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), currently under construction by Glencar.

VMIC, a not for profit organisation based at Harwell Campus, will 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.

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.

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.

Councillor Neil Fawcett, Cabinet Member for Strategic Partnerships and Place at Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Everyone involved in the planning process, including a significant number of consultees, have recognised the national importance of this project and have prioritised their time to ensuring any issues were identified and resolved quickly. 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.”

Dr Matthew Duchars, Chief Executive Officer of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre, said: “We are extremely grateful to all the teams involved in working together to secure planning permission by moving at such a phenomenal speed. 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.”

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.”

Eddie McGillycuddy, Managing Director of Glencar Construction, said: “Glencar is delighted to play a central role in the realisation of this landmark project. 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.

“Together, we will bring this facility to operational status in record time.”

Steven Sensecall, Partner, Planning & Development, Carter Jonas, said: “That planning approval was achieved so rapidly, whilst development of the centre had already begun on site, demonstrates the sheer determination and hard work of the unique community of people involved in this ground-breaking project.

“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.”

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.