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Minister backs new animal testing lab

Science minister Lord Sainsbury has given his backing to a plan to build a medical research centre which will use animals for testing.

Speaking on the eve of a planning enquiry into the project, Lord Sainsbury said the centre was "of national importance".

Cambridge University wants to build the laboratory for scientists carrying out research into Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease which will involve tests on monkeys.

The project at Girton near the city of Cambridge has come in for fierce criticism from animal rights campaigners who say that the facility is unnecessary.

But, speaking on BBC2's Newsnight, Lord Sainsbury said the centre would be a base for "major research".

"I was asked by the local planning authority what my view was and whether it was a project of national importance," said Lord Sainsbury.

"Clearly it is a project of national importance. It is doing major research in a key area of science."

The university's application has twice been turned down by South Cambridgeshire District Council as police expressed concerns about public safety at the site. The university says the centre is "vitally important for medical research".

Lord Sainsbury said scientists would have to gain three separate licences in order to carry out experiments on animals even if the centre was given planning permission.

He said the system for regulating vivisection in Britain was one of the toughest in the world and that public opinion was supportive of vivisection providing it was carried out for medical research and caused minimal suffering to animals.