may cite or reproduce  any of the  material on the blog. Should you wish it, I will make available to you all the documents I have received using the FOIA, although the most important ones are on the blog. I should also be happy to write an article on the matter for you.

Yours sincerely,

 

Robert Henderson


Report and commentary on the STC hearing of 2nd March 2011

March 3, 2011
2 Comments

 HoC Science and Technology Committee (STC)

Thatcher Room

Committee members present: Andrew Miller (Chair) Labour , Gavin Barwell , Conservative, Stephen Metcalfe Conservative , David Morris Conservative, Stephen Mosley Conservative, Pamela Nash Labour , Graham Stringer Labour, Stephen MacPartland Conservative

Evidence given on Wednesday 2nd March 2011 between at 10.53 am and 11.32 am

UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Government witnesses

Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (DoH)

Replay the evidence at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=7777&player=silverlight

The general conduct of the evidence

Willetts was palpably unprepared for his appearance and kept nervously flicking through his civil service briefing papers. This lack of control of his subject  frequently resulted in either an inability to give a meaningful answer or insubstantial rhetoric.

Howe dealt even more in generalities, but in his case it did not matter much from the point of view of those who oppose the laboratory because Howe’s prime interest was not in the site, cost or security issues but in how the DoH would get value out of the project for the money they are putting in.

The questioning was miserably weak, with committee members time and again failing to ask obvious questions or build a line of questioning rather than simply asking unconnected questions one after another.

Government involvement

At the very beginning of the session Miller asked why the Government “has been so visible in support “ of the project. Willetts said It was because “It is perhaps the most significant development in the biomedical science for a generation”. He also described the proposed laboratory as “a fantastic facility” and the partnership between the four partners as “an exciting model for the future”. This uncritical enthusiasm adds weight to the idea that the bidding process was a sham.

The casual nature of the political consideration given to this project was seen in two other aspects of the evidence. Neither Willetts nor Howe has taken the trouble to visit the Mill Hill site. (Unfortunately, no committee member asked if they had visited the proposed Bill Place site). Willetts also had the embarrassment of saying he did not know for certain what was going to happen to the MILL Hill site, but that it was his “understanding” that it would be closed and sold.

Howe got in on the I-do-not-know act later on when he admitted that there was no plan as how the general benefit from the laboratory would be measured – he put this down to the operational laboratory being too far ahead to make plans now. It is fair enough to change plans as things develop, but you should at least have a plan to start with on a project of this magnitude Such omissions paint a picture of politicians determined to drive this project through regardless of any difficulties or dangers involved.

Medical Research Council (MRC) Business Plan

Despite requesting the documents at the two previous hearings, the committee has not received either the business plan or the letter from BIS giving permission with conditions attached. Willetts promised to supply the plan and letter, but with the proviso that anything commercially confidential was treated as confidential. This allows a great deal of scope for mischief, including censoring any documents relating to on-going negotiations with contractors. I would not be surprised if the committee finds itself waiting for the documents until the lead contractor is signed up or even until the work begins, by which time it would be the devil’s own job to stop the project.

With regard to conditions imposed by BIS, Willetts said that the only major condition was that the agreement was subject to all planning matters being resolved. Frustratingly, the committee did not press him on the other conditions.

Cost overruns in the building of the laboratory

Willetts was asked about the likelihood of cost overruns. He cited the Government’s  Office of Commerce reviews in 209/10/11, the last of which had given a “delivery confidence level of amber/green” . Willetts claimed that was a good ranking four years out from completion. ” Amber/green suggests to me that there is significant doubt.

Graham Stringer asked Willetts whether any additional public money would be used to pay for cost overruns. Willetts gave a reply which contained such gems of jargon as “very clear financial envelope” . This did not answer Stringers’ question. Stringer tried again. This time, replete with more monstrous jargon, Willetts gave the assurance that there be no more funding from the taxpayer, although it is worth noting he did not say where any additional money would be coming from if not from the taxpayer. This raises a difficulty because if the money is to come from the consortium, one of the four UKCRMI partners (MRC) is taxpayer funded. It is difficult to see how the MRC could avoid paying its share. It is also true that the other three partners to varying degrees receive taxpayers money from research grants, student fees and suchlike. It is easy to envisage a situation where money from the taxpayer given to the three non-state partners for other purposes was transferred to the UKCRMI budget to cover a cost overrun That would reduce the amount available for overall medical research.

Frank Dobson and the Temperance Hospital Site

Miller raised the question of assurances given to the local MP Frank Dobson by the MRC that the granting of the Brill Place site to UKCRMI would result in Temperance site being given to Camden for social housing. Willetts said that he knew of no such agreement and that the sale of the site was purely a matter for the MRC.

BIS Observer on the Construction Project Board (CPB)

The CPB will oversee the building of the laboratory. Apart from representatives from the four partners, there will be an observer from BIS. The observer will not have any voting rights, his role being to keep information flowing between BIS and UKCRMI .

 The Government is represented on the main UKCRMI board by the MRC.

The size of the site

When the restricted size of the proposed site came up, Willetts said that he had been assured by the experts that it was large enough for its intended purposes. This is very interesting because one of the points made by Paul Nurse in his evidence to the committee on 16th February was that it was impossible to foresee what research would be like in ten years. If that is the case, then clearly it is impossible to say that the Brill Place laboratory will be suitable for research in the not too far distant future let alone the estimates of up to an 80 years life span given in the evidence of 16 February.

