Sites are shortlisted as Leeds bids to become world health leader

PLANS to create an advanced medical park in Leeds have taken a step forward after the council selected five possible sites for the development.

Leeds City Council said it wants to build on the city’s status as a world leader in healthcare expertise and create a health campus following the proposed NHS reforms, which aim to radically change its commissioning process.

It envisages a site on which the new NHS Commissioning Board, the new central executive which will control health budgets in England, would be based, along with clinical commissioning groups and medical technology companies.

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Plans are still at an early stage and the council is in the process of rallying initial support for the idea from both the public and private sector in order to move forward with the proposal. But it has come up with a list of the best five sites, chosen for their proximity to the city centre or transport infrastructure.

The sites include: Leeds Valley Park, Logic Leeds, Thorpe Park, Hawks Park, Thorp Arch Estate, near Wetherby.

Colin Mawhinney, head of economic policy and programmes at Leeds City Council, said: “The best way forward to bring innovation to the delivery of health and create better services is to co-locate the commissioning services with the companies and make that relationship much closer.

“It will also offer the opportunity for the NHS to become more efficient and shorten the supply lines.”

Meanwhile, the council is meeting a number of expanding medical technology companies later this month to find out what they would want from a health campus.

The healthcare sector employs 32,000 people in Leeds. Companies like Emis, Surgical Innovations and Brandon Medical have all revealed substantial growth plans in recent months.

Graham Bowland, chief executive of Surgical, which was recently awarded an estimated £7m from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund, has previously said that Leeds is the natural location for a new medical park.

Once the council has the backing of a number of medical technology companies, it will then approach potential developers.

Initially, the development would need £5-10m of investment to get off the ground. Mr Mawhinney said the campus would be situated on a site of up to 10 acres with scope to grow to 50 acres.

Mr Mawhinney said: “Because we are riding in the right direction and have so much interest and support, it’s becoming easier to talk to funding providers. We have a narrow window of opportunity to make progress in 2012/13.”

He added: “We are also in discussions with different parts of the Government to ask it to prioritise Leeds for any funds that are coming available for innovation or export opportunities.”

The council expects to announce the best site for the development in the summer. If all goes to plan, the first buildings could come out of the ground by 2015.

Mr Mawhinney said the campus, which forms part of its Economic Growth Strategy, would provide a solution for both local companies and inward investors who needed to expand rapidly. “Medical technology companies need to expand by virtue of their growth and we want to have a ready-made solution so they don’t have to look beyond Leeds for that,” he said. “The campus would provide a solution for home grown companies and inward investors.”

However, he added that the proposal was a demand-driven initiative. “This is not the public sector stipulating how a site should be developed out,” he said. “It’s about industry working in collaboration with health providers and commissioners.

“We have identified an opportunity and it’s a concept that still hasn’t been completely validated but we are seeing encouraging early signs of support for it at the highest levels of industry and the health trusts.”