Catesby Tunnel is 'win-win-win' situation for Daventry district says project creator

Dr Rob Lewis OBE
Dr Rob Lewis OBE

The Catesby Tunnel project will be a “win-win-win” situation for Daventry district, the managing director of the firm behind the plans for a unique state of the art aerodynamic testing facility says.

Mechanical engineer Dr Rob Lewis OBE of TotalSim, part of project creators Aero Research Partners, has highlighted the many benefits the tunnel will bring to the area.

The entrance to the tunnel, which has been disused for more than half a century

The entrance to the tunnel, which has been disused for more than half a century

He has also addressed one reader’s promise to apply for listed status after he felt the developers were not respecting the site’s heritage.

Of concern to 52-year-old John Healy, a railway author who contacted the Daventry Express last week, was potential damage caused to the Victorian brickwork and inlets of the tunnel.

But Dr Lewis revealed there are no plans to touch or disturb any of the 30 million Staffordshire bricks.

Mr Healy also called for the tunnel to be open for public viewing.

Architectural firm Roger Coy Partnership produced these images of what the tunnel, science park and site entrance could look like if the plans come to fruition.

Architectural firm Roger Coy Partnership produced these images of what the tunnel, science park and site entrance could look like if the plans come to fruition.

“From my point of view it’s a win-win-win,” said Dr Lewis. “The bats get somewhere better, the ecology is managed and looked after, the tunnel is preserved, we create jobs in the science park, we give UK companies a unique piece of equipment that eventually people in Europe will come here to test, and we can do things with education too.

“We can take kids from schools in the tunnel and do STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) activities.

“And the other plan – subject to insurance and safety checks – is, a few times a year, to open the tunnel up at weekends for people to walk and bike through it.”

The construction of the facility would take place in stages.

The tunnel is dead straight and 2.7km long with a slight 0.5 per cent slope

The tunnel is dead straight and 2.7km long with a slight 0.5 per cent slope

First on the agenda is the creation of the test track in the 2.7km-long tunnel.

Throughout the process care will be taken to preserve the existing structure, and ultimately the end result will see the historic site brought back to life, unlike previous plans to infill it with concrete, having been unused since 1966.

“At the end of the project you have a tunnel that’s restored, the drains are fixed, the pointing is done, the portals are mint, you’ve got public access to it, jobs created and the wildlife improved,” said Dr Lewis, who had invited Mr Healy to contribute to the project with ideas on how to reflect the site’s history.

He spoke of the potential installation of a mini-museum or visitor centre somewhere on the land to showcase the tunnel’s heritage.

The second phase of the project is the transformation of the former station yard into a science park.

Dr Lewis explained: “What we’re trying to do here is bring together OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that make cars, companies like ours who provide services and product bits, and universities who do R&D, and try and bring the whole thing together to solve problems around vehicle testing.

“Because in the UK we’re sometimes not very good at getting the university to talk to the industry.”

The site would see 10 buildings with workshops with space for cars which would allow mechanics and engineers to stay on site for weeks of testing.

Manufacturers would have the opportunity to test cars in secret thanks to the concealed nature of the tunnel and two truck bays at the south side of the site allowing the transportation of the cars in and out of the site.

Larger two-storey office buildings are also planned, as is a four-storey academic building for use by students at Coventry and Northampton universities, subject to planning.

As well as building a facility which allows for testing in constant conditions, the Catesby Tunnel project will create jobs and attract investment into the district.

Dr Lewis suggested that companies such as Tesla, which might want to create a base in the UK or Europe, would most likely want to choose somewhere in the district because of its proximity to Catesby and other facilities/resources within the area.

On top of that, said Dr Lewis, the district is a low-cost area, is in the middle of automotive land, with DIRFT nearby and is not far from the aerodynamic wind tunnel MIRA in Warwickshire.

Dr Lewis sees Catesby Tunnel as sparking a positive knock-on effect which ultimately would lead to the creation of jobs in a new science cluster at the forefront of automobile and motorsport testing.

He said: “Daventry see it as the start of the cluster but also an enabler to bring hi-tech and regenerate the area, and I think it will.

“If I was Tesla I’d want to be right next to this thing.”