Merseyside glassworks shuts down production ahead of site move

Pilkington UK

Pilkington UK’s 200-year-old Merseyside glassworks in St Helens has shut down as the production line prepares to move to a neighbouring site as part of major investment project.

Watson Street Works, operated by Pilkington United Kingdom, part of the NSG Group, has operated in St Helens since 1826. Pilkington UK stated this is where Sir Alastair Pilkington invented the modern float glass process, which revolutionised the way flat glass was produced.

Pilkington UK announced in April 2023 its plans to move production at Watson Street Works to its neighbouring Greengate site in the town. The company said this is part of a project that represents one of its single biggest investments in decades.

The manufacturer is upgrading its Greengate furnace to accommodate the site’s continued production of float glass, as well as the additional manufacturing line from Watson Street. Pilkington UK said it expects that all jobs will be retained as part of the move.

The project will benefit from a £3.7m grant via the government’s Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IEFT), which helps cover the costs of industrial energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects in the UK.

Running one glass furnace in the town, rather than the two it currently runs between Greengate and Watson Street, will save 15,000 tonnes of CO2e per year, it noted. Pilkington UK said the project is central to its Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) certified target of achieving a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2018 levels and to meet net zero emissions by 2050.

Neil Syder, managing director of Pilkington UK, said: “Watson Street’s legacy can be felt in every building we live and work in today. It defined a century of glassmaking as the true birthplace of the modern float glass process, which enabled the mass production of high-quality glass around the world.

“It’s closure forms part of how we’re defining the next century of glassmaking next-door at Greengate. That’s where, alongside our industry partners like Glass Futures, we’re completing pioneering work that will enable the global glass industry to decarbonise. Most recently, it’s where we’ve invented PilkingtonMirai, a glass with 52% less embodied carbon – representing the lowest embodied carbon glass of its kind.”

Watson Street Works’ Victorian industrial architecture provided the backdrop for many films and TV series, it cited, hosting Hollywood A-listers from Samuel L. Jackson to Cillian Murphy in productions including Marvel’s Secret Invasion and BBC’s Peaky Blinders.

An NSG Group employee won the opportunity to push the red button on Watson Street’s production line for the last time, as part of a competition that raised £533 for St. Helens based charity Teardrops.

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