Two animal rights charities are to take the government to court over plans to build a Centre for Primate Research at Cambridge University, writes Anna Fazackerley.
John Prescott, deputy prime minister, gave the go-ahead for the centre last November, apparently signalling an end to a bitter three-and-a-half-year planning dispute.
But Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society have mounted a joint legal challenge to the decision, which they denounced as "perverse, unreasonable and unfair".
The charities claim the public inquiry into the centre was prejudiced by high-profile statements made in support of animal research by Tony Blair and Lord Sainsbury, science minister.
While both organisations had the opportunity to present their case against primate research at the inquiry, they said the decision to grant permission for the laboratory was a foregone conclusion.
Norna Hughes, a solicitor acting for the charities, said: "Navs and Animal Aid believe the government is not prepared to give anti-vivisectionists a fair hearing because to do so might be interpreted as giving in to animal-rights activists. The inevitable consequence is that debate is stifled."
Cambridge released a statement this week that said it was not surprised by news of the legal action. It added that it was very pleased that the deputy prime minister's decision had sent an "unequivocal message of support" to British neuroscience.
A spokesperson said: "We remain convinced of the national importance of this research to medical advancement. Neurological disorders have a huge worldwide impact, and combating these devastating conditions is a major scientific priority."
Cambridge stressed, however, that it was still facing problems in finding sufficient funding for the centre, which is now millions of pounds over budget. It is in discussion with key funding bodies about a possible solution.
The university council is expected to review the centre's financial feasibility at a meeting in the Lent term, the spokesperson said.