Primate centre's future in doubt

November 28, 2003

Speculation grew this week about whether a new monkey research centre would ever be built in Cambridge, despite a landmark decision by the government to allow the project to go ahead, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Five years after the University of Cambridge first put in a bid for funding, deputy prime minister John Prescott last week overruled planning officials by granting permission for the centre at 307 Huntingdon Road.

But the future of the project, which is £8 million over budget, remains uncertain. The university confirmed that it planned to set up contingency talks with funding agencies.

A Cambridge spokesperson said: "We continue to be committed to the research and the project. But it would be fiscally imprudent to go ahead with that shortfall, especially since the university's own position has changed since we put the bid in."

The Wellcome Trust, which provided the £24 million budget for the primate centre, said it would consider an application for further funding "in the usual way".

But sources close to the trust said it was considering using the funding to build a national primate centre elsewhere. The Cambridge site, which is on the same road as animal research facility Huntingdon Life Sciences, has already attracted animal rights protests. Activists are to meet to discuss how to boost their campaign after Mr Prescott's decision.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection circulated warnings that the government might be considering establishing a primate centre at Porton Down military research site instead.

Wendy Higgins, campaign director at the BUAV, said: "I think the government is going to try to hide the problem away behind military strongholds."

But Mark Matfield, the executive director of the Research Defence Society, said: "The key thing is that the centre is built somewhere. It is still crucially important to UK neuroscience."

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