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PRIMATE CENTRE PLANNING OBJECTION
Posted 1 August 2001
16 August 2001
SOUTH CAMBRIDGESHIRE DISTRICT COUNCIL
9-11 Hills Road
CAMBRIDGE CB2 1PB
307 HUNTINGDON ROAD, GIRTON, CAMBRIDGE
PROPOSED ANIMAL RESEARCH BUILDING
PLANNING APPLICATION S/1464/01/F
1. I act on behalf of Animal Aid, the largest animal rights campaigning organisation in the UK, and I write to object in the strongest possible terms to the planning application for the extension of the existing animal research establishment at the above site. The reasons for this objection are set out below.
Green Belt and rural amenity
2. The most compelling and decisive planning objection is the very serious conflict with approved Green Belt policy. The objectives of the Cambridge Green Belt are to control urban expansion, to enhance visual quality, to retain the open and rural character of the area and to direct development to the existing built-up areas. The Green Belt is protected under policies GB1 and GB2 of the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 1999, policies GB3/1 and GB3/2 of the Cambridge Green Belt Local Plan 1992 and policy SP18/3 of the Cambridgeshire Structure Plan 1995. Policy GB2 of the 1999 Local Plan reflects national policy in PPG2 and states that planning permission will not be given for inappropriate development in the Green Belt. The policy lists nine categories of development that may not be inappropriate but the proposed research building does not fall into any of these, as is acknowledged in the application. Paragraph 3.18 of the Local Plan 1999 states that inappropriate development will only be granted in very special circumstances and that exceptional cases will be dealt with as departures from the development plan.
3. In the context of Green Belt policy, under which even modest domestic outbuildings may be regarded as inappropriate, the size of the proposed building should not be underestimated. The new building, although sited closer to the road by comparison with the previous application, S/1756/00/F, is almost identical to the earlier proposal. The application gives the size of the building as 8,015 square metres (86,275 square feet), which is the equivalent of two large retail superstores.
4. The proposed development would increase very substantially the floorspace and built footprint on the application site, thereby automatically and irreversibly detracting from the most important attribute of the Green Belt, namely its openness. In common with the previous planning application, the University seeks to address the acknowledged Green Belt objection by putting forward proposals to minimise the impact of the building by masking it with earthworks and new planting. These measures entirely evade the main issue, which is the objection in principle to any inappropriate development in the Green Belt, an objection that is not dependant on detailed issues of siting, design and landscaping. Even if the design and landscaping proposals were considered to reduce the physical impact of the development to an acceptable degree purely in terms of visual and rural amenity, which I would dispute, this could never justify a major development in the Green Belt. To accept such an argument would be to open the door to any proposal in the Green Belt provided the development could be adequately screened. Even if the whole site were entirely screened by woodland or by favourable topography, the Green Belt objection would remain. Green Belt policy is not only, or indeed mainly, concerned with visual impact but is a strategic planning tool intended to keep land permanently open.
5. In this case, of course, the land is not screened from view. The proposed building, notwithstanding the efforts made to minimise its impact, would be noticeable from many public vantage points. The existing buildings can be seen from the Girton Interchange (the junction of the A45, A14 and M11), including the overpasses and slip roads, and from the public footpath which runs along the south-east boundary of the site. The proposed development would increase substantially the mass of buildings on the site to the detriment of the rural appearance of the area.
Local Plan employment policies
6. The employment policies of the Local Plan cannot in this case be used to justify the proposal. Policy EM5 of the Local Plan supports certain forms of development where it can be shown to be in the national interest, but provided the development would not conflict with other policies in the Local Plan and the Structure Plan. It is clear that this proposal at Girton is in direct conflict with probably the most important land use planning policy in the development plan, namely the Green Belt restrictions, so that it follows that the requirements of policy EM5 are not met. It is also plain from the terms of the Local Plan that policy EM5 is not intended to take precedence over Green Belt policy.
7. Similarly, policy EM11 of the Local Plan encourages the extension of existing employment sites provided certain criteria are satisfied. In this case the criteria are not met since:
- the proposal would have an adverse impact on traffic conditions (see paragraph 21 below); and
- there would be an adverse impact on adjacent properties due to inevitable protests and demonstrations and the associated noise, disturbance and disruption to traffic (see paragraph 21 below).
Structure Plan policies
8. The Cambridgeshire Structure Plan policies also lend no support to this major proposal in the Green Belt.
- Policy SP12/1 states that development in the countryside will be restricted to proposals essential to agriculture, outdoor recreation or utility services. The research building does not fall within the scope of this policy.
