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

8  The local community

St Pancras and Somers Town community

139. The UKCMRI is to be built at Brill Place near St Pancras railway station in the Somers Town area of the London Borough of Camden. Rt Hon Frank Dobson, the local MP, described the local area in his written evidence to us:

    It is very densely populated and the population is one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in London with a high incidence of illness, low life expectancy, high levels of unemployment and related economic and social deprivation.[217]

Natalie Bennett, speaking as Chair of the St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action group (SPA), added that:

    it is a very disadvantaged community, a very low-income community, where people don't often have access to healthy food or the chance to exercise. They live in overcrowded housing. There is a lack of hope and economic opportunity. [...] Somers Town has a large, white, traditional working class community. It also has large Bangladeshi and Somali communities and lots of other minority communities. More than 30% of the people are 19 or under. 20% of them have life limiting long-term illnesses, despite the fact that only 14% of them are 60 and over. Only 66% of people describe their health as good. Nearly 10% describe themselves as permanently sick or disabled. 50% of them rent from the council and 20% from social housing landlords. Nearly 50% of them have a household income below £25,000 [...] and 33% have no qualifications. Also, many of them live in hugely overcrowded houses.[218]

140. We heard evidence from Frankie Biney, a local resident of 20 years, who told us how over time the community he had known was disappearing with the construction of St Pancras International station, the British Library and the Unison building, amongst others. He explained that if:

    you live in St Pancras and you see all these things going up, then you wonder, "What are they doing for us and the community?" We are not getting anything out of it.[219]

UKCMRI engagement

141. UKCMRI began public consultation with local residents, stakeholders and other interested groups in April 2008. The first sessions, "meet and greet" road-shows, were designed to introduce local residents to the consortium and to the UKCMRI vision, and also allowed the consortium to hear the views of local people. According to the UKCMRI, feedback from these meetings helped shape the developing plans. UKCMRI told us that since April 2008 they have held more than 70 public events, where the project and its benefits were explained and people's concerns and their priorities were listened to.[220] Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK (CR-UK), told us that:

    Through the planning process we have been in discussions with the London Borough of Camden about a whole range of ways in which the institute will interact with the local community.[221]

142. The UKCMRI's website highlights its engagement with local communities explaining that the development of the site, and the planning of visitor space and programmes of activities, have been carried out with input from local residents, community groups and other interested parties. The website says that the "UKCMRI is committed to being a good neighbour and has been consulting with the local community throughout its development."[222]

143. In September 2010 the UKCMRI produced its Statement of Community Involvement as part of its planning application to Camden Council. The document outlined the UKCMRI's consultation activity and objectives, its programme of activities and records some of the comments made at meetings with local residents and other stakeholders.[223]

144. Mr Dobson considered that "it is imperative that the UKCMRI contributes directly to relieving some of the problems of its residential neighbours" and that "it would be a startling criticism of our society for many impoverished people to be living cheek by jowl with a world class, state of the art research centre which could help them in so many ways and yet did not do".[224] He welcomed the co-operative approach by the consortium and UKCMRI and also welcomed, in his written evidence, the main proposals to benefit local people.[225] The UKCMRI agreed, as part of the planning approval process, a package of benefits with Camden Council (within a section 106 agreement)[226] including: employment and training; support for schools, and science education and inspiring local students in science; improvement in open spaces, walking routes, street lighting, and community safety; support for local health improvements; contribution to the Decent Homes initiative which will benefit the local area; contribution to a local district heating scheme; and access to a community facility on-site and use for all ages.[227]

145. The consortium also pointed out that as a result of feedback from the local community several changes were made to the design of the building. These included: the lowering of the overall height of the building; the inclusion of a community facility provisionally called the Living Centre, to be set over two floors taking up 450m2 with an objective to create sustainable health-related projects for the benefit of local people;[228] and the provision of a new east-west route between UKCMRI and the British Library.[229] Laing O'Rourke, the chosen construction company, in partnership with the UKCMRI, will set up a Construction Working Group to:

    ensure the opinions of local people are heard and residents are kept up-to-date on the progress of the development. Laing O'Rourke will also work with UKCMRI throughout the construction phase to create training and employment opportunities, support local businesses, liaise with surrounding communities and drive ambitious public engagement programmes.[230]

146. We welcome the measures which have been included to meet local needs and we consider that it is imperative that the UKCMRI contributes directly to relieving some of the problems of its residential neighbours.

Local engagement criticisms

147. Despite the evidence of local engagement, we heard several criticisms about UKCMRI's cooperation with local residents. The community felt "powerless" and questioned the notion that they would receive any benefits.[231] Ms Bennett from SPA told us that the local community had been very disappointed by the level of engagement, describing it as "very poor" and she said that the local population remained "broadly, very uninformed". She pointed out that the community has a very diverse culture, many not with English as their first language.[232]

148. Ms Bennett also criticised the section 106 agreement reached between the UKCMRI and Camden Council. She told us that, although it contained some useful packages, it was "not giving the community what it really needs, which is land, space and housing".[233] The SPA indicated that there were high levels of disenfranchisement in the community. Mr Biney explained:

    When you try to gather people to come down and say, "Look, we've got to go to a meeting and go and fight about this laboratory", they say, "No, forget about it. It's going to be built anyway." From past experience, everything that we have fought for, we have never got anything. So people are just disheartened.[234]

149. When we put the local residents' criticisms to UKCMRI Ltd., John Cooper, the Chief Operating Officer, told us that he was "disappointed to hear their comments because I am proud of the community consultation process that we carried out." He continued:

    I am also proud of the changes that we made as a result of that consultation. We made 11 significant changes to the design of the building, recognising points that people had made to us during the course of the consultations.[235]

150. We note that, according to its website, the UKCMRI plans to carry out three further consultations:

  • the construction liaison group to help keep the local community informed about progress on building UKCMRI and deal with any construction issues;
  • the community liaison group to consult with local residents and organisations on how the UKCMRI can work in partnership to bring benefits to Somers Town; and
  • the Living Centre community working group to consult with the community on what services and facilities the Living Centre should offer to help improve people's health and wellbeing.[236]

151. On the criticisms about lack of engagement with members of the community whose first language was not English, the UKCMRI sent us copies of newsletters that have been produced in English and Bengali.[237]


152. It is clear to us that the four partners in the consortium and UKCMRI Ltd have a policy of engagement with local community and, moreover, have put considerable effort into trying to engage with the local community. We welcome the offer of future consultations.

217   Ev w25, para 5 Back

218   Qq 64 and 72 Back

219   Q 69 Back

220   UKCMRI Statement of Community Involvement, September 2010 Back

221   Q 30 Back

222   "Local community", UKCMRI website: Back

223   UKCMRI Statement of Community Involvement, September 2010 Back

224   Ev w25, para 5 Back

225   Ev w25, para 7 Back

226   Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 empowers a local planning authority to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a landowner in association with the granting of planning permission.  Back

227   "Local community", UKCMRI website: Back

228   Ev 42 Back

229   "Local community", UKCMRI website: Back

230   "Construction Update", UKCMRI website: Back

231   Qq 69 and 73 [Frankie Biney and Rob Inglis, St Pancras and Somers Town Planning Action] Back

232   Q 73 Back

233   As above Back

234   As above Back

235   Q 121 Back

236   As above; "Local community", UKCMRI website: Back

237   UKCMRI Community Newsletter November 2010 (English version) at Back

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Prepared 25 May 2011