Academics at the University of Leicester have been put on alert following revelations that a new £15 million animal testing laboratory is being built on the campus.
Staff contacted by Times Higher Education said they had not been aware of the specific plans by the university to build the dedicated facility until they received an email from management after an article that appeared in the Leicester Mercury last week.
The newspaper revealed that a new biomedical research facility was being built to replace existing facilities, centralising them in a “purpose-built” site on the edge of campus.
In a statement to staff, the university says: “The new premises will replace the existing facilities, providing an improved environment for staff and animals.”
Warning that the facility could attract protests from animal rights campaigners, the statement urges staff to be “extra vigilant”. The newspaper reports animal rights activists saying they are considering holding a protest march at the site within months.
The memo to staff says the National Anti-Vivisection Alliance (NAVA) has “stated that it intends to disrupt the building programme and to initiate a series of protests”.
It adds that the university is “working closely” with police and has plans in place to deal with a “variety of scenarios”.
Wariness at Leicester will be fuelled by the experiences of the University of Oxford, which became a target for animal rights activists when it commissioned an £18 million biomedical sciences building to centralise its animal testing facilities.
The ensuing protests delayed the project by two years.
In a statement to THE, Leicester says its new site will house rodents and laboratories to perform experiments that are “vital” to efforts to find new treatments for disease. It adds that other non-animal medical research will also be conducted, and it says there are no plans for work involving primates or dogs.
“It will replace existing facilities for animals in separate locations on campus in one purpose-built facility,” the university says.
Leicester points out that plans for the building were included in a university master plan announced in 2002 and a “development framework plan” unveiled in 2008.
It says that it consulted with staff across the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology last year and also sought the views of the research groups involved.
A public consultation had also taken place and a model of the expanded campus – including the biomedical research facility – has been on display on the Leicester campus.
Construction work began late last year, and the building is due to be completed in 2011.
Leicester said the project was being funded by a variety of sources including the university, the government and the Wellcome Trust.