King Charles III during a visit to the Whittle Laboratory in Cambridge to tour the facility

King breaks ground for new Cambridge laboratory focused on net-zero aviation

Image credit: Joe Giddens/ Associated Press / Alamy

In his first official engagement since his coronation, King Charles III visited the site of a new laboratory at Cambridge University and officially broke ground for a facility intended to speed up the development of net-zero aviation.

King Charles toured Cambridge University’s Whittle Laboratory, which has recently secured funding to develop a new £58m lab, where he spoke of his admiration for engineers.

As he walked to perform the ceremonial breaking of the ground, where a lump of mud was already visible on the grass, he joked: “Don’t tell me it’s already been done? It’s very unfair. I was rather looking forward to doing a bit of gardening.”

The King then sank the spade into the earth, using his foot to help lift a lump of turf out, before raising the spade aloft.

He then jabbed the spade into the ground, leaving it standing, and walked to the stage where he gave a short speech expressing his “enormous admiration” for the work of the laboratory and unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. The King had previously visited the Cambridge lab in 2020 and again in 2022.

King Charles III breaks ground during a visit to the Whittle Laboratory in Cambridge

Image credit: Joe Giddens/ Associated Press / Alamy

During his speech, King Charles said: “I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be here, my third visit. I think you’ll probably be getting fed up of them by now.

“I really wanted just to express my enormous admiration of what [director of the Whittle Laboratory] Rob Miller is doing here with the Whittle and his remarkable team.

“Of course the key exercise of all this is to keep the team in being and expand it, but not lose all these remarkable people who have the innovative capacity and the engineering skills to help lead what we need so badly and so urgently in order to save this planet from increasing catastrophe.

“The aviation sector is critical in all this.”

The new Whittle Laboratory is designed to become the leading global centre for disruptive innovation in net-zero aviation and energy, bringing together experts from research and industry.

It aims to halve the time it takes to develop key technologies towards net-zero aviation and energy, which can typically take six to eight years to reach the point of being considered for commercial use.

Trials at the Whittle Laboratory have indicated timeframes could be accelerated by breaking down silos that exist between academia and industry.

King Charles III during a visit to the Whittle Laboratory in Cambridge, England, Tuesday, May 9, 2023 to break ground on the new laboratory, meet with academics, aviation leaders and tour the facility

Image credit: Joe Giddens/ Associated Press / Alamy

The King arrived in a Bentley to tour the existing lab, where he met leaders from the aviation industry and from government, including energy secretary Grant Shapps and science minister George Freeman.

He also attended a collaborative roundtable meeting to discuss potential future pathways to a sustainable aviation industry.

E&T recently reviewed King Charles' long-standing commitment to sustainability and his publicly stated concerns about climate change in light of his accession to the throne, marking the first time that the UK has had a declared environmentalist as Head of State.

The Whittle Laboratory, an aerospace and energy laboratory, was opened in 1973 by Sir Frank Whittle, who founded the company that invented the jet engine while still an undergraduate at Cambridge.

Over the last 50 years, the lab has helped shape the propulsion and power sectors through industry partnerships with Rolls-Royce, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Siemens.

As the King left the laboratory someone in the waiting crowd shouted: “God save the King”.

This populist sentiment was in keeping with the broadly peaceful and successful coronation event at the weekend. However, it has been confirmed today that a cross-party panel of MPs will scrutinise the Metropolitan Police’s handling of anti-monarchy protests over the coronation weekend.

Six demonstrators from campaign group Republic were arrested under the sweeping powers of the new Public Order Act, on suspicion of going equipped to “lock on”, a measure some protesters use to make it harder for police to move them. The Met Police also confiscated hundreds of 'Not My King' placards before they could be distributed to protestors.

Dame Diana Johnson, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said there are “real questions” to be asked about the practical application of the law and what guidance was issued to officers ahead of the King’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on Saturday. Her committee will meet to examine the policing of the event, taking evidence from a number of witnesses.

The Labour MP said she recognises that the Met had co-ordinated a “huge policing operation over the weekend”, which had been “very successful” at keeping people safe, but added “actually that issue of how protests were policed is something that has raised concerns, particularly about the implementation of this very new Act of Parliament, the Public Order Act 2023”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak backed the new police powers, which came into force last week, saying it is right for officers to have the ability to tackle “serious disruption”.

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley also defended the arrest of the protestors during what he called a “unique fast-moving operational context”.

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