The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation

Many recent safety breaches at UK labs handling lethal viruses

December 6, 2014
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Robert Henderson
The Guardian  have obtained worrying data on the escape of dangerous viruses from supposedly high security laboratories in the UK:
The Guardian
Revealed: 100 safety breaches at UK labs handling potentially deadly diseases
Blunders led to live anthrax being posted from one lab and holes being found in isolation suits at a facility handling Ebola-infected animals
The ‘containment floor’ of the National Institute for Medical Research
Nine UK sites house CL4 labs, including the National Institute for Medical Research, which studies pandemic and avian flu. P
Ian Sample, science editor
Thursday 4 December 2014 12.31 GMT
High-security laboratories that handle the most dangerous viruses and bacteria have reported more than 100 accidents or near-misses to safety regulators in the past five years, official reports reveal.One blunder led to live anthrax being sent from a government facility to unsuspecting labs across the UK, a mistake that exposed other scientists to the disease. Another caused the failure of an air handling system that helped contain foot and mouth disease at a large animal lab.

Wear and tear also caused problems and potentially put researchers in danger. At a top security Ministry of Defence lab, tears were found in isolation suits at a facility handling animals infected with the Ebola virus.

Reports obtained by the Guardian from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that more than 70 incidents at government, university and hospital labs were serious enough to investigate. Many led to enforcement letters, or crown prohibition notices (CPN), ordering labs to shut until improvements were made. Some were so serious they ended in legal action.

Anthrax cells.
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Anthrax cells. Photograph: Alamy
Prof Richard Ebright, a US biosafety expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who reviewed the reports for the Guardian, said that, taken together, they revealed failures in procedures, infrastructure, training and safety culture at some British labs.

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Alarmed at a run of incidents at facilities that work on animal diseases, Ebright asked: “Does British agriculture have a death wish?”

The figures amount to one investigation every three weeks at secure laboratories that are designed to carry out research on pathogens that can cause serious illness and spread into the community. Some of the organisms are lethal and have no vaccines or treatments.

Many of the incidents were one-off, almost inevitable human mistakes, such as spillages of infectious bugs. Others were down to old equipment and safety clothing. The most serious accidents arose from chains of mistakes that happened one after the other, and were often only discovered later.

The reports compiled by the HSE describe at least 116 incidents and 75 completed investigations since April 2010 at laboratories where the most dangerous organisms are handled. Other investigations are under way, but the HSE cannot disclose details of those in case they lead to legal action. All of the investigations were prompted by reports from lab managers who are obliged by law to tell the HSE when an accident or near-miss happens at their facility.

Backstory
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey. Photograph: Rex Features/Rex Features
Some of the most worrisome incidents happened at the Surrey-based Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), renamed the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in October. In one case, scientists were handling anthrax when something went badly wrong. They meant to send harmless samples, killed by heat, to nearby AHVLA labs and others in York and Belfast. But somehow the tubes got mixed up. Instead of sending out dead material, the anthrax they sent was live and dangerous.

The staff who made the mistake were safe enough. They worked in a high-security lab built to contain lethal agents. But some of those who received the bugs did not. In Belfast, the anthrax was handled in a higher containment lab, meaning those staff were safe. In York, the samples were never opened. But at another AHVLA site, scientists opened the tubes in a less secure lab and got to work on the open bench. The incident at the AHVLA is one of the more serious biological accidents that has happened in the UK in recent years. But it was far from being the only one.
 
Read more at
This article confirms what I said in my objections to the Francis Crick Institute Laboratory presently being built in King Cross, viz:
 
“Security
Security issues alone should prevent the research centre being built.  The centre would be a prime terrorist target  because (1) there are three iconic sites in the closest proximity – the Eurostar terminal, the British Library and the Medical Research Centre itself; (2) the nature of the work to be undertaken at the Centre – the public information released to date suggests that it will be handling dangerous material and (3), all three of the major British political parties have given it enthusiastic public support which both raises its public profile and attaches it to national politics -hit the centre = hit the politicians – (see document 23).
Whether as a result of a terrorist attack or a failure of bio-security the consequences of an escape of  dangerous biological agents would be severe, both in terms of any contamination of people and by the economic effects on London (and by extension the country) which the fear generated by the escape of toxins would bring.
I have been attempting without success to get answers about the security arrangements for the proposed research centre since 2007. (For my dealings with the consortium and its individual members on security and other matters see documents 10-22).
My requests have been turned down on the grounds that this would breach security. This is a bogus ground for refusal because I deliberately did not ask for detailed operational accounts of their security, which would compromise security,  but general issues such as whether the security staff will be employed directly by the centre; whether the staff will have been raised in Britain (vetting foreigners is in practice impossible); how cleaners (normally a weak point in security because they work at night when security is minimal); how toxic materials will be transported in and out of the centre and whether the security staff would be armed, something absolutely necessary if there is a threat of terrorist attacks especially if they involved suicide bombers.
The real reason why the consortium will not comment is they do not have a clue about how their security will work. The UKCMRI CEO John Cooper gave the game away at a meeting convened by St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action and  held on 4 10 2010 in the Somers Town Community Centre when he said that their security arrangements would not be decided for three years. It is absurd to allow people who have not considered in detail  the security issues involved before submitting a planning application to be granted that application, not least because the design and situation of the building should be taking these issues into account as one of the primary drivers of the design.
The security, both bio and anti-terrorist,  is particularly compromised by the intention of the consortium to allow scientists who are not employed by the consortium to carry out research. These people could be either from non-profit organisations or private firms:
“There will be dedicated space for technology transfer and additional lab space to enable the findings of the research teams within the centre to be developed and translated into clinical applications by scientists from pharmaceutical companies and partners.” The Bliss Project Concept and Vision (see document 7)
This raises two security problems: the vetting of such people and the lack of a single authority responsible for the security of the centre.   This is precisely what happened at Pirbright which was split between government and private business with no one in overall control (see document 9). Come the foot and mouth outbreak of 2007 no one would take responsibility with both sides blaming the other.
Thorough vetting of those who come from abroad would be impracticable and vetting of anyone born and raised in Britain but who has spent substantial periods of time abroad problematic. These considerations would be relevant to both scientists and other staff, many of whom would be foreign or have spent long periods out of the country.
I would also draw the planning committee’s attention to the fact that Islamic extremism is seen by the government as a growing problem in British universities (see document 5) and that one of the consortium’s members – UCL – has been recently had a student-  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – who went on to try to commit a terrorist act (see document 6).
The limited access proposed for the public would also be a weak link in the security.
Things are no more promising on the bio-security side. At the meeting of 4 10m 2010,  John Cooper promised that nothing more dangerous than influenza viruses would be in the centre. However, this  was meaningless because, as he very grudgingly admitted, there would be legal bar to this policy  being changed at some point in the future. Moreover, ‘flu viruses can be extremely toxic, vide the 1918 epidemic which swept Europe and caused more deaths than had occurred in military action during the Great War.
There is good reason to believe that toxins officially classified as more dangerous than influenza will be used. The MRC site in Mill Hill – the site Brill Place is meant to replace –  has 11 laboratories licenced for level 3 biohazards and one licensed for level 4 biohazards (see document 3).  The license for level 3 work allows the following to be used for research:
Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist, such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, variola virus (smallpox), tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level.
The consortium is applying for level 3 licenses for the proposed medical centre. Once they have these they can work on any of the viruses and bacteria listed above regardless of what is promised now.
Presumably whatever work the MRC has been conducting under the level 4 licence will continue. If it comes to the new centre work on these toxins would be covered:
Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases. When dealing with biological hazards at this level the use of a Hazmat suit and a self-contained oxygen supply is mandatory. The entrance and exit of a Level Four biolab will contain multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, autonomous detection system, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard. Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors opening at the same time. All air and water service going to and coming from a Biosafety Level 4 (P4) lab will undergo similar decontamination procedures to eliminate the possibility of an accidental release.
If the level 4 work is not to come to the proposed research centre the consortium’s claim that their work has to be done at the Brill Place siteis discredited. If it does come to the site then risk is raised considerably. As to whether it  will come to the site, answers given by John Davidson at a meeting held 11 10 2010 in the Ossulton TRA Hall  provide a strong pointer. Questioned by myself, he stated that the Mill Hill facility would definitely be closed if and when the centre was built and he could not rule out all the Mill Hill work being moved to the Brill Place site including the level 4 risk work.
The DCMS were certainly led to believe that the centre would deal with viruses other than influenza, viz.:
“4. MRC anticipates that some £205 m of additional investment will be secured from consortium partners for the development of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. This is investment which would otherwise be Lost to the public purse. This additional investment in the work of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) will support the delivery of high quality research on:
“ The origins of the AIDS epidemic, detecting tuberculosis (TB) infection, variations in the structure of the bird flu virus H5N1 all of which could Lead to more effective breakthroughs in drug development. Scientists at NIMR have also:- (With the University of Hong Kong) isolated the gene responsible for sensory development in the inner ear, which may lead to significant advances in the development of treatments for the deaf and those with severely impaired hearing; and determined the structure of the enzyme that regulates cellular energy levels which could lead to new drugs for type II diabetes, an illness that affects more than two million people in the UK. Taken together, these important results emerging from the UKCMRI could substantially improve the quality of life and allow those who benefit from the findings to continue to make their important contribution to the economy.” (See DCMS Q and A – document  4)
Every large organisation which has security issues always says their security is very tight and time and again the security fails. Pirbright said  exactly this before they had to admit that they were at fault. The members of the consortium say this. The MRC recently were involved in lax procedures which resulted in the death of a patient, viz.:
“Daily telegraph
Man dies in government cancer drug trial A man about to get married has died in a government-funded medical trial after receiving seven overdoses of drugs.
By Jon Swaine
Last Updated: 7:50PM BST 21 Sep 2008
Gary Foster, 27, was repeatedly given twice the amount of chemotherapy drugs he should have been prescribed. He was due to be married this month. Reports have said his death was caused by an error in the setting up of the trial on the computer system at University College London Hospital (UCLH). A second patient was affected by the same mistake, but survived. When the MRC suspected patients had been given overdoses, instead of calling the hospital immediately it wrote a letter – which a nurse at UCLH failed to open until two days after Mr Foster had died…” (see document 8).”
It is wildly improbable that there will not be a breach of security, either through negligence or terrorist action, from the Francis Crick Institute (FCI), which will be dealing with some of the most dangerous viruses.
Situated where the FCI is, any escape of pathogens would be unambiguously disastrous. It is next door to Eurostar Terminal  and St Pancras Station,  a few hundred yards from Kings Cross and Euston stations, a few yards from the British Museum and only the width of a street from residential housing on its Western boundary. Huge numbers of commuters and visitors to London pass through the area every day. It would be difficult to think of another part of London which would cause as much disruption in the event of the escape of dangerous viruses. Permitting the  building of the FCI on such a site is an act of criminal negligence by the planning authorities.

