Wiltshire Council in fight for Health Protection Agency

Wiltshire Council says it will lobby to keep the Health Protection Agency's (HPA) functions in the county.

The HPA said an outline business case for moving work from Porton Down to Harlow, Essex, has gone to the government for a decision.

It said the Wiltshire site was "fast approaching the end of its life".

The council said: "The site is of huge importance to Wiltshire, with the HPA employing over 800 staff. We will lobby to keep this key site."

The HPA has been responsible for responding to public health hazards such as swine flu since 2003.

'Useful life'

Last week, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced the number of health quangos would be cut from 18 to eight or 10.

The HPA will hand over its workload to the secretary of state as part of the new Public Health Service.

An HPA spokesman said the Porton Down site was 50 years old "and fast approaching the end of its useful life".

He said: "The HPA's board has reviewed a wide range of options and has reached the conclusion that the most cost-effective and efficient way of re-providing the capabilities the UK needs is through investment in these services at the newly vacated GlaxoSmithKline New Frontiers scientific park in Harlow.

"The Harlow site is close to the HPA's other infectious disease centres. It also offers the longer term option of potential integration of more activities on to the one site."

A council spokeswoman said: "The HPA has made its recommendation to the Department of Health to relocate the site with the exception of the development and production department, which would retain approximately 250 jobs."

'We were shocked'

She said the Department of Health was due to make a decision in October.

Council representatives met with the HPA in London on Friday.

Council leader Jane Scott said: "We were shocked to discover that a decision had been made in May to recommend relocation of the HPA site.

"We are extremely disappointed as this recommendation, if supported, will have a major impact on jobs in our county.

"HPA's operations are currently worth over £110m to the local economy.

"We will continue to have discussions with the Department of Health and try to influence retaining the site for the future."

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