Plans to expand ‘internationally significant’ science campus approved by council

An artist's impression of the genome campus at Hinxton. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

An artist's impression of the genome campus at Hinxton. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

The Wellcome Genome Campus will cement its position as a world-leading scientific research centre after plans to “significantly expand” were approved on Thursday.

An artist's impression of the genome campus at Hinxton. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

An artist's impression of the genome campus at Hinxton. Picture: CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

The campus will triple in size and add 1,500 homes and a hotel following a contentious decision by the South Cambridgeshire District Council planning committee.

The chairman of the planning committee, Cllr John Batchelor acknowledged nearby residents would have to "suffer," but he said the development, which he supported, would have "international significance".

The campus, in Hinxton, was granted outline planning permission, meaning the finer details over the design and layout are yet to be determined.

Because the decision is contrary to South Cambridgeshire District Council's local plan the decision is subject to approval by the secretary of state.

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The development will be phased and take place over several years.

The council report notes: "it has been assumed that the construction phase would extend over approximately 11 years".

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The Genome Campus' chief executive, Professor Sir Mike Stratton, said: "The expansion plans represent a momentous opportunity to ensure that the full scientific, health, societal and economic benefits of genomes and biodata are realised. We look forward to working with the council and the local communities to develop detailed proposals."

He told the committee the campus would provide "inspirational new directions for humans and the planet," and would play a "central role" in the future of the national health service.

The current campus has already made significant contributions to genomic research, including playing a role in sequencing the human genome.

A number of large developments are proposed for the surrounding area, including thousands of homes at North Uttlesford.

The Genome Campus plan includes up to 150,000 square metres of research and office space, 1,500 homes "primarily" for campus staff, a nursery, hotel and conference centre, retail and restaurants spaces other amenities.

Describing the current campus, Professor Stratton said: "The Genome Campus is now a centrepiece of UK science infrastructure, founded on more than £3billion of investment over the last 25 years, and 2,500 people. It represents the largest community of researchers focused on genome and biodata in a single location anywhere in the world."

Councillor for the surrounding villages Peter McDonald urged the committee to vote against the plan, with a number of parish councils, including Hinxton, also voicing opposition.

Cllr McDonald told the committee: "This is one of the largest applications you will ever consider, a proposed development I believe of £1.2billion".

He added: "The genome campus has been a very good neighbour but the scale and the speed of this are so far beyond what anyone expected."

Speaking after the proposals were approved, he said he was "a bit disappointed" but said he would work with the Genome Campus to mitigate the impact on nearby residents.

In a statement read to the committee, Cllr Peter Topping said the plan "drives a coach and horses through any spatial planning that the council endeavours to do for the residents of South Cambridgeshire".

The chairman of the committee advised members before voting: "this is completely outside of the local plan… in any normal circumstance, this would simply be refused under delegation by officers.

"But, this is an exceptional situation, and what we have to do is balance whether this undoubted harm that this development would cause is in any way or at all outweighed by the benefits that come from the development."

Cllr Brian Milnes said, "if we don't do it here, somebody will do it elsewhere".

Eight councillors voted to approve the plan, with only Cllr Heather Williams voting against.

Cllr Williams said she felt "between a rock and a hard place," but she said, "this is a step too far for the residents".

She raised particular doubts around the housing, questioning the need for it, and raising concerns over it being sold on the open market. But she said her "main issue is around the housing".

The council heard from the Genome Campus that it would contribute £250,000 to the village of Hinxton as part of the arrangement.

Cllr Henry Batchelor said the Genome Campus' community contribution is "very generous" and likely to be higher than the secretary of state may enforce.

Speaking after the decision, the committee chairman Cllr Batchelor said: "Unfortunately this was a very tough decision, and in normal circumstances we wouldn't have entertained it at all because it's against a whole raft of policies, but it's the Wellcome Trust and the Genome Project, and it has huge international benefits, so our job was to balance the inevitable and very significant harm to our countryside and to the local villages against the benefits that Wellcome's work actually produces, and in the end we came by a majority to a conclusion that Wellcome's work needs to be supported."

He said the Genome Campus' work has "international significance" and will "benefit everybody," adding "sadly in order for them to deliver that then local people have had to suffer essentially".

"There is mitigation," he said, "but putting this huge new project in the open countryside next door to a little village of 150 houses, clearly it's damaging, clearly it's not something that we would not normally want. But the larger picture has to be taken into account."

Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: "Having 1,500 homes in the same place as new jobs are forward-thinking and a creative way of tackling some of the issues of congestion as it means many people will be able to walk or cycle to work and may even choose not to own a car. "This is by far the biggest joint housing and employment scheme in this area and will contribute to our ambition to be green to our core as we strive for a zero-carbon South Cambridgeshire by 2050. It's also excellent news that we've worked with the Wellcome Trust to increase the amount of affordable housing for staff from 10 per cent to 30 per cent."

The chairman of Hinxton Parish Council, Councillor Graham Fagg, said it would "increase traffic substantially".

On plans for a new roundabout on the A1301 to mitigate the impact, he said: "to suggest that traffic issues can be fixed by minor tweaks at the McDonalds roundabout is absurd".

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