HUGE expansion plans announced by the University of Chester have the potential to create 2,000 jobs and attract students from around the world.
Oil giant Shell UK has gifted the firm’s main UK research and development base in Thornton, near Chester, to the university.
Professor Tim Wheeler, university vice chancellor, said an engineering and technology faculty would be created on the 66-acre site.
More than 20 businesses with high growth potential will be offered ‘incubator’ space and access to specialist knowledge, expertise, facilities and equipment at the former Shell Technology Centre.
Prof Wheeler said the university would also establish a dedicated science park in a bid to attract multi-national companies to the region.
He said: “The University of Chester has long been synonymous with ensuring Cheshire West and Chester is ‘open for business’ and our commitment at Thornton could bring up to 2,000 jobs over the next five years.
“Thornton, with 1,100,000 square feet of space in 48 buildings, is the most substantial acquisition in the university’s history, as the institution enters its 175th year and the next phase in its evolution, which should see it sitting more prominently on the international stage – and taking Cheshire West and Chester with it.”
Shell UK confirmed last year the research base would close in 2014 with about 500 jobs being relocated to Germany, Manchester and London.
Prof Wheeler said the university would move onto the site – which includes laboratories, workshops, offices, sports facilities and a restaurant – in phases over the next 18 months.
He said the university would be investing in the site using Government funding, income from recruiting 500 students, rent from businesses based on the site and consultancy fees from research projects.
Prof Wheeler said engineering and technology was a growth area for the university and a national priority in terms of skills and innovation.
He said the site had already attracted significant interest and the university hoped to create an internationally-recognised campus that draws in investments and creates jobs.
Shell UK chairman Ed Daniels said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the University of Chester which will ensure innovation and technology will remain a key contributor to the local and regional economy and community and which builds on Shell’s long history of manufacturing and technical innovation in the region.
“The university has some very exciting and robust plans for the development of the site and we wish it the very best in bringing these to fruition.”
The first students will be admitted in 2014 with two buildings being 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.
New subjects offered will include geotechnical engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.
Universities minister David Willetts said the development was exciting for the whole North West region.
He said: “The research and innovation centre in Thornton will act as a real hub for students and local businesses to develop their ideas, commercialise them and take them into the market place.”