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Cambridge jobs boost as plans for new Whittle Laboratory approved

Whittle Laboratory Image: University of Cambridge (36806521)
Whittle Laboratory Image: University of Cambridge (36806521)

Plans to expand the University of Cambridge’s Whittle Laboratory and provide a home for a new National Centre for Propulsion and Power have been approved.

Cambridge City Council’s planning committee voted to approve plans for the site in the west of the city, located between JJ Thompson Avenue, Madingley Road and Clerk Maxwell Road, on Wednesday (June 17).

Director of the Whittle Laboratory, Prof Rob Miller, said the research facility would help contribute to the decarbonisation of the aerospace industry and carry out other world-leading research.

He said it is a “fantastic building which builds on the world-leading science and innovation of the west Cambridge site.

“The National Centre for Propulsion and Power will help Cambridge lead the decarbonisation agenda. It will also offer economic benefits and jobs across Cambridgeshire and provide better opportunities for local schools and the wider community to engage with our work and challenge.”

The Whittle Laboratory is part of the University of Cambridge’s engineering department and specialises in turbomachinery research, and works with industry partners Rolls Royce, Mitsubishi, Siemens and Dyson.

Prof Miller described the laboratory as the world’s most academically successful propulsion and power laboratory.

He said: “Our focus in the Whittle Laboratory is now on decarbonising the aerospace and power generation sectors by 2050. To achieve this we must dramatically reduce the time to develop and scale new technologies.”

He said that over the past seven years the Whittle Laboratory has pioneered a new rapid technology development process which he said will change the timescales “from years to develop technology to weeks”.

“Based on this success the UK Aerospace Technology Institute and our industrial partners have decided to invest in the National Centre for Propulsion and Power to scale this rapid development technology to 80 per cent of future decarbonisation need. This will replace the worn out facilities that were installed 50 years ago,” Prof Miller said.

Whittle Laboratory Image: University of Cambridge (36806523)
Whittle Laboratory Image: University of Cambridge (36806523)

He added: “The Whittle Laboratory has high expectations for the design of the new building, working with an internationally renowned architect who has been able to balance the practical needs for the national facility with stringent design requirements for west Cambridge.”

The development is part of the West Cambridge academic campus development site. The building will stand at 14.6 metres at its highest point and provide a total floorspace of 6,014 square metres. It will replace part of the Whittle Laboratory currently on site.

Making the case for more tree screens, Cllr Damien Tunnacliffe said the building “looks a bit like a penitentiary,” and described it as massive and austere.

Planning officers recommended the development for approval by councillors.

A planning officer’s report said: “Significant economic benefits locally will result from the proposed development, through the employment of 74 members of the Whittle Laboratory staff and academic research benefiting students.

“The outcome of this enhanced academic facility will enable innovative technology for power and propulsion engines, which when successful will have remarkable effects in society and for the environment.”

It said the facility will focus on “the development of technology for ultra-low emission aircraft and low carbon power generation”.

The council’s planning committee voted unanimously to grant planning permission.

In January this year Prince Charles unveiled a plaque to launch the new National Centre for Propulsion and Power, due to open in 2022.

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