Oxford moves on animal site

October 7, 2005

Oxford University is moving ahead with plans to complete its new animal research facility.

Oxford's animal housing facility is already three storeys high. But all work on the site halted last July after animal-rights extremists targeted the contractors, smashing up building sites and sending threatening letters to shareholders.

Senior sources close to the university told The Times Higher that the institution was not only "absolutely committed" to finishing the building, but it was also planning to go ahead with a second phase of construction.

This would involve knocking down an existing Victorian building.

One insider said: "The plan is now to move on with phase two. It will be 50 per cent bigger than anyone was expecting. It is very bold. I am amazed."

This second phase was included in the university's original planning permission, but many had not expected it to go ahead given the ongoing attacks by extremists.

The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for attacking a sports pavilion belonging to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, last Friday.

A spokesperson for Oxford said: "When we applied for planning permission, we knew we would have funding for a certain amount of work (phase one) and then at a later stage could apply for funding for the rest (phase two)."

She added: "Both phases are simply work in and around the basic shell that has already been erected, and phase two would not constitute an extension of the site. We do now have funding for the complete project."

Nancy Rothwell, vice-principal for research at Manchester University and one of the few scientists who regularly speaks out about animal research, said: "Good for Oxford. I think everybody in the scientific community is hoping that this building will go ahead successfully and without further acts of violence."

Simon Festing, executive director of the Research Defence Society, which campaigns for animal research, said: "We met government officials last week and they assured us that there is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes to get Oxford up and running. They recognise that it has become an international symbol of their commitment to animal research."

The Times Higher revealed in May that Oxford was prefabricating the rest of its animal facility on a secret site away from the city. The move is believed to have the support of senior ministers and the security services.

Dr Festing warned: "The urgency of dealing with this problem has gone up because of the escalation of offending by animal-rights extremists in other countries. There are attempts to turn this into a global campaign."

Dr Festing added: "Animal welfare standards are getting ratcheted up year after year. Under new European guidelines animals are now supposed to be given more space and it would be prudent for universities in Oxford to be bearing this in mind."

Roger Morris, professor of molecular neurobiology at King's College London, said: "I was recently at a meeting with some leading American scientists and they were asking at length about whether animal research was still possible in this country. The same happened at a meeting in France. If that is the perception, it is extremely bad for research."

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk

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