- Policy SP5/6 allows for the expansion of existing employment provided this does not conflict with other planning policies. The current proposal self-evidently does conflict with other policies, notably Green Belt policy SP18/3.
- Policy SP18/6 gives general encouragement to research establishments which are in the national interest and which need to be located in the Cambridge area, but the text confirms that such development will normally be restricted to the built-up areas.
- Policy SP18/3 reflects PPG2 and confirms that within the Green Belt permission will not be granted for new buildings except in very special circumstances.
9. Both the development plan and PPG2 set out the general presumption against inappropriate development in the Green Belt. As I have noted above, the proposed building does not fall within any of the forms of development that may be acceptable in Green Belts. The development is therefore "inappropriate" in terms of Green Belt policy. Inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt, as is made clear in PPG2. Therefore, if planning permission is to be granted it will be necessary for the Council (or the Secretary of State if the application comes before him in due course) to be satisfied that the harm caused by the inappropriate development is outweighed by other planning considerations. In the planning application the University implicitly accepts that the development would be "inappropriate" and attempts to explain the nature of the "very special circumstances" that might justify the Green Belt objection being set aside. The University seeks to promote the development on the basis of:
- the benefits of the research to the national economy as indicated in the support given by the DTI;
- the importance of the scientific research; and
- the lack of other suitable sites within the University's estate.
It is these factors which the University claims amount to the "very special circumstances" which must be proven to exist in order to overcome the strong presumption against the development within the Green Belt. I will deal with each of these issues in turn.
The DTI letter
10. The first point that needs to be made is that the letter is personally signed by the Science Minister, Lord Sainsbury. It is well known that Lord Sainsbury has extensive business interests in biotechnology companies. He also recently donated £2 million to the Labour Party. In these circumstances it is not surprising that questions have been frequently raised as to whether there is a conflict of interest between Lord Sainsbury's private business affairs and his public responsibilities as a minister. Further information on this aspect is attached at appendix 1.
11. The second and most important point, which is conveniently ignored in the University's letter of 17 July 2001, is that the DTI letter merely supports the research project in general terms and does not advocate the development of the Girton site in particular. The final paragraph of the DTI letter states:
"Finally, I fully recognise that the location of the Centre is a matter for the university and the planning authorities. Planning applications are properly for the planning authorities, and they need to take a range of considerations into account in reaching their decisions."
12. The non-site-specific nature of the DTI support is confirmed in the letter dated 8 May 2001 from the Government Office for the East of England to your Council, which states in the context of the DTI letter:
"..... the Government view will be on the importance of the project not on the case for it being located on a specific site (my emphasis)
The scientific research
13. The planning application includes information entitled "details of the proposed science". It must be said that there are serious doubts as to the validity and usefulness of the research procedures proposed within the primate facility. It may be argued that such matters are not proper planning considerations. However, in this case the issue is relevant for two reasons. Firstly, the alleged importance of the research is put forward by the University as a factor which should be taken into account by the Council when assessing whether "very special circumstances" exist in the context of Green Belt policy. Accordingly, it is legitimate for the Council and third parties to inquire into the scientific validity of the work carried out rather than simply accept the University's case at face value. Secondly, primate research of the type proposed raises questions of health and safety and it is accepted as a matter of law that public and environmental health issues are material planning considerations (see paragraphs 18 and 19 below).
14. The basic premise of the proposed research is that the behaviour and malfunction of brain systems is the same in human and non-human primates, so that results in primates can be extrapolated to the benefit of human patients. This assumption is incorrect. Recent experiments aimed at studying brain function in primates at UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, demonstrate that the only way to ascertain which brain regions are involved in specific human thought processes and abilities is to study the human brain. Results from the brains of any other species are simply misleading and can result in ineffective or dangerous therapies for humans. A more detailed critique of the proposed science is set out at appendix 2 to this letter.
Lack of other sites
15. The University claims that the proposed development could not be located elsewhere. However, the University's arguments are flawed and unconvincing. There is no essential need for the primate research facility to be carried out on rural Green Belt land. The proposed research is not functionally related to or dependant on the countryside. The proposal is not, for example, a horticultural research centre which might legitimately need to be located in a rural area, nor is it a development exploiting a natural resource which might be found in the Green Belt, such as mineral extraction. The proposed, and indeed the existing, research establishment could just as easily be carried out within the built-up area.
