UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI) - Science and Technology Committee Contents

4  Location


55. One issue which emerged during our inquiry was the location of the UKCMRI in central London. It will be situated on Brill Place in Somers Town in the London Borough of Camden, adjacent to the British Library and across the road from St Pancras International railway station. UKCMRI Ltd, the consortium and the Government were clear that a central London location was important: it would facilitate important collaborations between the 'cluster' of scientific, academic and healthcare institutions already situated in central London.[65]

Figure 1: Central London map showing the UKCMRI amidst a cluster of research and clinical centres.

Source: UKCMRI [] ; scale [———————] 500 m.

Table 2: Index to Figure 1
1. CR-UK LRI Labs19. Royal College of Physicians
2. MRC20. Royal College of Surgeons of England
3. UCL main campus 21. Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital
4. Wellcome Trust22. Royal Society
5. Arthritis Research Campaign 23. Royal Society of Medicine
6. Cancer Research UK head office 24. Royal Veterinary College
7. Eastman Dental Hospital 25. School of Pharmacy, University of London
8. Great Ormond Street Hospital 26. St Barts Hospital
9. Hospital for Tropical Diseases 27. St Pancras Hospital
10. King's College London 28. The Heart Hospital
11. London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine including MRC International Nutrition Group 29. UCL Cancer Institute
12. Moorfields Eye Hospital 30. UCL Institute for Women's Health
13. MRC Cell Biology Unit 31. UCL Institute of Child Health including MRC Centre for Epidemiology for Child Health
14. MRC Clinical Trials Unit 32. UCL Institute of Neurology including MRC Prion Unit
15. MRC General Practice Research Framework 33. UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
16. MRC/UCL Centre for Medical Molecular Virology 34. UCL Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research
17. MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing 35. University College London Hospital
18. National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery including MRC Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases 36. Wellcome Collection including Wellcome Library

Source: UKCMRI []

56. The location is not a new issue. Our predecessor Committee highlighted some potential problems with the chosen site when questioning the consortium in December 2007.[66] It asked the consortium about the appropriateness of moving work on dangerous pathogens from the Medical Research Council's (MRC) National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill (NIMR) into central London and whether a site outside London, had been considered. Similar areas of concerns were raised at the session held on 9 February 2011, particularly how necessary it was to have the UKCMRI in central London.[67]

History of the UKCMRI's location

57. Given the concerns of our predecessor Committee and the representations we received from local residents we considered it important to examine how the St Pancras site had been selected.

58. When the formation of a centre of medical research had been agreed in principle, the four partners in the consortium drew up a list of possible locations. Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive and Director of UKCMRI, made it clear to us that the MRC's NIMR site at Mill Hill, North London, having been built in the 1930s was no longer "fit for purpose".[68] The current Director of NIMR, Jim Smith, suggested that, while Mill Hill was fit for purpose for now it was "unlikely to remain so [...] without substantial investment" and he explained that "the distance of NIMR from academic and clinical partners, and its poor transport links, jeopardise its position as a world-leading research centre."[69] The NIMR site at Mill Hill is located nine miles to the north of the UKCMRI, roughly half an hour's drive away and nine stops on the Northern underground line.[70]

Figure 2: Map showing location of the UKCMRI and the MRC's National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) site at Mill Hill

Source: Microsoft Bing maps

59. It appears that it had been recognised for some time that the facilities at Mill Hill would need to be replaced. In 2007 Professor Grant, President and Provost, University College London (UCL), told our predecessor Committee that:

    there was a time at which it was proposed, for example, that the NIMR laboratories should move to Cambridge. There was then a decision taken by a special scientific committee that had been set up by the MRC to reconsider that decision and to look at possibilities within London, and then eventually to run a competition between King's College, London and University College London, and a decision was taken in February 2005 that the London option should prevail and that it should be a site in central London adjacent to UCL. That was the culmination of a process of decision-making that had taken place over a decade or more.[71]

60. In oral evidence this year Professor Grant confirmed that the:

    original proposal was for the group at NIMR at Mill Hill to join us at UCL. The site that had been chosen for that was the National Temperance Hospital site in Hampstead Road, which was significantly smaller; indeed it was under one acre.[72]

Sir Paul Nurse added that he had been on the scientific review body in 2004 "when the MRC was thinking of moving the institute at Mill Hill to [...] the National Temperance Hospital."[73]