 


Do you want this potential terrorist target to be in the centre of London?

November 11, 2012
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The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) was granted planning permission for a research laboratory on 16 December 2007 . This is a consortium comprised of the Medical Research Council (a taxpayers funded body) , Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London which is part of London University. The Laboratory is now named the Francis Crick Institute and building is underway on a site directly behind the British Library in central London.

If built the research centre will be handling dangerous viruses which are permitted under a level 3 biohazard licence, viz:

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

The Medical Research Council currently handles even more toxic viruses n their Mill Hill site, namely, those which are permitted under a level 4 biohazard licence, viz.:

“Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases.”

To place such research on the site would be criminally irresponsible under any circumstances even if both the physical security and biohazard hygiene were first rate because of the risks of a terrorist attack. However, there can be no rational public confidence that will be the case because UKCMRI have persistently refused to give any details about how their security arrangements will be handled, even in terms which would not compromise their security, such as saying whether armed guards will be used or even whether the security will be directly employed by the consortium or sub-contracted out. There will also be groups working within the centre who are not directly working for the consortium and the public will have access to some areas. To undertake the building of the centre under these circumstances would not be merely criminally reckless but touch the confines of lunacy.

There are also issues with the disruption caused by building and the contamination of the bidding process for the site by Gordon Brown, who interfered with the process even before the formal bidding period was ended. Details of these issues can be found in my objection to the planning application which forms the first posts in the blog, as well as the detailed objections on security grounds. All the objections to the planning application which require proof are supported by documents.