The committee also made  the point that the Cerne site in Switzerland was very large yet  the scientists there had no trouble communicating. This was met by waffle from Willetts along the lines that he had been assured by the experts that the proposed site was the only one that would work. Sadly, again the point was not pursued.

Renaming UKCRMI

Willetts said that a new name had been suggested for UKCRMI and he thought the name would be a great improvement. He thinks the new name will be announced in the next few weeks.

Security

Although nothing of interest was said about security in the oral evidence, the written evidence provided by BIS after emphasising the need for tight security, stated “UKCRMI will provide details on these security measures to the select committee”. Para 4.2

Robert Henderson 3 March 2011


Gordon Brown’s involvement in the sale of the land to UKCRMI

February 21, 2011
6 Comments

To make  the matter as simple as possible to follow,  I have selected from the  documents in my possession which show Gordon Brown’s illegitimate involvement in the sale of  the land to UKCRMI six which form a paper trail from the period before the closing date for expressions of interest  to the announcement of the sale of the land by Gordon Brown.  Some of the  documents are lengthy. To prevent readers having to plough through them   I have highlighted  (by bolding) the passages in the documents which refer directly or indirectly to Brown’s interest.  Where a figure such as  [40] appears, that means redaction has occurred under the exemptions in the FOIA –  the number relates to the clause number of the exemption.  These documents  also give a good sketch of the background to the bidding process.

Further relevant documents can be found at https://ukcmri.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/objection-to-ukcmri-planning-application-for-a-research-centre-in-brill-place-london-nw1/

———————————————————————————— 

 NB This document shows that  Brown was interfering even before the closing date for expressions of interest was closed.  The relevant date is not that on Rosemary Banner’s letter, but the enclosure which came with the letter, i.e., 1 August 2007. 

HM TREASURY

I Horse Guards Road London SWIA 2HQ

   Rosemary Banner

Head of Information Rights Unit

Tel: 020 7270 5723

Fax:

rosemary.banner@hm-treasury.x.gsi.gov.uk

http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk

  Mr R Henderson

24 June 2009

 Dear Mr Henderson  

Freedom of Information Act 2000: medical research centre   We wrote to you on 27 August 2008 conveying the conclusions of the internal review carried out in relation to your complaint to the Treasury about the handling of your April 2008 request for information under the Freedom of Information Act.  

In light of your complaint to the Information Commissioner we have reconsidered the single item of information that falls within the scope of your request that has not already been disclosed. As a result of this re-examination we have identified additional information that we are now able to provide to you. Please see attachment at the end of this letter. For the avoidance of doubt we should make it clear that the Treasury continues to regard its original decision not to release this information as correct at the request and review stage. However, given the passage of time, we believe that the public interest in withholding has diminished and can now be released.

We have, however, decided to continue to withhold two sentences from this information under section 35(1 )(a) of the Act. These sentences continue to relate to ongoing policy. We have explained our position to the ICO regarding this, and are able to clarify that the redacted sentences contain information on a bid for funding from the MRC that the Department for Business Innovation and Skills are assessing in the normal way. Funding decisions have not concluded. As always the Government will publish actual funding provisions once a decision has been reached. Due to the way funding bids are negotiated and assessed this was been a live issue at the time of the request; internal review; and remains so at this present time. To be helpful we refer to evidence published by the select committee in December 2007. You will see that at that time the bid was £118 million.

http://www. parliament.the-stationery-office.com/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmdius/1 85/1 85we02.htm

The Treasury is not able to comment as to what the final figure will be until a decision has been made, I reiterate that once decided it will be announced publicly.

  Rosemary Banner

Head of Information Rights Unit

For HM Treasury  

EXTRACT of relevant information extracted from a report prepared

 1 August 2007

  NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL RESEARCH (NIMR)   MRC concluded some years ago that the NIMR’s future location should be close to a London Teaching Hospital. With this in mind, MRC purchased at their risk for £28M in March 2006, but with Treasury’s knowledge, a one-acre site at the National Temperance Hospital location (NTH) in London.

MRC has recently learnt that its earlier preferred site for NIMR, a three-acre site adjacent to the British Library, has now become available. This larger site would have the major advantage of accommodating more translational research. Encouragingly MRC has most recently proposed that the site would be developed in partnership with Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Wellcome Trust and UCL as a potentially strong consortium. The Wellcome Trust have mentioned that they would be prepared to make a sizeable investment to help establish a new world class medical research facility in North London if they can secure DCMS-owned land and planning permission from Camden Council. At present the consortia has registered its interest in buying the site.

  This project has had a very long gestation period, during which the arguments for the strong scientific case for relocating within London (which has a cluster of medical research and teaching hospitals) and the need to retain MRC’s highly skilled staff.

  The recent preparation of a suitable business case has been further complicated of late by both the re-emergence of the British Library site as a possible location.  

The PM is also most recently stated that he is very keen to make sure that Government departments are properly coordinated 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. This is extremely helpful from a DIUS and MRC perspective, but, formally a NIMR relocation project in London has yet to receive Lyons approval from Treasury (for either the first planned NTH site or the possible BL site).

  MRC have employed Deloitte to prepare a full business case for the relocation project.

