Shell hands Ellesmere Port site to university

Chester University has acquired the 66-acre Shell Technology Centre in Thornton, Ellesmere Port, for a nominal sum to create an engineering and technology campus.

Shell has been based at the site for 75 years but is currently moving its research staff to other UK and overseas sites, and will vacate more than 1m sq ft in 48 buildings.

The university, a charity, will take ownership of the site through a gifting agreement with Shell, which will generate its return through a tax benefit arising from the donation.

The university plans three uses on the large new campus:

  • Teaching vocational food, engineering and chemicals courses, with the creation of a new faculty for engineering and technology
  • Incubator space in 22 units for pre-start and small enterprises from environment, engineering, advanced manufacturing and automotive sectors
  • Commercial partnerships with the university and other stakeholders at a dedicated science park. This will include a food processing and testing centre.

Prof Tim Wheeler, vice-chancellor, said: "The University of Chester has long been synonymous with ensuring that Cheshire West and Chester is open for business, and our commitment at Thornton could bring up to 2,000 jobs to Ellesmere Port over the next five years, together with perpetuating Shell's distinguished reputation."

The university said it plans to spend an initial £35.8m to create the new campus. This will come from ongoing revenue from up to 500 additional student places, 15% of them postgraduates, recruited over the next five years; Government funding specific to the academic programmes associated with Thornton; rental income from businesses occupying workshops and offices and using laboratory facilities; consultancy fees from research and knowledge transfer projects.

The university said the Thornton facility had the backing of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills; the Higher Education Funding Council for England; Ellesmere Port & Neston MP Andrew Miller and Chester MP Stephen Mosley; and the Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.The University's occupancy will be phased over the next 18 months, as Shell continues to hand over the site, which includes purpose-built laboratories, petrochemical fuel analysis facilities, workshops, engine testing cells and offices, together with a gym and sports pitches and a restaurant.

The university was advised by agents TSG Property and law firm Hill Dickinson. Jones Lang LaSalle advised Shell.

Initially, for students admitted for entry in 2014, two existing buildings will be adapted, to provide a learning resource centre, teaching spaces and laboratories. These will be occupied by academic and support staff, including technicians, librarians, administrators and those involved in business development and IT.

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By Stan Low