Planners have given the go-ahead for the £54million, 160,000 sq ft Glass Futures Global Centre of Excellence in St Helens, Merseyside, taking the world’s first openly accessible test and trial furnace operation a step closer to becoming reality.

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

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 next month 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).

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 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.

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.

Glass Futures Chief Executive Richard Katz said: “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.”