Suppressing scandal – The Mayor of London’s State of London Debate 12 June 2013

Methodist Central Hall

Event broadcast by LBC

Speaker Mayor of London Boris Johnson

Presenter Nick Ferrari  of LBC

There was a substantial audience of, according to LBC , 2,000.

Boris Johnson gave a short inconsequential speech in his routine  Old Buffoonian style.  There was then over an hour of questions to him.

The questions were  pretty lame overall,   being dominated by  such things as demands for cyclists to be licensed and parochial issues which had no general issues.   Even where the questions were important, for example,  on the most pressing matter of London’s housing or the reduction in fire stations, the questioners were all  too easily shrugged off with routine political waffle.  As an event to bring home to the Mayor and GLA what Londoners thought  were the most pressing matters  or  for the audience to gain any new information or extract a promise that this or that would be done it was a failure.  It was essentially a PR exercise.

The way the questions were selected was  deceptive. There was no announcement about how it was to be done before the meeting began, but  the LBC employees took questions from  people in advance of the meeting  did not cover the audience systematically. Ferrari said that questions would be taken from the floor which had not been submitted in advance, but there was precious little evidence of this as time and again the LBC staff were called upon to select a questioner from those who had submitted questions.

The audience were  at least 85% white.   Despite this at least fifty percent of those called to put a  question were black or Asian.    This is unlikely to have been pure chance because the questions were filtered through the LBC employees and the questions  chosen  were selected by the programme’s  producer.

I submitted a question before the event began but I was not called to put it Unlike every question which was asked, mine  was not a question which could be shrugged off. This was because it concerned Johnson’s behaviour as mayor in confirming  planning permission for the Francis Crick Institute being built behind the British Library  (

Johnson confirmed the planning permission despite the fact that I had submitted irrefutable proof to him that (1) Camden Council had not followed their own criteria for granting planning permission and (2) Gordon Brown when Prime Minister had illegally interfered with the bidding process .  The details are below.

Johnson not only failed to stop the building of the Institute (which will be dealing with highly dangerous toxins) but refused to enter into any correspondence on the matter.

I also submitted the question to LBC for use on their phone-in  programme the day after the event.  I was unable to get on air.

Notification of planning irregularities to Boris Johnson | January 14, 2011

Boris Johnson esq

Mayor of London

City Hall

14 January 2010

Dear Mr Johnson,

The United Kingdom Centre for Medical Research and Innovation  (UKCMRI)

You have sanctioned the building of a very large research facility on land behind the British Library (the Brill Place site). You have made this decision in ignorance of the irregularities which have taken place in the handling of both the sale of the site by the DCMS  and the handling of  the  application for planning permission by Camden Council.

The sale of the land

It is clear from documents I have received from the  Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the DCMS and Camden Council through FOIA requests that Gordon Brown when Prime Minister in interfered illicitly with the public bidding process. The decision on the sale of the land was meant to be entirely in the hands of the DCMS and decided on the criterion of “value for money”.   The documents I have received under the FOIA make clear that Brown not only made it clear that he wanted the site sold to UKCMRI,  but took steps to insure it happened. He was doing this before the official bidding process was closed.  That rendered the bidding process a sham. On the face of things, a fraud would appear to have been perpetrated against the failed bidders  and the British public.

Camden’s handling of the application for planning permission.

I submitted a most comprehensive objection to the application. This,  contained amongst other things,  the details of Brown’s interference with the sale of the land and the level of biohazard  likely to be used on the proposed site.  The report prepared by the Camden planning officers for the planning committee  excluded any mention whatsoever of Brown’s interference with the sale of the site and omitted mention of the probable level of biohazard which would be introduced to the research centre if it is built.

UKCMRI claim that there will be no biohazard level 4 toxins on new site. However, the leading member of the  consortium, the Medical Research Council,  currently has a level 4 licence on its Mill Hill site. UKCMRI have confirmed that the site is to be sold once the new centre is built and the MRC work moved to the Brill Place site. It is not unreasonable to suppose that level  4 work will be undertaken at  the new research centre.  The Council report failed to mention this information despite it being included in my objection to the planning application.  Moreover, UKCMRI have introduced the concept of biohazard level 3+ which they say will cover some of their work. This appears to have no official standing and the suspicion must be that it is level 4 in disguise.

The failure to include these centrally important matters in the planning officer’s advice to the planning committee members is a serious irregularity and  should nullify the planning permission.

