St Helens Borough Council Planning Committee has granted planning permission for delivery of the £54million global glass research and innovation facility located at Saints Retail Park.

The planning application was prepared and submitted by developer and landowner Network Space, on behalf of not-for-profit research and technology organisation Glass Futures, to build the 160,000 sq ft Global Centre of Excellence. This planning consent moves the delivery of the state-of-the-art facility, together with the world’s first openly accessible test and trial furnace operation a step closer.

The facility will be used to deliver industry and government backed R&D projects focused on decarbonising glass production, and will also provide a platform for industry to test and trial their own commercial ideas on a state-of-the-art line, both collaboratively and individually.

Construction company, Bowmer + Kirkland, has been appointed to build the Global Centre of Excellence following an open procurement process through the North West Construction Hub. Work is expected to begin on site in July this year and will complete by December 2022. The project delivery is led by Network Space on behalf of an innovative partnership created between Glass Futures, the global glass supply chain, Network Space, St Helens MBC, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and UKRI (UK Research and Innovation). This dynamic and fast-moving partnership has rapidly turned the Glass Futures concept into a worked up and deliverable scheme in less than two years.

The project will be funded through a mix of public and private investment. Glass Futures has secured a £15m UKRI grant to support the installation of a globally unique, experimental furnace and state of the art infrastructure capable of melting 30 tonnes of glass per day in a safe experimental space. Network Space will secure private sector investment and has been awarded a £9m grant from the Liverpool City Region’s ‘Build Back Better’ fund to support the construction costs. Glass sector companies will also contribute a further £20m in resource, time and equipment to support the project. St Helens Council will take a head lease of the building to facilitate the development and deliver a green recovery.

Catherine Chilvers, Development Director at Network Space, said: ‘’We are delighted to have successfully secured planning permission for such a high profile and transformational project for St Helens and the Liverpool City Region. The consent is another major milestone in transforming the former United Glassworks site into a global hub for research whilst once more positioning St Helens at the forefront of glass innovation and sustainable glass manufacturing.  Our team and the partnership that we have formed has worked tirelessly in bringing the concept to life and converting it into a deliverable scheme. We hope to announce further progress in the coming months.’’

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “I’m committed to reshaping our economy after COVID so that it is cleaner, greener, stronger, and designed around the needs of local people. We’ve invested £9m to help bring Glass Futures to life to help deliver that radical change.

“Glass Futures has the potential to put our region at the forefront of the Green Industrial Revolution and make us a global leader in new technology. When complete, this project will help take St Helens proud history in glass making and bring it into the 21st century, creating lots of local jobs and drastically cutting carbon emissions.”

In addition to creating 80 new permanent jobs, the project will lead to much-needed apprenticeships, training and general up-skilling within the glass and similar industrial sectors. It is also set to attract further inward investment to the region as leading international glass companies focus resources to be within geographical reach of the facility.

Glass Futures’ Chief Executive, Richard Katz, said: “Today’s decision is fantastic news. It enables the delivery of a test-bed facility to develop processes to make glass the most sustainable and recyclable material available. The research, innovations and energy efficiencies we deliver here can be shared and harnessed by all glass applications including packaging, glazing and glass fibre as well as across other foundation industries. The Global Centre of Excellence will enable us to work collaboratively with our members, the supply chain and academia to achieve zero carbon glass.”

Councillor Richard McCauley, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning at St Helens Borough Council, added: “We are delighted that the ground-breaking development Glass Futures is now set to become a reality in the heart of St Helens Borough. Our borough has been at the centre of global glass production and innovation for many years and throughout the process of creating this new centre of excellence we have worked extensively to ensure that St Helens Borough is its home.

“Glass Futures fits perfectly with our plans for green recovery as we look to reset our borough’s economic future and deliver wide ranging positive impacts from this new development, which include reviving a derelict brownfield site and securing direct benefits and opportunities for St. Helens communities.  Taking this scheme from concept through planning and on to site in less than two years demonstrates the focus the council  and partners have on delivery, I am sure this will be the first of many exciting and ambitious schemes that will be coming forward in St Helens over the coming months.”