Animal testing lab plans approved despite strong opposition

Rachel Balmer 15 February 2015

Plans to build an animal testing laboratory in Cambridge were last week given the go-ahead by the City Council in the face of serious opposition.

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca had submitted plans to the Council to build an animal testing lab as part of their proposed new headquarters on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

The planning application from the company had initially faced heavy opposition from animal rights group Cambridge against AstraZeneca Planning (CAP), who called for the company to scrap their plans to build the lab.

However, last Wednesday, member of Cambridge City Council’s planning committee approved AstraZeneca’s application. The company can now start work on the base, which is set to cost £330 million and will employ about 2,000 staff.

Over 40 supporters of the CAP campaign, which included Cambridge residents, workers and animal protectionists, were gathered outside the Guildhall on the day the decision was made. Members of the organisation gathered for a photo before the meeting, holding “I Object” placards.

The CAP campaign was founded three months ago with the intention of opposing AstraZeneca’s planning application lawfully. They launched an online petition on entitled ‘AstraZeneca – Please Drop Your Plans for an Animal Lab in Cambridge’ which has now gained over 6,000 signatures since its launch.

In the run-up to the Council’s meeting on 4 February, CAP began another petition highlighting why supporting the application would be “unlawful,” raising questions, amongst other things, about the existence of potentially dangerous “chemical warfare and biological agents” on the premises. The petition acquired over 13,000 signatures.

According to the BBC, more than 1,200 objections to the plans had been registered, including from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection.

Rachel Mathai, spokesperson for the CAP campaign commented: “We are of course, bitterly disappointed about the Council's decision – over the course of the meeting it became very clear that the Councillors had already made their minds up. This cause has attracted a wide and diverse range of people from different walks of life. The issues involved have caused the activist movement to unite against an incredibly tragic day for animals….We predict with certainty that Cambridge will become the epicentre of the global animal rights movement, involving passionate but lawful protest.”

Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, took a different view, expressing that: "I am delighted AstraZeneca has planning permission for its new global research and development centre and headquarters in Cambridge. The company's decision to move into Cambridge is testament to our city's global reputation in science and a huge tribute to the excellent work that is already taking place here.”

He added however that: “I am absolutely committed to the 3 Rs – we should reduce the number of animals used, refine the experiments, and replace animals wherever possible."

A second year student commented: “I believe that these laboratories have to go somewhere, and if the application was not approved in Cambridge, it’s not as if it wouldn’t have been built elsewhere. Cambridge is leading the way in scientific research, and it’s not an anomaly for this centre to be built here.”