Supporting documentation

To allow you to verify what I am saying I enclose my notification of the irregularities in Camden’s handling of the planning application. These include the documents which demonstrate  Gordon Brown’s interference with the sale of the site.

In view of these various serious  irregularities,  I ask you to remove your sanctioning of the Camden planning permission.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


17 December 2010

Mr Nasim Ali


Camden Council

CC all other Camden Councillors

Neil MacDonald (Planning Officer)

Aiden Brooks (Lawyer)

Dear Mr Ali,

Development Control Committee 16 12 2010 Town Hall 7.00 pm

Subject: The granting of planning permission to ULCMRI for a research centre on land behind the British Library. (The discussion of the planning application a ran approximately between 7.15-9.45 pm) (Application Ref: 2010/4721/P, Associated Ref: 2009/2565/NEW)

In my objection to the planning application I included the fact that Gordon Brown when Prime Minister had illicitly interfered with the bidding process for the land on which the research centre is to be built. This was not some fancy on my part,  but irrefutable fact based on civil service documents which I obtained using the Freedom of Information Act. These were included with my objection to the planning application.  A copy of the relevant section of my objection together with the necessary supporting documents is at the bottom of this email.

Despite this irrefutable proof of the contamination of the bidding process – Brown was interfering even before the formal bidding process was over – no mention is made of Brown’s interference in the Camden Officer’s report – see section 4.41 “Objections”. Nor was any mention of Brown’s interference made by the case planning officer Neil MacDonald in his summary of the case last night or by any other speaker,  whether council officer, councillor or deputation member.

The failure to bring this very important objection to the planning application invalidates the granting of the permission. Apart from nullifying the sale of the land to UKCMRI, the other bidders,  who made their bids in good faith,  would have the opportunity to seek compensation from the government and also from Camden if the building goes ahead. Camden could be liable because they have both been advised of the difficulty and have excluded that advice from the formal submission on which the Development Control Committee.

This brings me to why my objection on the grounds of Gordon Brown’s interference was omitted from the officer’s report. There are only two rational explanations. First, that the objections of private individuals were never read and the Camden officers responsible simply guessed at what the objections would be. Second, that the omission was a deliberate political act of censorship. Please write to me and tell me (1) which of these two explanations is the true one, (2) what action you will be taking against the culprits and (3) what you intend to do about the illegitimately granted planning permission.

There is a second area of concern. Section 4.46 cites UKCMRI as never going beyond level 3+ viruses.  This very dubious. Let me cite a section from my objection to the planning application:

“There is good reason to believe that toxins officially classified as more dangerous than influenza will be used. The MRC site in Mill Hill – the site Brill Place is meant to replace –  has 11 laboratories licenced for level 3 biohazards and one licensed for level 4 biohazards (see document 3).  The license for level 3 work allows the following to be used for research:

Biohazard Level 3: Bacteria and viruses that can cause severe to fatal disease in humans, but for which vaccines or other treatments exist, such as anthrax, West Nile virus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS virus, variola virus (smallpox), tuberculosis, typhus, Rift Valley fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Among parasites Plasmodium falciparum, which causes Malaria, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes trypanosomiasis, also come under this level.

The consortium is applying for level 3 licenses for the proposed medical centre. Once they have these they can work on any of the viruses and bacteria listed above regardless of what is promised now.

Presumably whatever work the MRC has been conducting under the level 4 licence will continue. If it comes to the new centre work on these toxins would be covered:

Biohazard Level 4: Viruses and bacteria that cause severe to fatal disease in humans, and for which vaccines or other treatments are not available, such as Bolivian and Argentine hemorrhagic fevers, H5N1(bird flu), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantaviruses, Lassa fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and other hemorrhagic diseases. When dealing with biological hazards at this level the use of a Hazmat suit and a self-contained oxygen supply is mandatory. The entrance and exit of a Level Four biolab will contain multiple showers, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room, autonomous detection system, and other safety precautions designed to destroy all traces of the biohazard. Multiple airlocks are employed and are electronically secured to prevent both doors opening at the same time. All air and water service going to and coming from a Biosafety Level 4 (P4) lab will undergo similar decontamination procedures to eliminate the possibility of an accidental release.

If the level 4 work is not to come to the proposed research centre the consortium’s claim that their work has to be done at the Brill Place site is discredited. If it does come to the site then risk is raised considerably. As to whether it  will come to the site, answers given by John Davidson at a meeting held 11 10 2010 in the Ossulton TRA Hall  provide a strong pointer. Questioned by myself, he stated that the Mill Hill facility would definitely be closed if and when the centre was built and he could not rule out all the Mill Hill work being moved to the Brill Place site including the level 4 risk work.

