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University forces inquiry as lab is rejected over safety

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Cambridge University is fighting to save its plans for a controversial primate research centre in the face of massive resistance. The university has forced a public inquiry after planners turned down the scheme on safety grounds.

A spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire District Council said planners had received 2,500 letters objecting to the facility. The multimillionpound 12,500m 2scheme on Huntingdon Road has been designed by the university's in-house architects, University Estate Management.

The project has aroused enormous public interest, with local group Cambridge Animal Rights staging a series of demonstrations, while science minister Lord Sainsbury has thrown his weight behind the centre. In a letter to the council, Sainsbury claimed it would 'consolidate the UK's position as a global leader in neuroscience'.

However, the council has refused the scheme because its location would lead to a 'serious danger' to public safety during the demonstrations that are bound to follow. The brownfield site lies just 100m from the junction of the Huntingdon Road and the A14. It also falls within Cambridge's Green Belt.

The planning committee's report said: 'While the council accepts the proposal is in the national interest, and that this is sufficient to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt, it considers that this site is unacceptable because of the risk to public safety.'

And it added that the local police force advised that 'measures to limit the risk to public safety on this site would not be effective'.

Nonetheless, the spokesperson for the council said it would consider granting permission to the centre on an alternative site, and would even consider greenfield land within the Green Belt.

Local campaigner Jo Baker said she was disappointed that the centre was turned down on safety grounds alone. 'I am very against this lab happening at all. There's very little evidence that experimenting on apes has any viable result. It's big business trying to make big money - the science doesn't hold up.' Baker said she would take the fight to inquiry and oppose any plans to relocate the centre elsewhere.

A university spokesperson said: 'The university remains convinced that this project is vital and that the best site remains at 307 Huntingdon Road.'

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