  The scientific and operational case for a London location is strong in our view.

  Key Dates for the Preparation and Appraisal of the NIMR Proposal  

– July 2007 — Letter to Treasury to inform CST of MRC’s proposed bid for the BL site.

 -July/August 2007 — Expression of interest in the BL site registered by  the MRC Consortium.

 -September 2007 — further substantive discussions with MRC/Deloitte  on Lyons and emerging business case material.

 -September 2007 — MRC NIMR project included by RCUK in the 2007 Roadmap consultation.

 -October 2007 — first full draft business case prepared by MRC/Deloitte.

 -October 2007 — MRC consortium formally bid to DCMS for the BL site.

 -November 2007 — Full revised business case received and Lyons case consideration undertaken by Treasury.

 -December — Progress submission to Ministers.

 -December 2007 — MRC Consortium formed and, if successful in bidding, payment to DCMS for the BL site.

 -December 2007 — MRC’s NIMR project prioritised by Research Council Directors for receipt of DIUS funding through the Large Facility Capital Fund.

 -February/March 2008 — Submission to Ministers for approval of LFCF allocation to support the MRC’s NIMR project, subject to our final assessment of (a) the outcome of the Lyons case (b) the full business case and (C) prioritisation by RCUK of the use of the available LFCF,

 April/May 2008 — DIUS Ministerial announcement of NIMR relocation project approval (subject to all the above).

  Further Background to the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) The NIMR is one of the MRC’s largest and oldest research institutes. The NIMR is recognised as once of the UK’s foremost basic research institutes with a strong scientific track record and reputation. NIMR currently  houses the World Influenza Centre (WIC), which was established by  World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1948. The Centre, works with a  network of collaborating laboratories to detect and characterise the emergence of new influenza virus anywhere in the world including avian virus H5N1. NIMR is also at the forefront of international research to discover how molecular changes in the virus affect its ability to infect people and cause disease.   

The NIMR has been at its present site since 1950. If it were to remain there the buildings would need substantial refurbishment. It is currently a ‘stand-alone’ Institute not physically linked to any University, Medical School or Hospital. In 2003 the MRC set up an expert Task Force to examine the strategic positioning of the NIMR research within the MRC portfolio. The Task Force concluded that their vision for NIMR would be best delivered through an intramural — i.e. with the staff employed by MRC — research institute on a single site in central London in partnership with a leading university and hospital (they received proposals from King’s College and University College) and this would enhance: – The multidisciplinary nature of NIMR’s work, providing access to other biologists, physical scientists, engineers, and mathematicians – Opportunities to collaborate more closely with clinicians and strengthen the focus of translational research.

Remaining at Mill Hill was considered by the Task Force where the majority view was that this would not be a viable option as it would not deliver Council’s vision for a world class research institute carrying out basic, clinical and translational research in partnership with a leading university and hospital. The position was endorsed by the MRC Council. This disappointed some staff at NIMR and there has been much lobbying of Ministers and MPs and as a result the issue has received some media interest.  

MRC Council selected UCL as its preferred partner for the renewal and relocation of NIMR in Central London, in close proximity to a major teaching hospital (University College Hospital) and relevant university departments, including chemistry and physics.

The MRC Council approved an outline Business Plan for the renewal and relocation of NIMR in July 2005. The Business Plan confirmed the feasibility of developing the renewed Institute on the National Temperance Hospital (NTH) site in Hampstead Road, which MRC bought (at its own risk but with Treasury’s knowledge), for £28M in 2006, suggesting that the new site could provide accommodation for up to 1,058 staff, including 248 from UCL and potentially 40 additional research staff.

MRC have recognised that their development of the business case needed to ensure a successful project and to satisfy the requirements of DIUS and Treasury requires additional skills to those residing within the MRC and most recently further advice has been procured by MRC from Deloitte for assistance with preparation of the business case.

It was also not our intention at review stage to withhold names of senior civil servants of the email provided at initial request. While we explained that the sender was Jeremy Heywood from the Cabinet Office we overlooked to state the other officials who were recipients of that email. They were: The Permanent Secretaries of DIUS and DCMS Ian Watmore and Jonathan Stephens; the Managing Director of Public Spending in HMT, John Kingman; and the Chief Operating Officer, DCMS Nicholas Holgate.

———————————————————————————— 

 NB This document shows Brown’s  interest just before the short list of bidders was decided. 

RESTRICTED – POLICY & COMMERCIAL

To James Purnell Margaret Hodge, Jonathan Stephens,Ros Brayfield

From Nicholas Holgate

Date 18 September 2007 ____________

SALE OF LAND TO THE NORTH OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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;

and

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

———————————————————————————— 

NB This shows Brown’s interest a few weeks before the sale to UKCRMI was agreed.

BRIEFING NOTE FROM POLICY ADVISERS DATED 12 NOVEMBER 2007 TO THE PRIME MINISTER COPIED TO No 10 OFFICIALS.

THE NOTE WAS ENTITLED: PROJECT BLISS – CREATING A WORLD-LEADING MEDICAL RESEARCH FACILITY IN LONDON

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?

Background

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.

———————————————————————————— 

NB This document shows Brown’s involvement just prior to the sale of the land.