16. The University's case in relation to location does not argue that the Girton site (as distinct from another site) is particularly suited to the development for some geographical reason but that other possible sites have been allocated to other uses and that it would be inconvenient to change the University's estate plan. It is clear that plenty of land is available (there is permission for nearly 278,000 square metres (2.5 million square feet) on the West Cambridge site alone) and that the real issue is whether the University is prepared to amend its long-term plans to meet the constraints of the planning system. I would suggest that it is for the University to adjust its requirements to the provisions of the Local Plan and not for Green Belt policy to be relaxed for the benefit of primate research of questionable value.
17. For the reasons explained at paragraphs 10 to 16 above I submit that the arguments put forward by the University are extremely weak and could not be regarded as "very special circumstances" in the context of the testing and rigorous approach required by PPG2.
18. It is not in dispute that the proposed research would involve experimentation on primates. Although the application documents contain some information on the nature of the research, no details are provided. There is clearly a need to have detailed information about the nature of the research and the procedures to be used in order to establish whether the activities would give rise to hazardous substances or waste. Public health and safety is a material planning consideration. Information is therefore required in relation to the nature of the animal experiments, the use of potentially hazardous organisms and chemicals, and the disposal of contaminated blood, faecal matter, body tissues and other waste materials. Primates often carry the deadly (to humans) Simian Herpes B virus and other pathogens. The serious threat posed by Simian Herpes B has only recently been acknowledged and it is now given the same hazard rating and the Ebola virus. I consider that this application should not be determined in the absence of this crucial information.
19. The public safety issue together with the scale of the development raises the question of whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be provided in this case. You will be aware of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999, and the related DETR Circular 2/99. The Circular states (see paragraph 33) that an EIA will be needed "for developments with unusually complex and potential hazardous environmental effects". Paragraph 41 explains: "consideration should be given to development which could have complex, long-term or irreversible impacts, and where expert and detailed analysis of those impacts would be desirable". The same paragraph further advises that an EIA may be necessary "where the development might lead to more hazardous contaminants escaping from the site than would otherwise be the case if the development did not take place". In terms of the size of the development, the EIA Regulations advise that development projects providing a total of more than 10,000 square metres of new commercial floorspace or which would "have significant urbanising effects in a previously non-urbanised area" may be suitable for an EIA. In this case the project is within a non- urbanised part of the District which is in the designated Green Belt.
20. For the above reasons I consider that it is in the public interest for an EIA to be provided to assist the Council to determine the impact of the development and I should be grateful if you would explain why the University has not been requested to provide such an assessment.
Impact of protests and demonstrations
21. The final issue I wish to raise is the possible, indeed probable, disturbance to local amenity and to road safety arising from public opposition to the development. It might be said that this is not a material planning consideration. I would argue otherwise. It is clear from experience of similar animal research establishments (for example, Huntingdon Life Sciences at Occold, some 50 miles to the east of Cambridge) that it is probable that the site will become the focus of demonstrations and protests. I have examined the many letters of objection to this application and a major concern of local residents is the disturbance and inconvenience likely to be caused by protests outside the site should the development be carried out. Such demonstrations would have consequences that are relevant to planning interests, for example interference with the normal enjoyment of neighbouring property (such as Girton College on the opposite side of Huntingdon Road) and disruption to the free-flow of traffic along the A14. Having regard to the general principles established by the Courts in such cases (eg Newport Metropolitan Borough Council v Secretary of State for Wales (1998) and West Midlands Probation Committee v Secretary of State for the Environment (1998)), I submit that the public concern expressed on this issue is justified by the evidence from similar developments and amounts to a material planning consideration which ought properly to be taken into account when determining this application.
Summary and conclusions
22. In summary I believe that the proposed primate research development would be unacceptable for at least eight reasons:
- fundamental conflict with national and local Green Belt policy;
- detrimental impact on the rural character of the area;
- lack of any convincing evidence that other sites in the built-up area could not be used;
- potential hazards to public health;
- lack of proper analysis of the project through an Environmental Impact Assessment;
- absence of any credible or convincing special circumstances and, in particular, the lack of DTI support for the development of this particular site;
- disturbance to amenity and traffic safety as a consequence of continued protests at the site; and
- the results of arguably invalid and unproductive scientific experiments on primates are less important than the long-term integrity of the Cambridge Green Belt.
23. These objections are powerful, clear cut and convincing. The objections to the previous application have not been overcome. I therefore urge the Council to refuse planning permission. I note that the application has been advertised as a departure from the development plan. Consequently I am sending a copy of this letter to the Government Office for the Eastern Region requesting that, should the Council resolve to grant permission, the application is called in for determination by the Secretary of State. I should be pleased if the contents of this letter could be reported to the Planning Committee when the application is considered. Please acknowledge receipt of this letter.
ANTHONY R J KEEN