Work has started on a £54m global centre of excellence for glassmaking innovation in Liverpool city region in a project that will create 80 jobs. Tony McDonough reports
A year-long construction project to create a global centre of excellence for glassmaking innovation has started in St Helens.
On Monday, a groundbreaking ceremony took place on the 165,000 sq ft “transformational” global glass research and innovation facility that will create 80 new jobs in a town that has been associated with glassmaking for more than 200 years.
In December, site owner and developer Network Space Developments (NSD) appointed building contractor Bower & Kirkland to deliver the building at Saints Retail Park. It is expected to be completed in January 2023, ready for internal fit-out.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority is investing £9m in the project with a further £15m coming from the Government’s UK Research and Innovation fund. Glass sector companies will contribute a further £20m in resource, time and equipment.
It has been pre let to St Helens Council on a 15-year head lease and will be sub-let to Glass Futures, a not-for-profit research and technology body. It will deliver industry and Government-backed R&D projects focused on decarbonising glass production. Glass manufacturing is responsible for 2m tonnes of CO2 per year in the UK alone.
It will also provide a platform for the industry to access an experimental scale furnace to test and run trials for implementation at commercial scale on a state-of-the-art line, both collaboratively and individually.
Catherine Chilvers, development director at Network Space, said: “Today’s event was a notable milestone for the project and follows two years of dedicated partnership working between ourselves, Glass Futures, St Helens Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and UKRI.
“It is fantastic for all partners to see the works commencing on site as we transform a redundant former glass works site into a global R&D asset. The project will proudly secure St Helens at the forefront of glass innovation and sustainable glass production.’’
Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram was at the groundbreaking ceremony along with local Labour MPs Marie Rimmer and Connor McGinn, St Helens Council leader, David Baines and representatives of UKRI and BEIS.
St Helens has long been associated with glassmaking. In 1773, the British Caste Plate Glass Company was established at Ravenhead, now part of the town. In 1826 St Helens Crown Glass Company was founded by the Pilkington and Greenhall families.
In 1845 the name of the business was changed to Pilkington Brothers and the Pilkington name became famous across the world for glassmaking excellence. In June 2006, Japanese glassmaker Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG) completed a £1.8bn takeover of the firm.
In August 2020, as part of the HyNet hydrogen project, Pilkington achieved a global first by firing 100% hydrogen in part of its furnace. This demonstrated that the full furnace could be run on the hydrogen blend, without compromising on quality standards or operational performance.
Glass Futures’ chief executive, Richard Katz, added: “With the ground-breaking ceremony, Glass Futures has reached a real milestone in the delivery of its global centre of excellence for glass in R&D, innovation and training.
“Due for completion next year, we will be targeting the elimination of carbon from mass production in the glass industry, as well as other foundation industries.”