BRIEFING NOTE FROM NO 10 POLICY ADVISER TO THE PRIME MINISTER DATED 27 NOVEMBER 2007

COPIED TO NO 10 OFFICIALS

ENTITLED “MEETING WITH PAUL NURSE ON BLISS PROJECT”

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

———————————————————————————— 

NB This document from just before the sale of the land shows  the extent of Brown’s involvement with the suggestion that he would arbitrate.  

Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09

To: HOLGATE NICHOLAS

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.

  Cheers  

[40]

  [40]

  Private Secretary  to Jonathan Stephens

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

SWlY 5Dl1 email: [40]@culture.gsi.gov.uk tel: 0207211 fax: 020 72116259

———————————————————————————— 

NB This document shows Brown’s state of mind immediately after the sale of the land was agreed.

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

RESTRICTED – COMMERCIAL


Science and Technology Committee – Evidence from ministers about UKCRMI

February 18, 2011
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Committee to hear evidence on UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI)

Microscope 17 February 2011

The Science and Technology Committee will hold the following oral evidence session in its inquiry into the ‘UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation’.

Wednesday 2 March 2011
Thatcher Room, Portcullis House

At 10.45 am

  • Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science
  • Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Quality, Department of Health

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/110217-ukcmri—ev-session/


Report and commentary on the STC hearing of 16 February 2011

February 18, 2011
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HoC Science and Technology Committee (STC)

 Thatcher Room

Committee members present:  Andrew Miller (Chair)  Labour , Gavin Barwell  Conservative, Stephen Metcalfe  Conservative , David Morris  Conservative, Stephen Mosley  Conservative, Pamela Nash  Labour , Graham Stringer  Labour, Roger Williams, Liberal Democrats 

Evidence given  on Wednesday 16 February between  at 9.18am and 10.40 am

Evidence taken from the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCRMI)

UKCRMI Witnesses

Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive and Director

Sir David Cooksey GBE, Chairman

John Cooper, Chief Operating Officer, UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Replay the evidence at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=7703&player=silverlight

Declaration of interest

A committee member, Gavin Barwell,  made a declaration of interest , namely,  he is paired with Sir Paul Nurse’s daughter Emily in the MP pairing scheme of the Royal Society. Details of the scheme can be found at http://royalsociety.org/General_WF.aspx?pageid=7277&terms=MP+pairing+scheme&fragment=&SearchType=&terms=MP pairing scheme

Dearie  me, what a coincidence that one of the committee should be paired with the daughter of the head of UKCRMI.

The general conduct of the evidence

There was a good deal of duplication of the material which was covered in the evidence given on 9 February.  I have concentrated only on new material both where a subject was not raised previously or where a subject was raised but something new was added .

Paul Nurse did most of the talking for UKCRMI, probably as much as 75%.

 The evidence given  fell primarily under the heading of waffle.  The air was filled with the type of meaningless beloved of the Great and the Good:  “most exciting biomedical initiative for a generation”   in Britain; the rest of the world look on the project with Envy”; “rhe project is the envy of the world”; “attracting the best from around the world””, “creating an area of brilliance” and “Brilliant people” . You get the idea.

The vast majority of the waffle – perhaps 85% –   was delivered by Paul Nurse in what I will admit was an engaging manner, but it was still waffle.

The MRC Business Case

At the previous meeting, the head of MRC John Savill, had revealed that the business case had been accepted by BUS but that as yet he had no details of any conditions the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) might have imposed  along with the acceptance. Very convenient because it meant that he could not be questioned about the detail of the acceptance.  As of yesterday, the committee has not received a copy of the business plan.

Under questioning, Cooper conceded that there were conditions imposed by BIS when they accepted  the MRC’s business case.  However, he  refused to say what  they were because he was unsure of the position with regard to business confidentiality.  He assured the committee “That none of those conditions have given me cause for concern”.   Incredibly, the  STC failed to press him on this matter, they did not  insist on the forwarding of BIS  approval letter  to the STC .  The first rule of investigation is simple: if someone does not want you to see a something, that is something you need to see.  

This episode was the most significant  thing to come out of the hearing.  There is something there which is either more significant than Cooper admits and/or strikes at the general raison d’etre for the siting of the laboratory in central London.

The position of Paul Nurse

There was concern expressed by the STC that  Nurse might not be able to give his all to  the job of UKCRMI CEO  because of his other commitments.  Nurse said his position was as follows:

–          He works “quite hard” (RH comment  I kid you not, he actually said this).

–          He has resigned from his post at Rockefeller University,  although he is continuing  to act for them until his successor takes over in March 2011. 

–          His position at the Royal Society is part-time.

–          He  remains a functioning research scientist and is presently arranging for his (personal) Rockefeller laboratory to be transferred to England.

–          Until the  laboratory was built, his role with UKCRMI would not involve operational decisions, merely planning ones.

–          He had great confidence in the rest of his management team to support him.

In the light of these considerations, Nurse said he was certain he could fulfil the role of CEO.  Unfortunately, the STC left it at that.  I think anyone might have doubts about Nurse’s  ability to give  enough time and concentration to managing a highly complex scheme whilst doing his own research and heading the Royal Society, a post which involves a fair bit of media work, speaking and general representation of the society, some of it abroad.  I suspect that John Cooper will be the  man really running the show.

Nurse has a contract for 5 years (the delivery of the facility) renewable at the discretion of the UKCRMI board for another 5 years (operational time).

