This will be the biggest lab in Europe

An academic at London University, who wishes to remain anonymous, argues that the noises made by Imperial indicate that the Wye Park will be bigger than anything in Europe

Imperial College has given no detail on its plans for Wye, merely the broadest of outlines. We have no idea what the new Research Centre might look like or how extensive the Science Park might be, but we can speculate from the little information available.

Professor Borysiewicz told Wye Village on 9 January that, to be viable, the Research Centre would have a minimum staff of 100 to 150 principal scientists and employ about 1,400 people. This is certainly large. Much larger than, for example, the Medical Research Council’s biggest laboratory – the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill – which has 60 tenured staff and a total staff of 750 on site, making Imperial’s vision twice the number of people.

What size of building might be needed to house Imperial’s estimated critical mass of 100 principal scientists and their research groups and support team that Professor Borysiewicz said were essential for success? It would need 40,000 square metres or 400,000 square feet of floor space, I am told by a well informed source, who has long been involved with planning academic research facilities. If this building was one storey high it would occupy 10 acres of land. An equivalent area to that taken up by four hyper-markets. If we assume two storeys, the five acre building would be then be about twenty times the size of the present College Library, which covers about 1,000 square metres. It is enormous!

Cambridge Science Park: Imperial is planning something bigger than this,
argues an academic at the London University

The figure of 40,000 square metres is based on the assumption that a total of 1400 staff in a research centre might have, in addition to the 100 principal scientists, say 150 administrative and secretarial staff, which would leave 1,150 posts to be filled by junior scientists, technicians, research fellows. The ratio of 100:1150 is about a typical staffing balance according to my source.

The minimum space allocation in a research unit would be 10 square metres per person. The maximum allocation would be 20 square metres (the sort of ‘gold standard’ used by the Wellcome Trust). So, based on 15 square metres per person the Research Centre would require 20,000- 30,000 square metres of useable space, and to this has to be added a further quarter to a third of that figure for circulation areas (corridors, lifts, etc). In total, therefore, for 1,400 staff, you could be looking at a building requiring 40,000 square metres. The footprint for two floors would be 20,000 square metres and three floors, 13,000 square metres. At the figure of 13,000 square metres it would still occupy a lot larger area than a hyper-market and thirteen times that of the College Library. Then there are the flues on top, which have to rise some 3 metres above the roof height. And , of course, it will need a car-park – another 7 acres at a minimum.

Apparently, £300 million would not be considered unreasonable for a building of that size, by the time all the infrastructure and equipment had been provided.

This is a monster laboratory – are there enough bio-fuels scientists out there to fill it , but perhaps this is not all that Imperial plans to put at Wye?

As to the Science Park – Councillor Alex King in said Kent on Sunday recently that the’ Imperial plan was ‘an opportunity to create a unique facility that does not exist anywhere else certainly in Europe’. Imperial then obviously envisages something bigger than the Cambridge University Science Park, which covers 150 acres.


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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3 Responses to This will be the biggest lab in Europe

  1. Brendan Pierce says:

    Justin, I was surprised to read that many people at the WFG launch were shocked at the scale of ICLS plans. Where have they been since January? If anybody doubts the impact this scheme would have I suggest they take a drive down to Sandwich and look at the Pfizer site. Then think much bigger, and in their minds eye, superimpose it upon our AONB. On a more cheerful note many thanks to yourself and David for all the hard work on this site. May I also thank all at WFG and anybody else working for the continuing civilised existence of this village.
    Brendan Pierce

  2. Chris Fermor says:

    As an Ashfordian who has been coming regularly to Wye for walking and socialising for well over a decade I have been deeply shocked to hear of the development plans afoot.

    The point I wish to make is that it is not only the people of Wye who are profoundly disturbed by these plans. Ashford is a growing town whose inhabitants’ quality of life has always been enhanced by the access we enjoy to areas of great beauty such as Wye close at hand.

    I can only add my voice of complaint, which I am sure is not unique among Ashfordians, to those of our neighbours in Wye. We do not wish to see the village of Wye robbed of its outstanding charms. The impact of development is not only felt by the villagers themselves but by thousands of people in nearby Ashford.

    Chris Fermor, a frequent visitor to Wye.

  3. Chris Fermor says:

    This is Spooky, I am Chris Fermor too. I come from Maidstone and my cousin runs Perry Court Farm near Wye. Our family has a history in farming and the countryside of Kent.

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