Planning begins for £54m Glass Futures development

Visualisation of the £54m global glass research and innovation facility, Saints Retail Park, St Helens, Merseyside

Network Space has submitted a planning application to St Helens Borough Council, Merseyside, for a £54m glass research and innovation facility.

Developed for Glass Futures, the proposed 160,000 ft2 Centre of Excellence will be the world’s first openly accessible, multi-disciplinary experimental glass melting facility for research and development trials. The facility will be used to deliver industry- and government- backed research and development (R&D) projects, aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of glass production. It will also provide a platform for industry to test and trial their own ideas, both collaboratively and individually.

The facility is being funded through a mix of public and private investment. A £15m UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) grant has been secured for the installation of a unique, experimental furnace and state-of-the-art infrastructure capable of producing 30 tonnes of glass per day. The furnace will enable the glass industry to implement change in a safe, experimental space.

Network Space, landowner and developer, will secure private sector investment to support the construction costs alongside a £9m grant from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. Glass sector companies will also contribute a further £20m in resources, time and equipment to support the project.

In addition to creating 80 new permanent jobs, the project aims to provide much-needed apprenticeships, training and up-skilling within the glass sector, and to attract further inward investment to the region as international glass companies focus resources to be within geographical reach of the facility.

Catherine Chilvers, development director at Network Space, said: “As landowner and developer, we have worked in partnership with St Helen’s Council and Glass Futures over the past two years to rapidly progress the design and development of this transformational project for the borough and in doing so, have established a hugely effective public/private sector delivery model.

“The submitted planning proposals will regenerate the former United Glassworks site and enable government- and industry-led research activity and training opportunities. The facility will create new jobs and support the transition of R&D to commercial applications, acting as a catalyst for further economic growth within St Helens.”

Glass Futures Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation, will operate the Centre of Excellence. Its chief executive, Richard Katz, said: “The planning submission is a great step forward in creating a facility that will deliver innovative technologies to make glass net zero. The Centre of Excellence will help us work collaboratively with our members, the supply chain and academia to achieve that aim.”

Developments at the facility will also have profound implications for other foundation industries such as chemicals, ceramics, paper, steel and cement. What, for example, is discovered as a waste product in one sector could become a raw material in another. Innovations relating to energy efficiencies and a move away from using natural gas as a primary heating source could also be shared or harnessed.

Construction company Bowmer + Kirkland has been appointed as stage one contractor, following an open procurement process managed through the North West Construction Hub.

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