Once the new laboratory  is up and running,  Nurse said he would be charge of allocating resources. 

At various points in the evidence  Nurse accepted “ultimate responsibility”  for the success of the project, both in its building and operational  outcomes when built, and for security.

The origins of the UKCRMI scheme

Nurse claimed he was its progenitor, having hatched the idea in 1999 when he was working for CR-UK. Nothing came of the idea at that time and it was not until 2004 that he became involved again, this time with the Medical Research Council.

One point of interest did come out of this passage of the evidence. Nurse said that in 1999 he was thinking in terms of siting the joint-venture in the Millennium Dome.  This undermines further the claim that the  site has to be in central London to get the benefit of the “cluster effect”.

Cost of the building

The STC again expressed concern over the cost of the building. UKCRMI countered this pointing out the buildings’ likely longevity (Nurse said 60-80 years, Cooper 50-60 years). Nurse also claimed that its initial  cost (£650 million for the building and £65 million for the equipment) represented only 3 or 4 years operational costs.  This did not quite square with the £100 million  base running costs pa plus perhaps £15 million for other sources which Nurse anticipated.

Cooper attempted to make the figures square by saying the £650 million covered the purchase of the land (£85 million), work in kind undertaken by Cancer-UK  and professional fees.  He put the cost of building at £400m+  not £650 million. This was something of damp squib because however the money was spent, it was still spent.

Cooper put the lifespan of the laboratory at 50-60 years; Paul Nurse thought it would be 60-80 years.

Delivery on time and within cost

Cooper said that a contingency for inflation was built into the costing. This happened “a year to 18 months ago.” He was not vulgar enough to say what this figure was,  but assured the committee it was in line with the way inflation had played out since the contingency was set.  No one on the committee pressed him further.

After a good deal of unseemly preening by both Cooper and Nurse about how they had previously run such projects successfully,  Nurse admitted there was no plan B if the project ran into severe cost or time overruns.

Cooper had a nasty moment when he admitted that a project he had run had experience problems, but when questioned about this he said it had not been a project he had been involved with from the outset.

The laboratories at Mill Hill (NIMR) and Lincoln’s Inn (CR-UK)

Nurse claimed that Mill Hill  (built in the 1930s) was on the verge of   obsolescence and Lincoln’s Inn (built in the 1950s) would be within the next ten years.  He attributed this to their age.  The committee failed to ask for details of why they were obsolescent or why they could not be renovated.

The problem for UKCRMI  with this stance  is that even if what Nurse says is true, a new laboratory could be built on the Mill Hill site to house both existing laboratories (plus the Clare Laboratory – see below).  It is no argument for moving the laboratories to Brill Place.

The size of the proposed laboratory

Cooper said it would measure 90,000 square metres externally and 83,000 metres internally.  

Why must the laboratory be in central London?

An already  weak case was weakened  further by Nurse’s comment that he had thought of putting such a research laboratory in the Millennium Dome and the fact (not mentioned in last week’s evidence) that Cancer-UK laboratory at Clare Hall near  Potters Bar (Hertfordshire) was part of UKCRMI and would remain in operation to house some of the animals used by UKCRMI.  (Potters Bar is around 9 miles from Kings Cross; Mill Hill around 6 and a half miles. )

Nurse completely  let the cat out of the bag  when he said that young scientists would not come to the UKCRMI laboratory unless it was in central London because quote “They like central London. That’s the way it is. They don’t want to live in Mill Hill”.

This raises a very interesting point. Nurse said that when the Laboratory was up and running there would be 250 postgraduate scientists and 500 post-doctoral  scientists working there which would constitute the large  majority of the scientific staff.  Their ages would be between 21-34.  Scientists  are not generally well paid and young scientists are almost invariably on mediocre salaries. How on earth would these people be able to afford to live in central London? Shock horror! They will probably have to live in places such as Mill Hill.

Nurse also improbably claimed that being at Mill Hill added an hour or more to journeys  to other parts of the UK compared with a site in central London. The train journey between Mill Hill and St Pancras takes 17 minutes. 

Nurse’s final throw of the dice on this subject was to claim that using a site such as Mill Hill made it impossible to get the interaction between people from different disciplines. This will come as a shock to those working at Mill Hill because the NIMR website lists this research:

Research groups by theme

Biophysics

Biochemistry

Cancer

Chromosome biology

Cell biology

Evolutionary biology

Developmental biology

Immunity

Genetics and genomics

Neurosciences

Mathematical biology

Physiology and metabolism

Systems biology

Stem cell biology

Structural biology

Infectious disease

http://www.nimr.mrc.ac.uk/

Several members of the committee asked why the site had to be in London  at all and suggested that it could have been placed in places such as Birmingham or Manchester.  Nurse  said it was impracticable because it would be seen as provincial and consequently would not be a magnet for all the “best and the brightest” he was so keen to attract.

 Near the end of the session, Graham Stringer (Labour) suggested that the plan to put the laboratory in central London seemed to be a case of “the great and the good” deciding that this is where it should be and then post hoc framing the  arguments for its siting there rather than elsewhere.  Nurse vehemently denied this.  