The DCMS were certainly led to believe that the centre would deal with viruses other than influenza, viz.:

“4. MRC anticipates that some £205 m of additional investment will be secured from consortium partners for the development of the UK Centre

for Medical Research and Innovation. This is investment which would otherwise be Lost to the public purse. This additional investment in the work of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) will support the delivery of high quality research on:

“ The origins of the AIDS epidemic, detecting tuberculosis (TB) infection, variations in the structure of the bird flu virus H5N1 all of which could Lead to more effective breakthroughs in drug development. Scientists at NIMR have also:- (With the University of Hong Kong) isolated the gene responsible for sensory development in the inner ear, which may lead to significant advances in the development of treatments for the deaf and those with severely impaired hearing; and determined the structure of the enzyme that regulates cellular energy levels which could lead to new drugs for type II diabetes, an illness that affects more than two million people in the UK. Taken together, these important results emerging from the UKCMRI could substantially improve the quality of life and allow those who benefit from the findings to continue to make their important contribution to the economy.”

It would appear that there is a very real possibility of level 4 viruses being researched at the new site. Yet both the Camden officer’s submission and verbal replies from UKCRMI representatives during the hearing of the application were dogmatic that level 4 was never going to be a possibility. Clearly it is if all the MRC work is transferred to the new  site.  Please write to me and explain why my advice of the true situation has been ignored by Camden officers.

I would appreciate a rapid answer to all my questions as this very obviously is a matter which needs to be cleared up as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Henderson


Relevant extract from my objection to the planning application

Gordon Brown’s interference with the bidding process

Document 25


To James Purnell Margaret Hodge, Jonathan Stephens,Ros Brayfield

From Nicholas Holgate

Date 18 September 2007 ____________


Issue: mainly for information but also to ask how you would wish to be involved in this transaction.

The Department owns 3.6 acres to the north of the British Library. With the completion of the new train terminal, we are able to sell it and have been conducting a competitive process so that Ministers can choose what represents best value, comprising not just the proceeds from sale but also the use to which the bidder intends to put the land.

2. We are bound to be concerned about proceeds:

a. There is an obvious obligation, on Jonathan as the department’s Accounting Officer, to secure the best return we can for the taxpayer;

b. the Government is close to breaching its fiscal rules and has set itself a demanding target for asset disposals. Your predecessor strongly rebutted the Treasury’s proposal that we should sell assets worth £150m by 2010-11 and it has not formally been debated since your arrival; but we are likely to have to raise some funds from disposals. In any case:

c. proceeds from this sale are earmarked to contribute towards the budget of the Olympic Delivery Authority for 2007-08.

3. Subject to Treasury agreement, we can nevertheless also take public value” into account. We are aware of two such bids one led by the Medical Research Council, with support from the Wellcome Foundation and others for a research facility; and one that wishes to remain confidential but which is essentially related to faith and education.

4. The facts are:

a. We have now received 28 bids in response to a prospectus. Amongst other things, the prospectus drew attention to the local planning policy guidance, which steers bidders towards a scheme that is roughly 50:50 commercial and residential development with 50% affordable housing. It is Camden Borough Council and the Mayor who will have the last word on what is in fact built on the site;

b. Our professional advisers have scored the bids on various criteria and are interviewing the top seven plus two others (the medical research bid is one of the two others) next week;

c. There is a significant financial gap between the top bids and the medical research bid.

5. Jonathan and I are meeting Jeremy Heywood (who is aware of both public value bids), Ian Watmore (Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills) and John Kingman (Treasury) tomorrow. We need to agree an orderly and appropriate process for selling the land, given the public value bidders, other Departments’ interest and the likelihood that the Prime Minister might wish to take an interest too.

6. We will report back to you then. Subject to your views and others’, one potential way forward is a. DIUS economists be invited to assess the public value of the medical research bid. We will need some such calculation if we sell at a discount. DCMS should not do this as we should display some neutrality between bidders . We decide whether we expect the medical research bid to match the best bid, improve their offer but not necessarily to match, or take a lower value on the chin. Given their backers, they can afford to match. But they may refuse to play; and/or we may not wish to be seen to be reducing their funding for good causes just to maximise proceeds;

c. We see whether there is a Government champion for the other bidder;


d. We then fairly characterise the two public value bidders and the best commercial bid (or bids, if they differ significantly in what they propose) to Ministers and No 10 for a decision.

