Security fears cast doubt over lab plan

November 3, 2000

A pioneering neuroscience research centre at Cambridge University could be scuppered by fears of animal rights activism.

Cambridgeshire Police and Girton College have raised serious objections because the laboratory is likely to attract protests and attacks from animal rights extremists.

The local objections could damage the university's application for planning permission for the £24 million laboratory opposite Girton College, two miles from the city centre.

Cherry Hopkins, secretary to Girton's council, said the college had objected to the district council, focusing on the security of their staff and 300 students.

She said: "We fear that the general public will not distinguish between a university department and our college, as we are loosely the same institution. The potential for violent attacks is in our minds."

The college met with the university's estate management department but nothing that was said reassured the college that its concerns were unfounded.

"We wouldn't presume to say anything about what work is being done there," Ms Hopkins said. "We are concerned exclusively with its location."

Congestion is also an issue. "The M11 and A14 merge here, and there is already enough traffic."

Security concerns from the county's police, who spent £1.2 million this year protecting nearby animal laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences from extremists, could also scupper the application. Police say they cannot afford to police protests properly.

If it goes ahead, the laboratory, funded by the Wellcome Trust and the government, will become a leading international centre for research into cognitive neuroscience.

The university said: "Cognitive neuroscience is used to understand conditions such as strokes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, the effect of neurosurgery for tumours and traumatic brain injury.

"It also attempts to model cognitive disorders such as drug addiction, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and depression with the aim of improving treatments."

A university spokesman defended the use of animals in research: "The use of animals in teaching and research in the university is carried out in consultation with the Home Office Inspectorate. The university respects the emphasis of the Home Office on the need to refine testing methods, reduce to a minimum the numbers of animals used and to replace animal testing with another method where possible."

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