Biohazard Levels

Nurse stated categorically that no Level 4 work would be done  on the site because any  level 4 work  would be undertaken elsewhere. This did not clarify the position on the mysterious 3+ biosecurity level which appears to have no formal sanction. If all the work is to be at Level 3, why the need for the 3+ security level?  Unfortunately, the STC made no attempt to ferret out what level 3+ means.

Security

Nurse said that UKCRMI intended to recruit the “brightest and best” from around the world. This has security implications because anyone born abroad or has lived abroad for a long time cannot in the nature of things be meaningfully security vetted.  The fact that these will be scientists does not mean they cannot be terrorists, vide the NHS  doctors who attempted to bomb Glasgow airport.  

No one on the committee raised this point

Animals

Nurse said it would 99% mice,  plus a few rats, fish and flies.   The Clare Hall Laboratory will continue to house many of the mice.

Staff careers

Nurse anticipates young researchers being recruited, spending 12 years at UKCRMI before carrying   UKCRMI projects and working methods to other research bodies.    Nurse also floated the idea that when they did leave UKCRMI, researchers would be allowed to take  for free the equipment they were  using for their experiments at UKCRMI plus funding for a year to carry on their research. The idea of this is that it would “seed”  the new work and ideas at different institutions.

Intellectual property rights

Cooper said that although  the rights would be held by the UKCRMI board,  it was unlikely they would produce much money.  This  judgement he based on the experience of other institutions engaged in scientific research.  Nurse backed him up.

Nurse said the arrangements for intellectual property rights for scientists remained to be negotiated.

Liaison with local residents

Cooper claimed that 11 significant changes had been made to the design of the building as a result of discussions with the local residents. He did not elaborate. 

Cooper said that three liaison groups were to be set up for: 

–          The period of construction

–          For proposed living centre

–          General matters

It is noteworthy that at no time has UKCRMI made any offer of compensation for disturbance to the local residents who will be directly affected by years of building work and the associated problems generated by transporting people and materials to and from the site.  That is a pretty strong pointer that they do not give a damn about the residents.

General comment

The committee was generally much less sharp in their questioning than the week before , although Stephen Metcalf again asked difficult questions and had some idea of how to build a line of questioning. Nonetheless, there were a number of disturbing incidences of not pushing very obvious matters such as the details of the BIS approval letter’s conditions.  I cannot really believe that this happened simply because of the inadequacy of the committee members. Rather, it suggests they have either been warned off causing trouble or are simply doing so off their own bat.

 (For those unfamiliar with Commons Committees a little bit of information. The members of a committee do not just ask what they want. They are each allocated a topic to question upon. The allocation is made by the committee clerk. This can make the questioning seem rather stilted as questions which naturally flow from points raised are dropped by the member because they do not come within his allotted area.)

If this committee does not recommend the project I shall very surprised .


Report and commentary on the STC hearing of 9 February 2011

February 13, 2011
1 Comment

HoC Science and Technology Committee (STC)

 Thatcher Room

Committee members present:  Andrew Miller (Chair)  Labour , Gavin Barwell  Conservative, Stephen Metcalfe  Conservative , David Morris  Conservative, Stephen Mosley  Conservative,  Pamela Nash  Labour , Graham Stringer  Labour, Roger Williams, Liberal Democrats 

Evidence given  on Wednesday 9 February between  at 9.26am and 10.34 am

Evidence taken from the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCRMI)

Watch the session: at  http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=7645

UKCRMI 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

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive, Wellcome Trust

Report and commentary by Robert Henderson

What UKCRMI expect to get from the Brill Place Laboratory

This question produced an avalanche of waffle such as “Flagship institute” and  “State of the art research for the 21st century” . The dread phrase “world-class” as in “a world class facility” featured a good deal throughout the hearing.  I defy anyone to find a hard fact amongst the UKCMRI replies when this question was answered. 

Further official/legal obstacles to the  laboratory

Savill said that  there were effectively none,  because news had come that very day of the acceptance of the MRC business plan by the Government (Dept of Business, Innovation and Skills – DBIS) .  This was, as far as he was concerned, the last obstacle overcome. However, Savill had no details  of the government’s sanction of the project yet and thought it probable  that with a project of this size and cost,  the department responsible  (Business,  Innovation and Skills) would require further clarification on some issues.  Savill  promised to inform the committee of any such clarifications and the response they elicited from UKCMRI.

Savill was also keen to stress how supportive both the current and the previous one had been of the UKCRMI project. (The most plausible sub-text to this is  that  it was a done deal, and had been right the way through. )

Walport  made the point that £300 million of charitable funds were involved,  which he claimed was a strong incentive for government to support the project. (Not when  similar amounts of public funds are also committed).

What the Brill Place site will contain :-

–  The NIMR  research from Mill Hill Laboratory

–   The CR-UK  research from laboratory at Lincoln’s Inn

This is very interesting because it means that not only will the work of the Mill laboratories have to be crammed into the site,   but also that of the CR-UK site.

Unfortunately none of the SIC members went into the size of the laboratories at either Mill Hill or Lincoln’s Inn.

Outsourcing from site

UKCRMI admitted that work would  have to be delegated to sites other than Brill Place because of a lack of space.  Edinburgh University (EU) already has  an informal  relationship with UKCRMI (Savill was head of the EU  medical school before joining the MRC)  and the consortium is in talks with Imperial College and Kings College  with a view to those bodies having some relationship with UKCRMI, perhaps as new partners . Walport said that UKCRMI would also be working with the pharmaceutical industry.

