Oxford City Council has broken its silence over the city's controversial animal experiment laboratory for the first time.

Until now, the £18m Oxford University project in South Parks Road has been a non-political affair, at least at local level.

However, most city councillors have now voted in support of a motion backing experiments on animals and calling for more support for those involved - including university staff, students and police.

The motion, which was not a recorded vote, states the city council would: offer "clear support for the principle of the construction" of the laboratory show solidarity with the workers, scientists and students involved in the project ensure police are properly supported where the threat of violence exists.

Liberal Democrat city councillor Richard Huzzey said: "The issue of medical research using animals is important for everyone living in Oxford. It seems odd the city council hasn't addressed it before.

"The overwhelming majority of councillors took an opinion that easing human suffering and saving human lives justified animal research.

"I suspect that mirrors most Oxford residents' feelings, but we are keen to encourage discussion.

"I think the council has a role in creating a climate where this issue can be debated peacefully and intimidation and violence are shunned by all sides."

Animal rights activists continue to target those involved in the construction of the lab.

University boat houses have been burned and in July the Animal Liberation Front claimed to have vandalised local companies' property and disabled card swipe devices on university doors.

The Registrar of Oxford University, Dr Julie Maxton, said: "We warmly welcome the support of Oxford City Council for the new biomedical research building, which will be good for animal welfare, good for medical research and good for the treatment of life-threatening conditions suffered by millions of people worldwide.

"The recognition by the city council that construction workers, students, staff and residents have a right to go about their ordinary, lawful business without fear of harassment and intimidation is a stance we applaud."

Speak, the campaign group against the laboratory, said it would continue protesting - despite the fact one of its high-profile members, Mel Broughton, has been banned from the exclusion zone around the lab.

Dr Maxton added: "We fully respect that individuals hold a range of views about animal research, but we are pleased that through more rational discussion there is a growing understanding and acceptance of the need for some regulated research using animals."

Robert Cogswell, Speak spokesman, said: "It's disappointing the city council is blindly following arguments set out by the University.

"I would respect them more if they called for an independent scientific inquiry into vivisection. The level of support we get among ordinary members of the public in Oxford is great - we have a massive support base."