University determined to press on with the project despite campaign by activists and withdrawal by Montpellier

Oxford University is searching for a contractor to replace Montpellier on its £18m animal research laboratory.

The university has confirmed that it has entered into talks with firms, but added that it would be unlikely to make an announcement when a deal had been reached, and that the firm appointed would not advertise its presence on the site.

The move follows Montpellier’s decision to abandon the project after animal rights activists mounted a campaign to intimidate its staff.

A spokesperson for Oxford University said that the university was determined to continue with the project.

He said: “We’re currently in talks with contractors. Obviously we don’t want the same thing to happen to them. We hope that work will continue as soon as possible and we are optimistic that the laboratory will be completed by the deadline at the end of 2005.”

Hundreds of protesters marched through Oxford to the site on Saturday to express their opposition to the building of the laboratory.

Speaking at the march, animal rights activists said they would continue their protest. Mel Broughton, a veteran campaigner, said: “We’re going to put an end to this shameful, shameful animal torture lab on South Parks Road. The workers have gone, but the likelihood is that they’ll be back. But so will we.”

We’re optimistic that the lab will be completed by the deadline

Oxford University spokesperson

Broughton has served a jail sentence for conspiracy to commit criminal damage and to commit explosions in connection with animal rights activities. He is a spokesperson for the main group behind the protest, SPEAK.

The march, which was peaceful, started in Broad Street in the centre of the town and ended near the half-finished biomedical research facility.

Montpellier and concrete supplier RMC’s decision to withdraw last week was a victory for the protesters in a war that seems likely to be protracted.

Broughton referred to the decision last year by Cambridge University to abandon its plans for an animal research laboratory. He said: “We have a very clear message. We didn’t back down in Cambridge and we will not back down here. We will fight this building every step of the way.”

Gregg Avery, of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, which has joined forces with SPEAK, spoke of his delight at the withdrawal of two of construction’s biggest names.

He said: “The biggest companies in the world are running shy of the animal rights movement. Now is not the time to back off and we will only stop when all the buildings are closed. Now is not the time for compromise.”