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Approval to create a world-leading public health science campus

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A major priority for Public Health England (PHE) since our creation in 2013 has been to bring to life our vision to relocate our national laboratories. We took this vision and expanded it into a plan for a world-leading centre of excellence for public health research, improvement and protection, and also for a new headquarters for PHE. This will make it one of the leading centres for the application of science and research to improve and protect the public’s health in the world.

Back at the beginning of this journey, I compared the experience of waiting to hear if Government had agreed our proposal to an expectant father waiting to hear the doctor say, “Congratulations – it is a healthy baby”. That was just the first of many milestones where I’ve gone through the same feelings of nervousness, excitement and relief.  This time I felt confident given all the fantastic work that has gone in from our team – especially the Science Hub and communications teams.

In November 2015, we were delighted when the Chancellor confirmed over £400 million for developing our new public health science campus and headquarters in Harlow, Essex. It was a decision that set the ambition of our vision to become a reality, and gave us the opportunity to establish PHE as a world leading national public health organisation.

The past two years since the government’s commitment have been filled with a lot of hard work, as well as some frustrating moments and sleepless nights. In July 2017, this culminated in the purchase of the vacant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) site in Harlow.

Last night’s decision was a major landmark for us. We were granted planning permission to create PHE Harlow, as the new campus will be known, at a meeting of Harlow Council’s Development Management Committee.

This go ahead means so much for PHE and our work on the nation’s health and public health worldwide, because we can now begin building our public health science campus and headquarters. We will use the £400 million capital support to convert and expand the excellent former GSK premises, maximising value for the taxpayer.

A new home for world-class research

PHE Harlow will allow us to use the latest scientific advances and research findings to deliver our world-leading advice and evidence to tackle issues such as smoking, alcohol, diabetes, dementia, infectious diseases, environmental hazards and climate change nationally and internationally.

The state-of-the-art campus, which will transform the delivery of public health science over the next generation, will also allow us to embrace technologies such as next generation whole genome sequencing and big data in our work, and combine that with our expertise in the wider social sciences.

With everything that PHE Harlow will allow us to do, it will play an important role in supporting research and development in the life sciences sector. It will also contribute significantly to the Government’s recently published Industrial Strategy, which aims to make the UK a global leader in life sciences and biotechnology.

With the relocation from Porton in Wiltshire, Colindale in north London, and our current central London headquarters, it is expected that PHE Harlow will employ up to 2,750 people by 2024, with scope for future expansion.

The site is within the London-Cambridge corridor, an internationally leading research region for the UK biotechnology and life sciences sector. The East of England has the highest number of jobs in the bio-tech sector of any region in the UK.

Being located in the heart of this region will allow PHE to collaborate with commercial, academic and public sector partners. PHE will also work with national and global partners such as pharmaceutical companies and research funders like the Gates Foundation.

Involving the public every step of the way

Involving the public in our planning has been very important to us throughout this journey. Last year, we held a public exhibition to unveil our plans for the campus, which attracted more than 300 people and a considerable amount of valuable feedback. We listened carefully to what they said and updated our proposals accordingly, which were displayed at a second public exhibition later in the year. We have since continued to consult with the Harlow community, including the Civic Society, residents’ associations, schools, businesses and charity groups.

Following extensive consultation with stakeholders and the local community, our planning application was submitted in August this year.

What’s next?

Now that we’ve been given the go ahead, the next step will be the site preparation and construction. Building work is expected to start in 2019, with phased occupation starting in 2021. It is hoped the public health science campus will be fully operational by 2024.

The planning application also outlined our longer term commitments to Harlow, including investment in highways and public transport, early years childcare, and contributing to Harlow’s important history of public art and sculpture.

Find out more about PHE Harlow by contacting the team at

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Adam Butcher posted on

    it would be good for the work of Public Health England and the rest of the Public Health Network. Also people work follow the work of public health and have worked or working in the field of public health