61. We note, that in answering a written question on 20 June 2007, the then Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Malcolm Wicks MP, said that the "MRC [had] paid £28 million for the National Temperance Hospital site".[74] In answer to another question on the same day on consultations about the future of the NIMR he said that:

    [the] interim Director of NIMR, Sir Keith Peters, communicates regularly with NIMR staff about the development of a business case including the option of
    relocating NIMR to the National Temperance hospital site, as well as work to determine the feasibility of relocation to a larger site adjacent to the British Library. No decision has been made.[75]

62. It appears that by the end of 2007 the Hospital site was set aside in favour of the larger site at St Pancras. Sir Paul Nurse told us that the Hospital site "was not a good plan. The site was too small, it wasn't well thought through."[76] In a memorandum to our predecessors following the oral evidence session in December 2007 the MRC said that "Alternative sites outside London have been considered since the purchase of the NHT".[77] Sites in Manchester and Cambridge were judged as best comparators with the British Library site.[78]

63. In June 2008, following Government approval, the consortium completed the purchase of the 3.5 acres site for the UKCMRI at Brill Place, adjacent to the British Library. The sale was completed on 13 June 2008.[79] The land was purchased from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for £85 million, of which £46.75 million was provided by the MRC.[80]

Why Central London?

64. Some of the evidence we received was against a central London location for the UKCMRI. The St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action (SPA), a local group, claimed that the "superlab" design was "unsightly and unsympathetic and dominates its surroundings".[81] Action for our Planet considered the location was wrong and that it was being located in a densely populated residential area with a "chronic shortage of housing".[82] We consider that questions about the design and aesthetics of the proposed building are outside the scope of our inquiry and we do not propose to comment on them. Those who had concerns about the central London location for the UKCMRI also raised concerns about construction challenges, costs, and safety and security; we consider these factors in chapters 5, 6 and 7.

65. Natalie Bennett, SPA's Chair, argued against the necessity of physical proximity with other institutions in central London:

    in this day and age, given that we all have Skype, video-conferencing and instant messaging. I am sure that most of us in our daily lives use those and are quite close to people we may never even have met but with whom we have regular contact. Why is it the case, in this day and age, that clustering requires a physical proximity? That is a very 20th century idea in the 21st century.[83]

She added that:

    Pharmaceutical companies seem to be moving away from large centralised research facilities, as we have seen recently with Pfizer at Sandwich. Is this actually the way forward or is this a 20th century dinosaur that is being left?[84]

66. There was unanimity amongst those supporting the UKCMRI that a central London location was essential to the success of the project. Sir Paul Nurse stressed that:

    the central London position is absolutely crucial, because you could not put such a place anywhere else in the country for it to work. You need that because of the good transport. You can get to 80% of the population within two hours by train. [...] If you put it in Manchester or Liverpool [...] it would already be seen as regional. It is difficult, but if it is in London, it can serve that national role. I really want to emphasise the national role that it plays [...] We will get the best coming in because people like to come to London. It is a place that the rest of the world thinks about as a place to live and work. If you are a 25-year-old, it is an exciting place to come, so that means we can attract people. We want them to put down roots.[85]

He added that:

    The interactions and close contact in central London which allows you to access those disciplines are impossible on a distant site such as Mill Hill. Physicists, chemists, engineers, computing engineers and so on will all be either within walking distance or a short distance on public transport. That is quite difficult if you are in a more isolated site.[86]

67. The members of the consortium expressed strong support for central London. Professor Savill, from MRC, explained that:

    Very careful thought was given to where the best place to have a major interdisciplinary institute would be. We took international advice. We consulted widely. There is unanimity on central London being an attractive site because of its international connections and its attraction to international scientists. If you look at the United Kingdom Clinical Research Collaboration analysis of health research spend in 2006, it shows that 33% of the UK's health research money was spent in London. I think it makes sense to have a high scale institute here. We have looked very carefully at this site and conclude that it is in the right place.[87]

Professor Savill drew attention to a peer-reviewed paper, Does Collocation inform the impact of Collaboration,[88] "which says that collocation is the best form of driving collaboration and added value."[89]

68. Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of the Wellcome Trust, told us that:

    Science thrives best in a clustered environment where there is actually a critical mass of scientists from different disciplines and hospitals. Look at Boston, where there is an enormous cluster which has developed around Harvard and MIT. UKCMRI is positioned at the absolute heart of the cluster in the south-east, so there are the London colleges, Stevenage, Cambridge and the Sanger Institute just up the road, with Oxford not far to the west. It is absolutely in the right place.[90]

69. The Government also saw advantages in having the UKCMRI located in central London. The Earl Howe, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Quality, explained that:

    What we will see happening is a two-way engagement between UKCMRI and centres such as University College Hospital, King's and Imperial, the major London centres for research, with a two-way flow of ideas, with clinicians on the ground identifying clinical problems which need to be solved, scientists in the centre picking up those pointers and we hope a much quicker flow of ideas coming through to benefit patients. The location of the building, I am clear, is of major advantage in that sense.[91]

Sir Paul Nurse also stressed the importance of "being close to London hospitals—the biggest patient resource in the country",[92] and David Willets MP, Minister for Universities and Science, pointed out that:

    The fact is that there is a concentration of leading hospitals and academic institutions, such as University College, located nearby [...] does mean that London and the golden triangle [...] does tend to attract research.[93]

70. We note that in a recent report, All together now,[94] NESTA[95] put the argument for the importance of co-located facilities and clusters. The report stated that clusters "generate a level of cross-fertilisation between industry, academics, biotech companies and clinics" and it highlighted the benefits of having the:

    ability to walk down the hall to chat with a colleague and sit in on research meetings and talks, mak[ing] collaboration easier. It is often these informal unscheduled interactions that generate the personal relationships that are so important to successful working together.[96]


71. UKCMRI Ltd, the four members of the consortium and the Government have put forward for a strong case for locating the UKCMRI close to leading hospitals and academic institutions. It has to be recognised, however, that there is a premium to be paid for locating the UKCMRI in central London. The financial costs of developing the site in central London are considerably higher than for a site outside of central London. In addition, we received no satisfactory evidence on the running costs of locating the UKCMRI in a central London site in comparison to sites outside central London. We are not convinced that St Pancras would be an obviously better location for the UKCMRI than Mill Hill for leading scientists. We question, given the higher living costs required to live in central London, whether many of the scientists working at the UKCMRI will reside in central London. In addition, the location of the UKCMRI will reinforce the concentration of life sciences in the "golden triangle" in the south-east of England.

72. Given that planning permission has been granted, the initial construction contract has been signed and the groundbreaking ceremony is imminent, it is clear to us that there is no realistic possibility of the UKCMRI being located anywhere other than at St Pancras. In order to offset the premium which will have to be paid for locating the UKCMRI in central London and the subsequent loss of funds for research, we consider that it is essential that a detailed strategy for dispensing the benefits of the UKCMRI throughout the UK is drawn up and promulgated before the UKCMRI opens in 2015.

65   "The local area", UKCMRI website: Back

66   HC 185 (2007-08), Qq 32-47 Back

67   For example, Qq 15 and 36  Back

68   Q 88 Back

69   Ev w1, paras 4-5 Back

70   The AA website route planner:; Transport for London underground map: Back

71   HC (2007-08) 185, Q 34 Back

72   Q 36 Back

73   Q 84 Back

74   HC Deb. 20 June 2007, col 1822W Back

75   HC Deb, 20 June 2007, col 1823W Back

76   Q 84 Back

77   HC (2007-08) 185, Ev 15 Back

78   As above Back

79   Ev 35, para 1.4 Back

80   Ev 46, para 6.1 Back

81   Ev 53, para 1 Back

82   Ev w16, para 3 Back

83   Q 66 Back

84   As above Back

85   Qq 117-118 Back

86   Q 133 Back

87   Q 15 Back

88   Kyungjoon Lee, John S. Brownstein, Richard G. Mills, and Isaac S. Kohane, Does Collocation inform the impact of Collaboration, PLoS ONE, December 2010, Volume 5, issue 12 Back

89   Q 44 Back

90   Q 15 Back

91   Q 151 Back

92   Q 135 Back

93   Q 155 Back

94   NESTA, All together now: Improving the cross-sector collaboration in the UK biomedical industry, Research report: March 2011 Back

95   NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and in its own words, an independent body with a mission to make the UK more innovative. Back

96   NESTA, All together now: Improving the cross-sector collaboration in the UK biomedical industry, Research report: March 2011, pp 36-38  Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 25 May 2011