Stortford and Harlow MPs Julie Marson and Robert Halfon press for £350m Harlow science campus plans to proceed
Bishop's Stortford's MP has pressed the Government to complete £350m plans for world-leading public health laboratories in Harlow.
Julie Marson joined forces with the new town's MP Robert Halfon to seek assurances from public health and primary care minister Jo Churchill that the state-of-the-art campus would be constructed.
In 2015, former Chancellor George Osborne said that Public Health England's (PHE) headquarters would relocate to Harlow. However, the agency is being disbanded and will be replaced in October by the UK Health Security Agency.
Mr Halfon told the House of Commons: "I have been well assured that this new organisation will also require modernised laboratories. Previous problems have not turned to dust. The current facilities available at Porton Down and Colindale remain exhausted, burned out and ultimately no longer fit for purpose. Significant funding has already been committed to the Harlow site – I understand that the total amount of money spent on the project thus far is approaching £250 million.
"Not only has significant investment taken place, but the plan for the creation of a public health science campus in Harlow is now mature and shovel-ready. Considerable site demolition work has been completed. The buildings have now been stripped to their core and the drainage and power systems are beginning to be installed. Contracts are being drawn up and construction proper could start this year."
Mr Halfon said the Covid-19 pandemic had emphasised the need for new facilities. "We cannot afford to be too cautious. Given that there will be ever-increasing public health spending, the Harlow plant provides excellent value for money. Furthermore, the Harlow project has been designed with the threat of a novel pandemic infection in mind.
"The construction of a new campus with world-leading laboratory facilities will surely go a long way in improving our resilience and ensuring preparedness for future pandemics. The project will provide a reassuring message for us to give the nation while managing continued uncertainty and scrutiny. This hub could be a shining beacon of hope in the stormy sea from which we are emerging."
He said Harlow's location was key at the heart of the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, close to major universities in Cambridge, Essex, Hertfordshire and north London and to the Wellcome Sanger Institute as well as leading life science multinational companies such as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.
Mr Halfon said: "The East of England could be set to become the public health science capital of the world. We could lead the way in research, science and technology."
He won support from fellow Tory MP Epping Forest's Eleanor Laing, and Mrs Marson weighed in, emphasising the benefits for her Hertford and Stortford constituency too.
She said: "The economic opportunity that he outlines knows no boundaries, including parliamentary boundaries."
The Harlow and Gilston garden town project straddles the border of their constituencies and the Conservative pair share an office.
Mrs Marson said: "We need to think about housing, skills and infrastructure. We have all this in the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor. Harlow is at the heart of that, but so is Hertford and Stortford.
"The campus, with its wider benefits for my constituency, my county and the Innovation Corridor, will be a further step in making the area a scientific global superpower."
At the end of the MPs' submission, Ms Churchill, the Tory member for Bury St Edmunds, said the Covid-19 crisis had "arguably required a fundamental rethink of how the public health system and the National Health Service will work together".
She said: "The principle remains to deliver a step-change in public health science and research capabilities with genuinely world-leading facilities that, as the House would expect, we need to ensure are sustainable in every sense of the word."
Ms Churchill conceded Harlow's strategic position but said the UK had a number of leading centres for life science research and innovation.
She told Mr Halfon that his call for science to be centred in Harlow would be heard and added: "I am sure that we will go on to have further discussions on this interesting topic."