Nicholas Holgate

Chief Operating Officer


Document 26

Sent: 27 November 2007 13:09


Cc: _[40]_____________

Subject: RESTRICTED – Land to the North

Hi Nicholas,

Jonathan spoke to Jeremy Heywood this morning. Jeremy said he needed the bid to be agreed by next Wednesday – 5 Dec (or Thursday latest) as PM wanted to get MRC in then (or possible public announcement.

Jonathan explained that there are two issues from our point of view: .No revised formal offer has been received by DCMS. HMT are not being helpful of recycling returns – without an improved offer from HMT JS said it would he v hard to justify.

JR said he thought the offer was sent to us yesterday – have checked but nothing in JSs post or email – JH will chase. JH also said he would go back to HMT to see what more they can do, but that ultimately PM may have to arbitrate.


Private Secretary  to Jonathan Stephens

Department for (Culture, Media and Sport 2-4 Cockpur Street, London

SWlY 5Dl1 email: [40] tel: 0207211 fax: 020 72116259


Document 27

From: [40]

Sent: 29 November 2007 11:49




Subject: RE: British Library land


Thanks for this. The SoS has seen your note and is content. Grateful if you could keep us updated on whether the PM will be announcing this next week as part of his science speech.

Many thanks,


Private Secretary to the Rt Hon James Purnell MP

Department of Culture, Media and Sport

2-4Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH

Tel@ 0207 7211 [40]


Document 28

Treasury document

From – name censored

Sent: 04 December 2007 19:49

To: name(s) censored.

CC: name(s) censored)

Thanks for everyone’s help and support in making the announcement tomorrow happen. The PM is truly delighted that departments have been able to work together to secure this huge opportunity for Britain



Document 29

To James Purnell

From Nicholas Holgate


4 December 2007

cc Margaret Hodge

Gerry Sutcliffe

Jonathan Stephens

Mark Ferrero



Issues: the sale of this 3.6 acre site; and the recycling of the proceeds to benefit DCMS causes.

Timing: urgent, albeit for information.

As you know, we have been marketing this site. The highest commercial bid was £105 mn. But a consortium of the Medical Research Council (MRC), Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London have also entered a bid to re-site the Mill Hill research laboratory on this land and thus establish a world class interdisciplinary facility in central London.

2. Their final offer was £85 m. We have accepted the assessment of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills that the public value’ in addition to the sum offered, in terms of increasing the pace of medical research and its practical application, is well worth a discount on a fully commercial sale price of £20 m.

3. The Prime Minister has taken an interest in this proposal; and is expected to announce the deal tomorrow at a breakfast seminar (8-8.45 am).

4. I attach the final press release and some questions and answers.

5. We will be able to re-cycle some of the proceeds: notably, we can meet the tax bill for the proposed acquisition of a major collection; and he deemed to have met almost all of our disposals target for the next three financial years, thus underpinning your proposed capital allocations to the NDPBs.

Nicholas Holgate

Chief Operating Officer


Document 30



Disclosable extracts:

We are close to being ready to announce Government support for the creation of a world-leading medical research facility in London.

The key component being finalised is the sale of land, which will allow the BLISS partner organisations (the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London) to develop their detailed proposals for the creation of the centre.

We anticipate that the deal will be finalised over the next few days and we should be able to announce the outcome of the process In the next few weeks. On current plans, we would expect the sale to complete during December and preparations for development to begin straight away. The expectation is that the Institute would be up and running by 2012.

This is an important opportunity to demonstrate what the UK’s commitment to medical research really means in practice. And it fits very well with the focus of your intended health speech.

What would you be announcing?

• We would be committing Government support to the creation of a new centre for UK biomedical research, with 1,500+ scientists, at a level commensurate with the very best institutions in the world.

• The BLISS consortium brings together four of the leading medical research institutions in the UK – the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London.

• The Centre responds to the vision, outlined in Sir David Cooksey’s review of UK health research presented to Treasury in 2006, of better integration and translation of research into patient and public benefit. The Centre will benefit from economies of scale, enhanced infrastructure, the critical mass to optimise collaboration, and the capacity to take scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the hospital bed.

• These four key partners, together with the expectation that other organisations would come forward to invest In the centre or to lease research space, bring a powerful combination of skills and capabilities — basic research, applied research, the capabilities to convert research and innovation for public and commercial use, and the skills and opportunities presented by access to a leading university and teaching hospital. The potential, In terms of understanding disease, and developing new drugs, treatments and cures, is huge.