Write to your MP and complain. Raise a stink wherever you can.


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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
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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 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 9 February 2011

February 10, 2011
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The House of Commons  Science and Technology Committee took evidence from UKCRMI and the Somers Town Planning Action (SPA).  The official  recording of the evidence can be found at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=7645

I shall  be writing a report on this, but  it was clear from the hearing that UKCRMI floundered at various points and were reduced to saying they would have to supply the Committee with information later.  There were also a number of points which were either not addressed or insufficiently examined.

I have written to the clerk to the committee asking him to inform me if and when the information is provided and to each MP on the committee raising the matters left unexamined and inviting them to visit the site. 

The emails to the clerk and the MPs are below.

————————————————————–

10 February 2011

 
Glenn McKee
Committee Clerk
Science and Technology Committee
Telephone: 020 7219 8367
Email: mckeeg@parliament.uk
 
 
 Dear Mr  McKee,
 
I attended the UKCMRI hearing yesterday. There were a number of instances when UKCMRI were unable or unwilling  to answer either at all or completely. Would it be possible for you email me when and if you receive the additional information they have promised. Would I be right in thinking that this information will be made public?
 
Am I correct in thinking that  all the members of the committee were present yesterday except for Gregg McClymont and Alok Sharma for both the UKCRMI and SPA evidence and Roger Williams for the SPA evidence?
 
Yours sincerely,
 

Robert Henderson

————————————————————–

10 February 2011

To all members of the committee

My name is Robert Henderson. I asked to give evidence to the committee at the UKCMRI hearing of 9 February.  This request was refused. Hence, this email.

 Although most of the important points were covered,  there were one or two that were either not touched upon  or failed to be debated in sufficient depth.  The first is the extreme proximity of the site to the  Eurostar Terminal, The British Library and residential housing.   To give you an idea of how close,  the site is 50 feet from my front window.  It is also a surprising small site, a fact which was tacitly acknowledged when the representatives of UKCMRI admitted they would  have to be putting work out to other sites, including that obvious component of the London “cluster”,  Edinburgh University.  I really do think the committee should visit the site. Actually seeing how close it will be to prime terrorist targets, residents and passengers is a real eye-opener.  I should be delighted to act as your  guide.

On the subject of terrorist attacks, while it is true that other laboratories exist in central London with Level 3 licences , there are two prime differences between them and this site: (1) the scale of the project and (2) the vast amount of publicity given to it, not least by  Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.  That, together with its proximity to Eurostar and the British Library,  makes it a much more attractive and likely target for terrorists.   

It was noticeable that when challenged over terrorist security issues, the UKCMRI representatives descended into waffle. This did not surprise me because I have spent the past few years attempting unsuccessfully to get them to answer such simple questions as are the security staff and  cleaners  to be employed directly by the consortium or employed through sub-contractors.  That is an important question because any lowly paid staff are a prime security risk, especially cleaners who work outside normal hours with little supervision.

The other issue I  would draw you attention to is the biohazard  level.  The UKCMRI representatives were decidedly shifty when the question of the Level 4 licence held by the Mill Hill site.  Despite the most diligent use of search engines,  I cannot  find any official listing for their claimed biohazard 3+ level of security. The suspicion must be that it is Level 4 in disguise.   Just to remind you , Level 4 covers this type of toxin:

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

Yours sincerely,

 

Robert Henderson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23915802-no-10-interfered-to-push-through-pound-600m-plan-for-virus-superlab.do

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

  Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09

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

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

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

  

Yours sincerely,

  

Robert Henderson


Notification of planning irregularities to Boris Johnson

January 14, 2011
4 Comments

Boris Johnson esq

Mayor of London

City Hall

14 January 2010

Dear Mr Johnson,

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

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

The sale of the land

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

Camden’s handling of the application for planning permission.

