Letter to Editor: Harlow’s £361m white elephant? Could it be turned into a new hospital?

General / Sun 22nd Oct 2023 at 02:39pm

Dear Editor,

HAVING noticed a lack of activity at the old GlaxoSmithKline complex in the Pinnacles over the past year or so I wrote to Robert Halfon MP to ask whether the UK Health Security Agency, (formerly Public Health England) would actually be occupying this building as announced back in 2017.

Despite four emails and one phone call to his constituency office over a period of four months I did not receive any response whatsoever. I have now obtained information following a Freedom of Information request to the UKHSA. The reply does not make encouraging reading.

Having spent £30m acquiring the site in 2017 the Government has gone on to spend a further £331m on demolition, renovation, and development, (source FOI) with no sign of UKHSA occupation.  Asked “Will this building be occupied by the UKHSA and if so, when?”, UKHSA’s response was;

“When Public Health England submitted its detailed planning application in 2020 it expected the site to be fully operational in 2031. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent creation of UKHSA has led the strategic options for UK specialist laboratory facilities in the UK to be reviewed. This reassessment has included a range of options, including the Harlow scheme and existing sites at Porton and Colindale. Timescales are subject to government approval processes and cannot be confirmed at this time”.

Harlow appears now to be left with a costly white elephant with no prospect of short term benefit to the Town and its people. This is despite the PHE Chief Executive stating in July 2017; “We are also responding to the local community’s desire to see PHE move to Harlow as soon as possible. We hope today’s announcement will be a massive boost to the town and surrounding area”.

Over six years have passed, many millions spent, (wasted?) and still no prospect of the building being put to good use, either in the short term or long term. 

The old GSK complex is a huge 40 acre site with a number of large buildings and ample parking space. Would it be beyond the realms of possibility to ask if this building could be transformed into the new hospital that Harlow desperately needs? It is less than a mile from Princess Alexandra Hospital and would be more much more convenient for patients and staff than the proposed location of a new, as yet unplanned hospital near Junction 7a of the M11.

Perhaps if Mr Halfon reads this letter he will ‘work hard for Harlow’ and raise this matter with Government so that they can sort out this shambles and decide what is to happen to the old SKB complex.

Also, perhaps Harlow Council would like to comment about what they are doing to secure use of the building. The leader said in 2017, “Securing Public Health England’s relocation to Harlow is all part of the jigsaw being put in place for Harlow’s future with new jobs, new investment and improving local people’s skills.” 

All I can say is that jigsaw remains uncompleted while this very large piece is missing. If UKHSA are not going to use this site then it should be made available either as a new hospital or as a place for other businesses. It cannot just be left to deteriorate, as has already begun with smashed windows being visible from Elisabeth Way. 

The original announcement;  ‘Public Health England (PHE) plans a £400 million world-leading public health campus after buying the (GlaxoSmithKline) GSK site at Harlow’ can be found here:



Keith Cope

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15 Comments for Letter to Editor: Harlow’s £361m white elephant? Could it be turned into a new hospital?:

Nicholas Taylor
2023-10-22 15:16:26

I am afraid that this is yet another example of an incompetent Tory Government who have wasted billions of pounds on plans which never materialise or things that do not work such as changes in the health service and within the Ministry of Defence. One of the reasons given for the building of thousands of homes in and around Harlow was that 2000 to 3000 people would be relocating to Harlow, well with nothing like that in sight, these house building plans should be ditched. This building serves as a monument to a failed Conservative Government. In the meantime I understand that staff at PAH are leaving in droves due in part to the uncertainty about a new hospital.

Matthew Gillman
2023-10-22 17:36:37

Email received on 26th June from Health Security Agency Harlow team (Harlow ): Many thanks for your email. Apologies for the delay replying. It is the UK Health Security Agency’s intention to create a state-of-the-art health security campus at Harlow. Unfortunately, it is too early to give exact timeframes on when the site will be fully operational, not least because we have one final approval hurdle to clear later this year when we expect the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and HM Treasury (HMT) to approve the refreshed business case for the campus. That business case will set out our best option for the future and ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely. If we are successful with that it will give us a far clearer picture of timelines for construction and occupation. It is not unusual for timings to change on programmes of this scale and complexity. The opportunity to refresh the business case and re-plan delivery has been affected by a range of factors, including the transition from Public Health England to UK Health Security Agency, the pandemic and the Living with COVID strategy. We’re sorry we cannot provide more detailed timings. If you contact us again towards the end of the year, when hopefully we have approval from DHSC and HMT, we should be in a position to be more precise. Best wishes, The Harlow Programme team.

