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Report of the Council on the construction of a new building for the Computer Laboratory at West Cambridge

The COUNCIL beg leave to report to the University as follows:

1. The Computer Laboratory is currently accommodated in various parts of several buildings on the New Museums Site. It is now proposed that a new building should be erected on University land on the West Cambridge Site, so as to allow the teaching and research activities of the Computer Laboratory to be relocated; the University Computing Service would remain in its present location. A substantial part of the funding required is in the form of a benefaction of £12m which the William H. Gates III Foundation has undertaken to give to the Cambridge University Development Office in the United States (CUDOUS), subject to certain conditions referred to below. The Board of CUDOUS in their turn have undertaken to make an equivalent grant to the University for the benefit of the Computer Laboratory.

2. The Head of the Department has summarized the basic need for this relocation as follows :

(a) The present accommodation of the Computer Laboratory is spread across several buildings, connected by inconvenient means. Disabled access is difficult.
(b) At least half the staff of the Laboratory are housed in a ten-storey tower block, a tall and narrow building which severely inhibits communication. It is also inflexible and cannot be easily adapted to new research needs.
(c) The tower is below the standard reasonable for a leading academic Department; members of the staff find the environment in which they work depressing.
(d) The limited space available does not allow the Department to expand into new areas of teaching or research, and thus prevents it from keeping abreast of a fast expanding subject. Indeed, research opportunities have had to be turned down or postponed for such reasons.
(e) The current lack of space means that the Department can house hardly any visiting researchers. This deprives its members of a normal and fruitful means of academic interchange.

3. The proposals are for a building of the order of 10,000 sq.m. gross floor area, which will provide much enhanced opportunities for collaborative research. About 8,000 sq.m. will initially be occupied by the Computer Laboratory and about 2,000 sq.m. by Microsoft Research Ltd (MRL), which has chosen Cambridge as the site for its European research laboratory for fundamental research in computer science. MRL will be granted a lease at a market rental, for up to ten years. MRL has also been granted an option, subject to planning permission, to purchase a longer lease on a plot of land next to the Computer Laboratory's proposed building, on which to construct a new building of up to 5,000 sq.m. for commercial research purposes. When that building is completed, MRL will vacate its leased space in the Computer Laboratory's building. This arrangement is in line with the University's strategic intention that the West Cambridge Site should accommodate both science and technology Departments and industrial research laboratories in cognate fields.

4. The Computer Laboratory and MRL will run collaborative research projects on specific topics. These projects will be initiated by individual researchers, and separate collaboration agreements will be set up for each project. Both the Computer Laboratory and MRL will continue to collaborate independently with other companies and with other Departments.

5. The new building will be the University's first realization of long-term plans for the development of the West Cambridge Site. The outline planning application for the Site as a whole is currently with Cambridge City Council for determination of outline planning consent. The programme for the new building envisages submission of a detailed planning application early in 1999, so as to allow commencement of work by November 1999 and completion by May 2001. Following discussion with the City planning officers, it has been confirmed that the detailed planning application for this building may be lodged prior to determination of the University's outline planning application for the West Cambridge Site as a whole.

6. The estimated costs of the proposed building are currently of the order of £20m, together with the costs of infrastructure works in the surrounding area. Funding for the building will be provided as follows:

New Buildings Sinking Fund £3m
Borrowing against future rental from Microsoft £2m
Donation from CUDOUS £12m
Funding to be raised by the Computer Laboratory £3m

The Council have authorized funding from the Land Fund for infrastructure works serving the proposed site. The donation from the William H. Gates III Foundation to CUDOUS is conditional upon receipt of detailed planning consent and upon the raising of the balance of funding required for the project.

7. Drawings of the proposed building are displayed for the information of the University in the Schools Arcade. Drawings of the proposals, including plans and elevations, may also be viewed on the World Wide Web at http://www3.arct.cam.ac.uk/cl/proposals/scheme14/index.shtml.

8. The Council recommend :

I. That approval be given for the construction of a new building for the Computer Laboratory, as proposed in this Report.

II. That the Director of Estate Management be authorized to apply for detailed planning consent in due course.

III. That the Treasurer be authorized to accept a tender for the building and all associated works in due course, subject to full funding being available.

7 December 1998


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Cambridge University Reporter, 9 December 1998
Copyright © 1998 The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge.