Northampton’s reputation as a global powerhouse for leathercraft will be significantly bolstered if plans for a centre of excellence involving the University of Northampton are rubber stamped next week.
Northampton Borough Council is working with the University to create a multimillion-pound leatherworking centre of excellence within the town’s cultural quarter.
The ambitious plans would see the University transfer its Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) from its current home at Park campus to the former Vulcan Works site in Guildhall Road.
The historic former iron works building would also house the Leather Conservation Centre, currently located at Park Campus, and exhibition space, should the council’s cabinet give the project the go ahead on Wednesday 11 May.
The project would also allow the authority to bring forward its plans for a cultural hub, creating a series of managed workspaces in Fetter Street.
The University’s Chief Operating Officer, Terry Neville, said: “Northamptonshire has been linked with the leather industry for centuries, and the University of Northampton is delighted that our globally-recognised research and teaching in a sector that produces around £195m for the UK’s economy will find a new home at the Vulcan Works.
“It will be a source of pride to us and to the borough council to be able to bring these historic buildings that have stood since 1875 back to use as an important hub for the leather industry.
“This is an important step on the University’s journey to the heart of the town, which we will complete in 2018 when we open the doors of our Waterside Campus.”
Cllr Tim Hadland, council cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and planning, added: “This is an ambitious plan that will place Northampton at the forefront of leatherworking technology.
“We are already renowned for the quality of our shoe production, with the world’s largest cluster of prestige footwear firms within a 10-mile radius.
“It makes sense for us to capitalise on that position, cementing Northampton’s place as a global powerhouse for leathercraft.”
The entire project will cost around £13 million, £5 million of which will be used to create the University’s leathercraft centre.
Initially, the university is contributing £2 million to the project, and will pay back the remaining costs through a 30-year lease arrangement with the council. It will also run the cultural hub, though these will remain in the council’s ownership.
Most of the money for the cultural hub is coming through a Local Growth Fund grant, administered by South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).
Stephen Catchpole, Chief Executive of SEMLEP, said: “We are delighted our Local Growth Deal funding is on track to create an exciting hub for creative industries.
“Set in the heart of our Northampton Enterprise Zone, the Vulcan Works project will support creative businesses in both Northampton and the wider South East Midlands area, and this leatherworking centre of excellence is a really exciting development.”
If the plan is approved, a revised concept is expected to be submitted this summer, with work starting on-site by the end of the year, and completion in summer 2018.
The University’s ICLT is a globally-unique research centre engages in cross-disciplinary research that responds to the scientific and technological needs of the leather, automotive, fashion, footwear and allied industries.