2023-10-22 18:50:47

That is a huge site both sides of the road and would be an absolute awesome location for a hospital Everything should be thrown at this idea

2023-10-22 19:08:11

Excellent idea! Get on with it. Also keeping our hospital in Harlow

2023-10-22 19:39:07

That is fantastic ideal! It is good site for the new hospital. Easy accessible to residents living in Harlow and surroundings and M11. We urge our member of Parliament Mr Halfon to get it done. Massive land on both sides of the road.

2023-10-22 20:13:47

Good idea. If a new hospital is to be built on the Eastern edge of Harlow it should not be at the expense of a hospital in the centre of town. The population in this area is growing and the authorities must keep up by providing the correct level of essential infrastructure and services. Build both hospitals. If the UK government can find billions to send to Ukraine at the drop of a hat it can find it for hospitals here.

colin hawkins
2023-10-22 20:31:13

This was the now disgraced Matt Handcocks vanity project this ain't happening. I worked for PHE and the new organisation and the previous organisation and they are not renowned for their ability to make any decisions. Do nothing should never be an option and no work has been done to increase lab capacity it would be a mistake to shut Colindale, one thing for sure is there was little or no appetite to work at Harlow at all. As for it becoming a Hospital it is an office building with some labs, not suitable in its current state

2023-10-22 20:57:11

The area Harlow Hospital now draws its patients from is way outside Harlow and getting ambulances from the MII to the old GSK site is just not feasible, Harlow is almost gridlocked in the mornings and evenings. I'm sure if someone looks at why the requirement is to build it right next to the MII that will put to bed the old GSK site that I also believe is not of the correct construction or layout for a hospital. It's not Harlow's hospital now, it is the Emergency hospital for a very large area. Just saying like.

Peter Henegan
2023-10-22 22:42:48

I was told by an ECC officer the other day that the hospital was definitely going to junction 7a and that UK Health were definitely moving here.

2023-10-23 04:22:15

Maybe use the old gsk site to house more asylum seekers, this country loves a sponger!!!!!!

Nicholas Taylor
2023-10-23 11:28:45

Derek, by the same token, all those living on the West side of Harlow and beyond such as Hoddesdon, Ware and further afield will find it much more difficult to get to a new hospital at Junction 7a. With the prospect of 10,000 hew homes nearby at Gilston and 4000 to the South and West of Harlow, the present site or one at the Pinnacles will be at the centre of the hospitals catchment area. Moving to where the former GSK site where all the services such as gas, water and waste disposal are already in place must be cheaper than putting up new buildings in the middle of a field. The recent accident along Gilden Way only shows how easily the roads to a new hospital at Junction 7a would become gridlocked. The land at Junction 7a has not even been bought yet, a hew hospital was supposed to open there in 2025. Now it could be 2031!

Trevor PYLE
2023-10-23 23:13:50

Hmm...14,000new homes are coming. The supposed new hospital will havqe a far bigger catchment area than it now has and... wait for it... will have fewer beds! Wow. An inspired piece of strategic planning that we should all be proud of. And a farm on it's roof. I kid you not. And perhaps a statue of a unicorn in memory of Boris Johnsons many imaginary and unfulfilled promises.

Tony Edwards
2023-10-25 19:17:26

Went past there today. Interesting to note there are some new Health Security Agency signs on display. So who knows ??????????

Nicholas Taylor
2023-10-25 19:41:29

That will be another million pounds spent then Tony!

Dan Long
2023-10-29 10:44:25

I 100% agree with turn the old G,S,K site into a new hospital. As Nick said, why waste million on building a new hospital that will need everything installed including Gas and Electricity when the cold G,S,K site already has evrrything that is needed for a new hospital already installed.plus this site is not right next to the town centre or on top of residential properties either.so it will be easier for ambalances to get to.

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