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

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

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

Supporting documentation

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

 ————————————————————————-

17 December 2010

Mr Nasim Ali

Leader

Camden Council

CC all other Camden Councillors

    Neil MacDonald (Planning Officer)

    Aiden Brooks (Lawyer)

Dear Mr Ali,

Development Control Committee 16 12 2010 Town Hall 7.00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson  

————————————————————————————

Relevant extract from my objection to the planning application

Gordon Brown’s interference with the bidding process

Document 25

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

————————————————————————-

Document 26

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

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

————————————————————————-

Document 27

From: [40]

Sent: 29 November 2007 11:49

To: HOLGATE NICHOLAS

Cc: STEPHENS JONATHAN: FERRERO MARK;[40] MARTIN

LINDA

Subject: RE: British Library land

Nicholas

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

Many thanks,

R

Private Secretary to the Rt Hon James Purnell MP

Department of Culture, Media and Sport

2-4Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH

Tel@ 0207 7211 [40]

———————————————————————-

Document 28

Treasury document

From – name censored

Sent: 04 December 2007 19:49

To: name(s) censored.

CC: name(s) censored)

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

RESTRICTED – COMMERCIAL

———————————————————————

Document 29

To James Purnell

From Nicholas Holgate

Date

4 December 2007

cc Margaret Hodge

Gerry Sutcliffe

Jonathan Stephens

Mark Ferrero

[40]

BRITISH LIBRARY LAND

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

Timing: urgent, albeit for information.

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

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

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

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

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

Nicholas Holgate

Chief Operating Officer

—————————————

Document 30

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.

————————————————————————-

Document 31

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


My submission to the Science and Technology Committee has been accepted

January 14, 2011
Leave a Comment

The Science and Technology Committee have at last accepted my submission which I sent first on 13 October last year.

 My submission concentrates solely on the security aspects, by terrorist and biohazard, because  that is the only part of my objection to the planning application which falls within the committee’s remit. Robert Henderson

 ———————————————————————

— On Thu, 13/1/11, BOYD, Andrew wrote:

From: BOYD, Andrew

Subject: Science & Technology Committee – Acknowledgement of written evidence

To: “Science & Technology Committee” <scitechcom@parliament.uk>

Date: Thursday, 13 January, 2011, 15:01

Dear submitter of written evidence,

Thank you for sending your submission to the Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. The submission has been made available to members of the Committee.

The Committee may make use of your evidence for the purpose of carrying out its inquiry, including-if it wishes-printing and publishing your evidence, or making it available for public inspection in the Parliamentary Archives. The Committee will not publish or otherwise disclose personal postal or e-mail addresses or telephone numbers. Once submitted, no public use should be made of your submission unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee.

If, on further consideration, there is information in your submission which you believe to be sensitive, you should contact the Clerk to explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account when deciding whether to publish the evidence.

Details of the programme for the inquiry will appear in press notices and will be published on the Science and Technology Committee website at

http://www.parliament.uk/science/<BLOCKED::http://www.parliament.uk/science/&gt;

Regards,

Andy Boyd,

They forbid public  use of the submission once it has been received by them , unless permission can be obtained from the Committee Clerk. This strikes me as a blatant attempt to gag campaigners,  and it is certainly a breach o copyright if it applies to any publication, but until I get a reply to my enquiry about what constitutes public use I have taken the submission down from the ULCMRI blog.  However, I leave up my covering letter sent with  the submission, viz:

 11  January 2011

 To:

Science and Technology Committee

House of Commons

Dear Sirs,

 I enclose a submission relating to the security dangers, both from terrorists and biohazards, which will arise if the UKCRMI laboratory is built on the Brill Place site .This comes within the scope of the committee’s remit, viz:

 “1. What are the risk assessment arrangements to ensure the safety of the site? ”

 I am willing to give evidence to the committee in person.

 If the committee want to get a proper idea of how astonishingly close the site is to residential property, the Eurostar terminal and the British Library,  they need to visit the site. I live in the street which runs down one side of the site which begins approximately 60 feet from my front window.

 If the committee want a  guide around the site, I should be happy to perform  the role.

 Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson

—————————————

email; sent 14 January 2011

Dear Mr Boyd,

I note that no public use of the submission should be made without the Committee Clerk’s permission. I have the following questions:

1. How long does this general  veto on public use last?

2. What constitutes public use?  Blogs, websites, the press, broadcasters? Many groups are involved in the campaign against this laboratory. In the nature of things, this means they need to let people know what they are doing.  

3. What are the criteria you use to decided whether to lift the veto?

 Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


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