Vale of White Horse District Council has granted planning permission for the highly specialist facility that will house the UK’s Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) – established to provide the country’s first bespoke strategic vaccine development and manufacturing capability. In an unusual move, the district council allowed construction of the facility to begin whilst simultaneously processing the planning application because of the critical nature of the facility and the role it will play in manufacturing vaccines for COVID-19 and beyond.
Councillor Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council commented “I’m delighted we have been able to grant planning permission for the new Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. I’m very proud that we will have a building of such national and international importance in the Vale.” Councillor Neil Fawcett, Cabinet Member for Strategic Partnerships and Place at Vale of White Horse District Council added “This proactive partnership-based approach has enabled us to progress the application to approval under delegated powers as quickly as possible while building work is taking place.”
Under normal circumstances, planning approval and construction for a new development of this scale would take years, with construction beginning only when planning permission had been granted. Due to COVID-19, and VMIC’s national and international significance, Vale of White Horse District Council took a different approach and fast-tracked the application process, meaning that much of the planning work taking place behind the scenes was carried out simultaneously to construction work.
“We are extremely grateful to all the teams involved in working together to secure planning permission by moving at such a phenomenal speed.” said Dr Matthew Duchars, Chief Executive Officer of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre. “This decision by the Council gained us three critical months in our race to build a pandemic capable vaccine manufacturing facility, during which time we were able to go from a grass covered site to completion of the superstructure.”
Collaboration was key to securing the fast-tracked planning permission. Council officers significantly increased the number of meetings they would typically hold for this size of project with all the major stakeholders including VMIC, Harwell Campus Management (project managers), Carter Jonas (the planning consultant), Glencar Construction (main construction company) and the agency funding VMIC, UK Research and Innovation. Greater contact with statutory consultees, the local parish council and the ward councillor ensured consultation processes were adhered to and queries were responded to swiftly.
Talking about the significance of the project and thanking the whole team involved, Cliff Dare, Chief Operating Officer and Head of Real Estate of Harwell Campus and Development Manager for the VMIC build said “Working on the Government’s main effort at the forefront of our Nation’s fight against COVID-19 was always going to be an exceptionally challenging project. Delivering the building almost a year early demanded a united approach. The district council team has enabled construction to move quicker than we ever expected but this would also not have been possible without the positive relationships established between the talented and dedicated people working across every part of this vital project.”
Two companies crucial to the planning permission process where Glencar and Carter Jonas. Eddie McGillycuddy, Managing Director of Glencar Construction said “From the outstanding approach of the Vale of White Horse and Harwell Campus to the contractors and suppliers on site, it has been a leading example of the Construction industries capabilities.” Steven Sensecall, Partner, Planning & Development at Carter Jonas added “The circumstances under which we have been operating have been truly exceptional. However, working closely with the Vale of the White Horse District Council, the Harwell team, principal stakeholders and contractors, we have all embraced new technologies, strategies and process to accomplish a clear and thorough consultation process and reach a successful outcome. We are extremely proud to have played a role in supporting its delivery.”
Concluding, Angus Horner, Harwell’s Campus Director stated “This project has been a tour de force by hundreds of people working together strenuously and collaboratively, for the greater good. Harwell has enjoyed a positive relationship with Local Planners in the Vale of White Horse for many years. This project demonstrates that when we in the UK set our minds to it we can all work at a rapid pace, to successfully surmount challenges and deliver for broader society.”
An additional government grant of £93million was awarded to VMIC in May 2020 with the purpose of expanding the facility’s capabilities and fast tracking the build of the 7,400 m2 (footprint) state-of-the-art facility and bringing forward operational readiness to 2021, a year head of the original scheduled date. Alongside this, VMIC has invested in more technology to increase its manufacturing capacity 20-fold, to be capable of producing 70million pandemic vaccine doses in 4-6 months.
VMIC will occupy a prominent location on the 700-acre Harwell Campus, home to 6,000 people across ~225 organisations [with 30 universities represented onsite]. As a pillar organisation within the Harwell HealthTec Cluster (58 organisations, collectively employing 1,250 people), VMIC will be co-located with the UK’s open access National Laboratories, including the Diamond Light Source and The Rosalind Franklin Institute as well as innovative start-ups/ SMEs through to multinationals working in the global and UK Life Sciences sector.