Public Health England showcases updated plans for Harlow HQ

Wellbeing and protection agency consults on £400m "science hub" to replace Porton and other sites

By Jim.Dunton

07 Oct 2016

A fresh round of consultation has taken place on Public Health England’s proposals to create a new headquarters in Harlow that will bring together more than 2,000 staff from different sites.

The £400 million centre would combine all the existing PHE laboratories, including Porton in Wiltshire, and Colindale and Whitechapel in London. It would also serve as the agency’s new headquarters, bringing in staff from Wellington House and Skipton House in the capital.

The proposals focus on the redevelopment of a former GlaxoSmithKline site at Harlow’s New Frontiers Science Park and come against the backdrop of the wider “Government Hubs” programme, which aims to shrink the number of buildings occupied by the state by 75% by 2023.

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PHE submitted a business case for relocating its Porton activities to the hub in 2014, and received the go-ahead from the government for further development work in September last year. Two months later health secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the addition of the Colindale facilities to the hub.

The current proposals envision 2,745 jobs being based at the Harlow “science hub” by 2024. According to PHE more than half of them would be scientists, or science-support staff, with the remaining roles including those working on health promotion and protection strategies, policies and campaigns, marketing and PR, accounts, HR, legal, and facilities support.

PHE said up to 3,245 workers could be based at Harlow if a second phase of expansion took place after the scheduled 2024 opening. It is also highlighting the hub's potential to bring new apprenticeship opportunities to the town.

The proposals it showcased over the weekend update ideas originally consulted on in May, and outline the retention of the site’s main structure (pictured above), with the addition of new buildings featuring green roofs and a range of other environmentally-friendly features. 

Facilities included are visitor centre buildings, publicly accessible exhibition space, and a training laboratory for educational purposes.

PHE said the proposed structures had been updated since the last public exhibition and were now likely to be at least two storeys in height to accommodate floorspace requirements.

Chief executive Duncan Selbie said the agency was committed to ensuring Harlow residents were aware of PHE’s proposals, the opportunities they would bring to the town, and that they were able to feed in their thoughts and ideas.  

“The plans have changed from the first exhibition based a great deal on the feedback we have received,” he said.

PHE said it expected to submit a planning application for its proposals in May next year, with a start on site envisaged for 2019.

When the government originally gave its backing for the science hub’s creation, the Prospect union described the news as “disappointing”.

Clive Scoggins, its negotiator responsible for PHE, said Prospect and its sister unions had long-held “deep concern” over the impact of the relocation on staff based in Wiltshire. 

“Most of our members and their families are established in the area and a move to Harlow may be untenable,” he said.

“It is also difficult to see how PHE will be able to replace the extremely specialist scientific skills developed by staff working at Porton, should they be unable to relocate.”


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