Inside Parliament: Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham: Real threat to regeneration

Foot dragging by the Mayor of London threatens a major regeneration scheme. Last week, I urged him to get a move on.

The May and Baker pharmaceutical works is near Dagenham East station. In World War 2, they made the drug which saved Winston Churchill’s life after pneumonia. In the 80s, thousands worked there. Today 450 do, making high value cancer drugs. As recently as two years ago, the value of its annual production was more than any other UK factory. But patents on the drugs are ending. Cheap alternatives are available. The current owner, Sanofi of France, has decided to manufacture new products in Germany. After 80 years, May and Baker’s factory is closing.

Sanofi recognises it should not just walk away. With Barking and Dagenham Council it is planning new uses for the site. There will be a huge computing centre to serve Canary Wharf’s financial hub. But the key proposal is that the chemistry labs - which would cost millions to build - should be retained for new chemical firms, keeping science jobs on the site.

The idea is based on The Heath, Runcorn, which I visited earlier this year. ICI pulled out ten years ago. Today, it houses many new science firms and more jobs than before ICI left.

This is where Boris Johnson comes in. The plan at Dagenham needs support from London’s share of a government fund. Nobody was surprised there wasn’t much progress during the Olympics. But now it just seems that committees are being set up, and nobody is taking decisions. There isn’t much time. Sanofi will leave next year. If funding hasn’t been agreed, they will have no alternative but to demolish all the buildings.

I hope the opportunity won’t be missed for a real contribution to East London’s future economy.