Partners and stakeholders recently gathered at the Glass Futures’ Global Centre of Excellence in St Helens to mark the imminent completion of the £54m project.
Construction on the former site of United Glassworks commenced last year. Contractors Bowmer + Kirkland were appointed by Network Space Development(NSD) in December 2021 and started on site in January 2022. The main contract works will successfully complete this month and the 165,000 sq. ft building handed over to Glass Futures Limited, ready for the internal fit out works to commence in April. The scheme is anticipated to be operational later this year.
Delivery of the project was conceived and has been managed by landowner and developer NSD, on behalf of a partnership including not-for-profit Glass Futures Ltd , St Helens Borough Council, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and UKRI (UK Research & Innovation).
The facility was pre let to St Helens Borough Council on a 15-year head lease and sub-let to Glass Futures which will occupy the building to deliver industry and government-backed research and development projects focused on decarbonising the glass and foundation industries. It will also provide a platform for its members to access an experimental scale furnace for testing and trials of new technology on a state-of-the-art line, both collaboratively and individually. In 2022, NSD pre-sold the building to global investor Standard Life Investments Property Income Trust, part of abrdn, to secure forward funding and conclude a viable delivery strategy.
Throughout the construction phase, the scheme has made a significant contribution to the local economy with £11.2m of supply contracts going to businesses within a 20-mile radius of the site, including more than £1m awarded to St Helens’ businesses. Overall, 441 operatives and sub-contractors have been employed on the scheme, including 30 apprentices, with 36 per cent of the labour coming from St Helens, Wigan and Warrington communities. Glass Futures has also appointed its first three apprentices.
Glass Futures is set to be handed over by the developer and is to be formally unveiled at an opening ceremony after the final touches and internal fit have been carried out later in the year.
St Helens Borough Council Leader, Councillor David Baines, said: “It’s incredible to think that this is a project which has only been a few years in the making, and the speed at which it’s happened is testament to a lot of hard work by a lot of people, from the initial idea and drive of people like Richard Katz, to Network Space and Bowmer and Kirkland and all those whose physical labour has built the amazing setting we see today.
“As you’d expect, our council officers, Cabinet members, our MPs Conor McGinn and Marie Rimmer, and Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram made a compelling and winning case that St Helens was the right place for Glass Futures. And I thank them all for their immense contribution.
“Glass Futures also chose St Helens because our history, location, and potential speaks for itself. They know of our town centre regeneration plans; they know about our work to deliver social value, to create local jobs and develop the skills this industry and other modern industries need; and above all else, our ambition and theirs is equally high – for the borough and wider region, and not to forget the small matters of reaching net zero carbon and revolutionising the global glass industry.
“In St Helens and the city region we’ve put our money where our mouth is and backed this project to the hilt. I’m serious when I talk about our ambition for St Helens and this project is a key part of our wider plans. We are looking forward to a long and successful future working in partnership with Glass Futures.”
Catherine Chilvers, Development Director at Network Space Developments, said: “We’re delighted that we will shortly complete this transformational scheme within the ambitious project timescales we originally set ourselves. The success of this project is testament to the incredible partnership we’ve helped establish and the hard work and commitment of everyone involved in driving this scheme forward. As a St Helens based business, we’re hugely proud to be involved in a project of this importance and we look forward to seeing its impact, benefits and grow on opportunities being realised within the Borough.
“Throughout the construction phase we’ve worked closely with St Helens Council and contractor B&K to maximise local and regional economic benefits. It’s very pleasing to see the employment and apprenticeship opportunities that have been created and the positive school and community engagement that’s been delivered.”
Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City region, added: “Building on St Helens’ proud legacy in the glassmaking industry, Glass Futures will help retain the borough’s position as a global centre of excellence. I’m proud that we’ve been able to help make it happen with £9m of city region funding.
“I have supported Glass Futures right from the very start, not just because it’s a great project but because it ticks so many boxes for us: decarbonisation of industry, clean energy, new well-paid jobs in a scheme that will make us a world leader.
“If we are to hit our ambitious targets to be net zero carbon by 2040 at the latest, at least a decade ahead of national targets, then we will need transformative projects like this to help us – and the planet – get there.”
Richard Katz, Chief Executive of Glass Futures concluded: “Ten years ago the founding members of Glass Futures had the idea of building a Global Centre of Excellence to make glass the low-carbon material of choice. We each subscribed to a powerful idea which has since attracted major government innovation funding and industry support leading to the completion of the build phase of the project which will become our new home.
“But for us this handover is just the start. We’ll now begin an internal fit out and will install the world’s first openly accessible furnace to test commercially viable technology, which should be operational by January 2024. Capable of producing up to 30 tonnes of glass per day, we’ll be able to collaborate with our global membership, academic researchers and industry leaders to continue our ground-breaking trials into alternative energy sources, raw materials and technologies to demonstrate real decarbonisation solutions for the foundation industries.”