MP Lee Rowley visits Catesby Tunnel in Northamptonshire ahead of 'global interest' by motor vehicle companies

The 'multi-million' testing tunnel already has more than 30 clients queuing up to use it

By Max Pearson
Friday, 12th November 2021, 5:20 pm
Catesby Tunnel. Photo: Beth Walsh Photography
Catesby Tunnel. Photo: Beth Walsh Photography

Minister for Business and Industry Lee Rowley visited an aerodynamic research facility in Northamptonshire - a multimillion pound facility that has been built inside an old Victorian railway tunnel.

The perfectly straight Catesby Tunnel is almost three kilometers in length. It is reportedly more accurate and efficient than a wind tunnel and is said to give the UK a unique proposition in automotive and race car development, which has already attracted more than 30 clients and a 'broad interest from motorsport and automotive prospective customers', according to a representative.

It has been designed to provide accurate and affordable full scale aerodynamic and performance data. This means that cars can have their designs tested in various wind conditions, giving designers an insight into how to improve their vehicles.

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Mister Rowley visited the site on Monday (November 8) to check on the project's progress, which has attracted £6.2 million of investment from the Governments’ Local Growth Fund, secured through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, as of 2020.

Following a tour, Mister Rowley said: “This new testing facility represents another example of fantastic British construction and ingenuity, turning a long-disused Victorian railway tunnel into a 21st century, state-of-the-art car testing facility here in Northamptonshire.

“It’s been terrific to see first-hand the impressive engineering and workmanship that has gone into getting the new testing facility ready. Best of luck to the Catesby Tunnel as it begins its journey to an exciting future.”

Development of the site has been led by Aero Research Partners (ARP) with construction firm Stepnell designing and building the unique scheme. It is hoped that a science and technology park will be built adjacent to the tunnel that is intended to bring together high tech companies.

This has been advertised on the company's website as 'allowing opportunities for collaboration and growth in the South East Midlands.'

The delivery of the project was made possible through a partnership approach, which involved West Northamptonshire Council.

The council bought the tunnel from the Department for Transport and it is now leased to ARP. The project also received £4.2 million of investment from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, secured through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

Work on the site got underway in January 2018 and is now in its final stages, with ARP undertaking commissioning and trials before Stepnell returns to lay the final asphalt layer so vehicle testing can get underway.

Mark Wakeford, joint managing director of Stepnell said: “We are extremely proud to be part of such a fantastic and significant project not only for the East Midlands, but also for the worldwide automotive testing industry.

“The project has involved refurbishing the Victorian drainage, bat mitigation measures, tunnel preparation works and some hugely challenging concrete slab, concrete planning and asphalt operations to achieve the desired finish.

"Coupled with this, we have delivered the vehicle reception building at the mouth of the tunnel, offices at the site of the old station, access track to the facility, strengthening works to an old railway bridge and connected the project to the road network."

A representative from the Catesby Tunnel said they hope to have a busy facility within 12 months.

Those who would like to know more about the project can visit the Catesby Tunnel website.