Savill claimed that having a small site would impose a  welcome discipline because it would focus minds on selecting the best  projects. (I must confess I had to stop myself laughing loudly at this point because the logical extension of this argument would be that  the rejected Temperance Hospital site (at less than 1 acre) would be even more valuable as it would sharpen such focus even more.  )

According to the evidence of Dr  Stephen Ley of the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) to the Committee (22 11 2004)  the research undertaken at Mill Hill uses approximately 25% of the 47 acre site, that is, around 12 acres.  The new building will be very large and it may compensate for its much smaller site (less than 4 acres and  probably only 50% covered by the building)  by having many more floors than the buildings at Mill Hill. Nonetheless,   it seems improbable that what fits into 12 acres at Mill Hill would fit into a building covering around 2 acres, let alone the Mill Hill research  plus the CR-UK  research fitting into such a building.

The “cluster” justification

The only justification put forward for  using a central London site was the idea that having a heavy concentration of  scientific and medical talent in a limited area – laboratories, hospitals, universities – would expedite research considerably.   Savill cited the UK analysis of research expenditure for 2006 which estimated 33% of clinical research funds were spent in Greater London.

This argument was seriously  undermined by the fact UKCRMI  accepted that work would  be  outsourced.  Accepting Edinburgh University as part of a central London cluster requires great imagination. Accepting Mill Hill as part of the cluster is rather less demanding of a suspension of  the critical faculties , it being  a twenty minute train ride from the London homes of the Wellcome Trust, Cancer UK,  UCL et al.    This makes the Mill Hill site at least as accessible as  hospitals, laboratories within London, for example one of the hospitals cited by UKCRMI as being part of the cluster,  the Royal Free in Hampstead,  is a similar travelling time from Brill Place as the Mill Hill site.

When challenged to provide evidence that the cluster theory held water, Wallport said that there was a “peer-reviewed” paper which supported the claim,  although  he did not have the details of it to hand (he promised to forward them to the committee).  The fact that he only offered a single paper to support the contention suggests  that such evidence is decidedly thin on the ground.  As for the single paper being “peer-reviewed” , this does not necessarily mean it is a solid piece of research .Sadly, peer-review is often used to control what appears in journals not on the grounds of merit,  but because a piece of research supports the received wisdom of the moment.

Much was made about the attractions of London to top-class scientists. However, later in the evidence Savill went on to say that the  new laboratory would not be a place where  he expected scientists to spend a career. Rather, he saw it as a place where they could learn their   trade and then go out to spread the knowledge throughout the UK.  This rather clashed with the idea of attracting to scientists with an established reputation.

The initial cost of the project

After a substantial amount of questioning,  the following costs were elicited:

Harpal  Kumar  gave the figure of £650 million for the delivery of the building including all fixed equipment.  This figure includes  the related professional fees and a contingency element  to deal with time and/or cost overruns.

Savill said that a separate tranche of money  would be available to provide the unfixed equipment (I suspect this would be the vast majority of the equipment). He said this funding would reach £65 million for the initial equipment of the laboratory and what he coyly called “transitional costs”.   It was not said from  where the extra £65 million would come.

Considerable concern was expressed (especially by Stephen Metcalf)  about such expenditure especially in the present financial circumstances.  The wisdom of  building in central London  with its high costs rather than spending money on  the Mill Hill site  was strongly questioned, as was the costs of running the laboratory and the difficulty of recruiting low-paid  staff such as cleaners and rank-and-file security staff.  

The UKCRMI response  was to push  cluster  argument  hard , while  Savill used  the old international comparison ploy , saying that his experience was that the  expenditure was “commensurate with investment” in places such as China and the USA.  Savill produced no evidence that this was the case and the  STC members did  not ask for any.

Building time scale

Tenders for the main contractor’s role are underway. The first agreement should be signed in March 2011.

The projected time scale given by Harpal Kumar was:

– A start to be made on the site in May 2011

– Two years for excavating the  site and erecting the building.

– Two years for  fitting out the building

– Handing over of the building in the second quarter of 2015

– Transfer of  1,200-1,500 staff from Mill Hill and Lincoln’s Inn sites to be completed by 2017

The contingency element

When the question of  the contingency element of the £650 million was probed,  the person (Walport) who answered the question of how much this ran to was unable to give a figure. He was then asked  to say how much the contingency element would be as a percentage of the entire building cost .   This he gave as 15%. Walport promised to supply the committee with the actual figure. (It was rather odd that Walport  could give a percentage if he could not give a definite figure.  This suggests that the 15% percentage may   have been made up on the spur of the moment.) 

Assuming the contingency to be 15%, it seems to be  much too small  because the history of large projects involving public money is one of time overruns extending to years.  Moreover, the complex nature of the geology below the site, the depth to which the foundations must be sunk (five floors are  below ground), the Northern Line tube  below the site and the very cramped nature of the site which makes the removal and delivery of material to and from the site difficult, suggest that this is the type of large project which could easily  experience severe cost and time overruns.

The running costs

Walport put the “baseline cost” at £100 million pa (to be shared amongst the partners) , although he emphasised  that substantial amounts of additional money would come in through research grants.  

Delivery  within budget and on time? 

