Oil giant Shell has gifted its largest UK research centre to a university in a move which could lead to the creation of 2,000 new jobs.
The company had previously announced plans to close Shell Thornton, in Cheshire, and consolidate research and development facilities elsewhere.
Yesterday it was confirmed that the University of Chester will take over the 66-acre site, which includes 48 science and engineering buildings.
The university said the plan means Thornton, which opened 75 years ago, will remain at the “forefront of scientific research”.
It now intends to use the site to raise student numbers by around 500 and provide support services to more than 20 small and medium sized businesses.
Other proposals, including a science park with communal laboratory space, will mean Thornton has the potential to create thousands of jobs, the university said.
Vice-chancellor, Professor Tim Wheeler, said: “Our commitment at Thornton could bring 2,000 jobs to the area over the next five years, together with perpetuating Shell’s distinguished reputation.
“The university’s vision is to build on the excellent foundations laid by Shell to create an internationally-recognised, financially self-sustaining and multi-disciplinary campus that targets and stimulates private sector growth through employment, education and inward investment.
“It will integrate students with employers and employees.”
As a registered charity, the university said it will take legal ownership through a “gifting” agreement with Shell.
The site will be renamed the Shell Technology Campus and form part of its Faculty of Engineering and Technology.
Ed Daniels, chairman of Shell UK added: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the University of Chester which will ensure that 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 formed some very exciting and robust plans for the development of the site and we wish them the very best in bringing these to fruition.”
The announcement was welcomed by universities minister David Willetts, who 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.
“Not only has the site got the potential to generate new jobs, it will also contribute to the UK’s growing technology sector, building links between the university and industry.
“In turn that will give a real boost to economic growth and keep the UK at the front of the global race for technology and innovation.”