How to announce?

The suggestion is that you announce this a few days before your health speech, planned for 6th December. We would suggest a visit to a high-tech medical site in the morning to get pictures, followed by a meeting at No lO with all relevant stakeholders (primarily the four partner organisations) at which you make the formal announcement and ‘launch’ the project. Let us know your thoughts on whether this is the right way to proceed with the BLISS announcement?


The vision for the BLISS Centre has six themes:

Research innovation and excellence • Bring together outstanding scientists from two world-class research institutes (MRC NIMR and the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute), collaborating with UCL, to address fundamental questions of human health and disease. • Through Wellcome Trust funding, development of tools for integrative biology, with an emphasis on the development of advanced microscopy imaging and on the mathematicaland computational needs in this field.

• Increase scientific innovation through new links with the physical sciences, life sciences, mathematics, engineering and the social Sciences at UCLI

• Develop close links between the Centre and the outstanding hospitals nearby (Including the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases at Queens Square, Great Ormond Street, Moorfields and University College Hospital) and other major hospitals in London (including Hammersmith Hospital and the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Hammersmith, and the Maudsley Hospital and the Institute of Psychiatry)1 State-of-the-art research facilities

• Develop a multidisciplinary research complex operating in state-of-the-art facilities, with the size and diversity to be internationally competitive with the world’s top research institutes.

• Establish a new centre for development of advanced imaging technologies and analysis. A national focus for biomedical science

• Interact with other local centres of excellence to foster and facilitate collaboration between basic, translational and Clinical scientists1  Host national and international research meetings and conferences, facilitated by its proximity to national and International transport links and the conference facilities of the British Library. An effective interface with technology transfer and development

• Facilitate the effective development of therapeutic and diagnostic devices and drugs, by allowing the technology transfer arms of MRC and Cancer Research UK to work closely together.

• Drive innovation in developing tests and technologies through interaction between researchers and development laboratories.

Finding and developing the scientists of the future • Provide an attractive environment to secure and retain world-class scientists by providing an outstanding setting for research and collaboration. • Boost the recruitment and training of scientists and doctors of the future by providing an excellent environment for postgraduate and postdoctoral training, and for training outstanding clinical scientists committed to medical research.

Engaging with the public

• Educate the public on important issues in health and disease.

• Bring together and enhance partners’ public information and education programmes, with a particular focus on engaging younger people.


Document 31




You are meeting Paul Nurse who is likely to lead the BLISS institute, along, with Mark Walport, Director of The Wellcome Trust, and Harpal Kumar, Head of Cancer Research, two partners in BLISS

We are close to being ready to announce Government support for plans to create a world-leading medical research facility in London, led by the BLISS consortium made up of the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College London.

We have now effectively finalised negotiations on the sale of the 35 acre site, adjacent to the British Library: a price has been agreed with DCMS, and the deal is complete subject to agreement on how much of the proceeds DCMS will retain. We are therefore ready for an announcement next week on the sale of the land – but will not be announcing full details of the project overall, as there remain various Issues to resolve, including reaching agreement on business plans and gaining planning permission. We would therefore announce the Government’s support for the vision of the new centre – rather than definitive support for the centre itself. The Project BLISS consortium brings together four leading medical research institutions in the UK and will create a new centre for UK biomedical  research, with 1,500+ scientists, at a level commensurate with the very best Institutions in the world.

The Centre responds to the vision, outlined in Sir David Cooksey’s review of UK health research presented to Treasury in 2006, of better integration and translation of research into patient and public benefit.

The Centre will benefit from economies of scale, enhanced infrastructure, the critical mass to optimise collaboration, and the capacity to take scientific discoveries from the lab bench to the hospital bed. The Centre will create a place for:

• collaboration, between leading scientists and clinicians, working on some of the most pressing medical problems of our time;

• excellence, maintaining the quality of the UK’s life sciences research base;

• application, making links between research, medical practice and the pharmaceutical industry;

• innovation, translating research innovation into new treatments;

• learning, bringing forward a new generation of scientific leaders;

•discovery, showcasing the challenges and potential of life sciences to a new audience.

• Using the close proximity to the British Library, the Centre will develop a public engagement and education programme.

Sir Paul Nurse

Sir Paul Nurse is President of Rockerfeller University, formerly Joint Director General of Cancer Research UK and winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Medicine. His appointment has not yet been publicly announced,but he is set to lead the project as chair the Scientific Planning Committee.

Briefing note from Bliss

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