Walport did most of the talking on this issue. He cited the completion of the extension to the Sanger Institute, the Wellcome  building in the Euston Road and  the Diamond Synchrotron at Harwell as having been “On budget and on time” as proof that the project would be completed without time or cost overruns  (these were all less complex undertakings, for example,  the proposed UKCRMI building will have five stories underground which will run into problems with the water table and vibration from the Northern Line which runs directly below. )

Management of the site

UKCRMI was described as a “ Charitable Company with  shares “ which are held in different proportions by the various partners (I suspect they simply meant  a limited company) . Notwithstanding this,  Savill said that there would be a single font of authority  because the consortium had decided that the project would not be simply a co-location of laboratories.   There would  a single board to govern the project  and no bidding for floor space  or resources by the various UKCRMI partners .  Instead, the director designate Sir Paul Nurse  would decide what research was undertaken and how funds and laboratory space was allocated.

Security

Walport   came out with the type of  verbal placebo beloved  of the Great and the Good.  He said there had been “extensive discussions with their security advisors and the Metropolitan Police” and that this had “satisfied us”.  And that was effectively that  as far as both the UKCRMI representatives and the STC members were concerned.

I know from my long correspondence with UKCRMI about security that they really do not have a clue about how it will be arranged. This fact was demonstrated  admission by Walport that they had no plans for the  evacuation of around 1,500 staff in the case of an emergency.  

The person responsible for security will be the chief executive.

The pathogens to be held in the Laboratory

According to Savill the site will hold  malaria, HIV, TB and Influenza pathogens.  All these fall within biohazard Level 3.

Savill said that the malaria and HIV pathogens could only be contracted by inoculation, while  TB and Influenza could be contracted. 

Both Savill and Walport claimed that the risk of  contracting TB or influenza  was greater in everyday life than it would be in the laboratory.  They produced no evidence to support this claim.

According to Savill, there are 781 Laboratories doing Level 3 biohazard work in the UK of which perhaps more than  100 are in Greater London and hence, nothing to worry about by then additional of another. ( There are three points to be made  about this. (1) the proposed laboratory is according to Savill, intended to be “the largest in Europe, perhaps the largest in the world”.  This means it is a larger and more complex undertaking than any now in existence in London.  (2) The publicity around the proposed building, including the enthusiastic endorsement by Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Boris Johnson means that everyone knows where it is. (3) It is in the closest proximity to two iconic sites, Eurostar and the British Library. This, together with the highest level of  political endorsement, makes it a prime terrorist target . ) 

Savill  gave an unqualified “no” when the UKRMI witnesses were asked whether Level 4 biohazard work would be undertaken  at the new site.  However, when the question of the Level 4 licence held by the Mill Hill facility was raised,  there was a decided hesitation before this  stumbling, distinctly  nervous and evasive answer : “My understanding is that the facilities will allow the transfer of the work we plan.”  (Savill was generally very calm, straightforward  and fluent in his answers. His hesitation and equivocation  suggest that  there is something more than Level 3 work planned).

Nothing which was said during the hearing suggested there would be legal  bar to pathogens above Level  3.

Animal experiments

Wallport said that rodents would be used. (This compares with mice ,  rats, frogs and fish cited by the NIMR scientist  Dr Steven Ley in his evidence to the committee in 2004).

Intellectual  Property

Walport said that intellectual property arising from research at Brill Place  would be owned  by UKCRMI and “managed for the benefit of human beings”.

Sale of the  Mill Hill Site

Asked whether there were decontamination problems with the site before its sale,  Savill said “Decontamination is a strong word. Decommissioning certainly.”   (I suspect that “decommissioning” bears the same relationship to “decontamination” as Level 3+ biohazard does to Level 4 biohazard.)

The situation after the hearing

If the committee recommends that the site is unsuitable for UKCRMI and that consequently the work should be done elsewhere, for example, through the development of the Mill Hill site,  the government is not bound by their recommendations.  However, even if rejected by the government, such a recommendation would  at least fuel further high-level  public examination of the issue.   

My own feeling is that the committee will recommend that the project go ahead on the Brill Place site.  It was not that the committee’s questioning was generally feeble or that any real support for the project was evinced during the hearing. The problem is that both major parties have publicly supported the project in fulsome terms . That makes it very difficult for the committee members, all but one of whom are Tory or Labour, to go against their leadership’s wishes. It is also true that anything with the  words “medical research” attach to it plays well with the general public.

Bearing all that in mind, I think the only realistic chance there is of still stopping the project is to get the story of Gordon Brown’s interference to fly. To that end I shall l be trying to get the failed bidders to kick up a fuss in the next week or so.  

Robert Henderson  12 February 2011


Science and Technology Committee – Next UKCRMI evidence

February 11, 2011
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Committee to hear evidence on UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI)

Microscope

09 February 2011

The Science and Technology Committee will hold the following oral evidence session in its inquiry into the ‘UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation’.

Wednesday 16 February 2011
Thatcher Room, Portcullis House

At 9.15 am

  • Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive and Director, UKCMRI Ltd
  • Sir David Cooksey, Chairman, UKCMRI Ltd
  • John Cooper, Chief Operating Officer, UKCMRI Ltd

A further evidence session taking evidence from Ministers will be announced in due course.

Further information


Posted in Parliament
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