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


9  The National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill

153. The approval to build the UKCMRI at St Pancras has implications for the existing institutes run by the partners in the consortium, in particular for the existing National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) at Mill Hill. In this chapter we examine the arrangements for the closure of the NIMR, the largest of the Medical Research Council's (MRC) three research institutes.

154. The NIMR covers 47 acres at Mill Hill in north London.[238] Founded in 1913, the NIMR has carried out research in a diverse range of fields, including developmental and stem cell biology, structural biology, neuroscience, immunology and infectious disease.[239] With existing strong links to University College London (UCL), NIMR has almost 600 scientific staff, fellows and PhD students. The NIMR's written evidence indicated that members at the current institute were "enthusiastic about the opportunity to build on the success of their current work by moving to this new state-of-the-art institute. In particular, NIMR scientists look forward to the opportunity to expand their interactions with colleagues at [CR-UK's London Research Institute] and UCL."[240]

155. Over the last 10 years, research at NIMR, like all biomedical research, has become increasingly interdisciplinary, collaborative, and translational.[241] The four UKCMRI partners in the consortium took the view, as we have noted, that the distance of NIMR from academic and clinical partners, and its poor transport links, jeopardised its position as a world-leading research centre and that these concerns would be addressed by the establishment of the UKCMRI at St Pancras.[242]

The future of the NIMR

156. The MRC's Final Full Business Case (FFBC) states that when the "UKCMRI is fully operational the intention is that the MRC's NIMR, based at Mill Hill, will close". The FFBC outlines that "NIMR's main research programmes will be transferred to UKCMRI and other Higher Education Institutes or MRC units as appropriate."[243] Professor Savill, Chief Executive, MRC, said that there is "going to be a need to decommission facilities [...] Ultimately, the plan is that [the Mill Hill] site would be sold if Government permission is given for that."[244]

157. The sale of the site has an important bearing on the funding for the project. The four partners in the consortium stated in their joint memorandum that they expect that returns from the sale of the site will be available to the MRC to support transitional costs (see chapter 6 on the UKCMRI's finances).[245] Professor Guy Dodson, a former NIMR employee, pointed out in his written submission that as a "working institute [the Mill Hill site] has immense value, as land however it is apparently worth only £40 million."[246] The UKCMRI explained in its written evidence that:

    the MRC is taking steps to maximise the value of the property at [...] Mill Hill to counter reduced property values. Current projections assume that the valuation will recover in line with any general recovery in property prices, leading to a return to the pre-2008/09 valuation by 2011/12.[247]

Arrangements for the move from Mill Hill

158. We asked the members of the consortium about the arrangements for the move from Mill Hill. Professor Savill told us that "staff will now need to be consulted as we understand how UKCMRI will go forward. Clearly, the human resources departments of both MRC and Cancer Research UK (CR-UK) will be working closely with staff" and that the "MRC anticipates that the vast majority of staff would relocate".[248]

159. The National Trade Union Side (NTUS), representing all MRC employees through a joint negotiation and consultative committee, told us that the

    individual unions and the Trade Union Side are aware of the intention to close NIMR but are not aware, at this stage, of any arrangements for the closure of NIMR, have not been consulted or involved in any discussions about the closure. We consider this to be a cause of concern.[249]

160. We put these concerns to the four partners who told us that the MRC had:

    not been able to consult [with] anyone because we have not reached the point where that is appropriate. We are now moving towards that. Broadly speaking, all the stakeholders would like to understand the shape of the institute and its staff within the next 15 or so months, so we are moving now into an important consultation phase with staff. [...] MRC could not have consulted with staff because we didn't know the project was going to go ahead.[250]

161. After the oral evidence session, in supplementary written evidence, jointly submitted with the retired former head of Neurophysiology at the NIMR, Professor Tim Bliss, Professor Dodson raised the issue of staff morale. They said that "NIMR on its current site offers a superb scientific and working environment that is hugely valued by its staff", and that it was "essential for staff morale that they can have confidence in the scientific strategies at UKCMRI and we wonder if these are known and have been discussed."[251] Isabel Vasseur also submitted written evidence. She had concerns about the current state of NIMR:

    Ever since the debate commenced Mill Hill has endured a type of blight typical of institutions whose future is unsure. Major figures have not quite known how to ally their future to that of the NIMR and one may imagine that research could suffer from a continuation of this state of affairs.[252]

Professors Dodson and Bliss also raised concerns about the potential loss of funding and they said that "it is critical that funding for the NIMR by MRC is going to be properly preserved until the move to central London."[253]

Conclusions

162. We accept that once backing was given by the Government, and planning permission was granted, for the UKCMRI to be built in central London it became inevitable that the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill would close. This must not mean, however, that the NIMR is left in limbo while all attention focuses on the UKCMRI. The NIMR is a world-class facility and it will have four to five years on the Mill Hill site, which need to be supported and managed. Funding for research at Mill Hill must remain in place throughout the transitional phase before the UKCMRI is fully operational.

163. We recommend that the Government and the MRC move quickly to begin discussions with current staff and their representatives about future work at the NIMR in Mill Hill and about the move to central London.


238   Ev 53, para 2b Back

239   UKCMRI website: www.ukcmri.ac.uk/news/press-releases/ukcmri-submits-plans  Back

240   Ev w2, para 7 Back

241   Ev w1, para 5 Back

242   Ev w1, paras 5-6 Back

243   Medical Research Council, UKCMRI Final Full Business Case, version 7, January 2011, Para 1.1 Back

244   Q 59 Back

245   Ev 50, para 23 Back

246   Ev w19, para 2.7 Back

247   Ev 50, para 27 Back

248   Q 59 Back

249   Ev w10 Back

250   Q 60 Back

251   Ev w19 Back

252   Ev w12, para 3 Back

253   Ev w20 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 25 May 2011