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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 January, 2004, 02:21 GMT
Legal challenge to primate centre
Animal protesters
Campaigners say the case was prejudiced
Two animal rights groups have lodged a High Court challenge to a UK Government decision to allow a research centre which will experiment on monkeys.

Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (Navs) are furious that Cambridge University has been given permission to build the lab.

They are appealing against Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's decision to permit the centre after a public inquiry.

It is due to be built in the spring at Girton on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Mr Prescott, who has overall responsibility for planning, approved the medical research project in November after it was rejected by a local planning inspector.

The proposal was also refused by planning authority by South Cambridgeshire District Council, because police raised concerns about public safety at the site, which is on a main road and close to a major motorway intersection.

The prime minister, John Prescott, and Lord Sainsbury appear to be riding roughshod over public opinion and the facts of this case
Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, and Jan Creamer, chief executive of Navs
Mr Prescott said it was in the national interest that such a laboratory should be developed close to Cambridge University, which is a centre for medical research.

But the animal rights groups say Mr Prescott's decision was "perverse, unreasonable and unfair".

They claim the judicial process was prejudiced by public statements by Prime Minister Tony Blair and science minister Lord Sainsbury.

"The only way for my clients to get a fair hearing is to go to court," said Norna Hughes, solicitor for Animal Aid and Navs.

"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 the animal activists.

"The inevitable consequence is that effective debate is stifled; any form of public hearing including this planning inquiry are only going through the motions.

"The only independent assessment of this planning application in this case was by the local planning authority and the inspector, both of whom turned it down but the government still approved it."

Rising costs

The university has said the centre will be vital for the development of research into diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

In November, Cambridge pro vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Minson welcomed Mr Prescott's decision as an "unequivocal message of support for neuroscience in the UK", but admitted the project faced financial problems.

He said: "Since the Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) application was submitted in 1998, and since the planning appeal in 2002, the costs have increased considerably.

"These increases are due to inflation, regulatory changes and changes to the financial position of the university."

He told BBC News Online at the time: "Unless we find a business plan that works, the project is at risk."

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