Work is underway to create an innovative world-class aerodynamic testing facility in a disused Victorian railway tunnel in Northamptonshire.
Construction on building the roads to gain access to the Catesby Aero Research Facility on the A361 will begin shortly while clearing hedgerows has already started following consultation with Daventry District Council planning and arboricultural officers.
The ground-breaking project, by Brackley-based firm Aero Research Partners (ARP) designed by architects at the Roger Coy Partnership in Eydon, Daventry, will lead to the remodelling of the perfectly straight, 2.7km-long tunnel into a smooth asphalt roadway, with lighting and end closures among other substantial upgrades.
The Catesby Aero Research Facility will also lead to the creation of a 4.5-acre science park with offices, workshops and a research facility as well as creating new jobs.
It will be the only aerodynamic testing facility of its kind available for hire and is expected to attract interest from across the world, ranging from cycling and motorsport teams to major vehicle manufacturers.
The project has been able to go ahead after £4.2 million was awarded from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership.
Luke Abbott, an architect and director at the Roger Coy Partnership, said it was exciting to see the facility get underway.
“We have been working on this for the last three years and it is great to watch the early stages of the Catesby Aero Research Facility come to life,” he said.
“As well as working on the access of the A361, detailed planning of remedial works within the tunnel and the portals is now underway.
“We have started working on the design input necessary to meet the ecological and protected species conditions within the tunnel and site area and a detailed Ecological Management Plan has been produced.
“We have also been coordinating information from specialists to submit documents which were part of the conditions when planning permission was agreed.
“The next stage is to continue with the detailed design of the Catesby Aero Research Facility building and elements within the tunnel and we remain on track for it to open in 2019.”
Dr Rob Lewis OBE, managing director of Brackley-based TotalSim, and ARP, said: “The Local Growth Fund award has been a key step in moving this project forward. We now have both planning permission and a significant amount of the required budget secured.
“We have investors ready to become part of the project early in 2018 and we expect to open the facility to customers in late 2019.
“Testing vehicles in Catesby tunnel will give the UK a unique tool in automotive and race car development. We hope that this will lead to a successful science park and other regional activities that will support the testing and innovation at Catesby.
“As the project matures we intend to explore academic collaborations as well as using the facility to engage with schools and work to inspire children into the world of science, technology, engineering and maths.”
Daventry District Council is supporting the delivery of the project and plans to acquire the tunnel from Highways England, so it can lease it to ARP to ensure the scheme goes ahead.
Councillor Colin Poole, DDC’s economic, regeneration and employment portfolio holder, said: “It is wonderful news that work has started on this unique project to revitalise a piece of our industrial heritage and create a facility of international importance.
“The council is proud to support the Catesby Aero Research Facility, which will provide a real boost to our local economy and create new jobs in this high-tech industry. We also welcome the fact that this project is being driven by local talent and expertise, further cementing Daventry District’s place within ‘Motorsport Valley’.”
Stephen Catchpole, chief executive at SEMLEP, said: “This project is a great example of what can be achieved with a partnership between business and the public sector, to grow business, develop skilled people and create high quality places that support a stronger economy.
“The South East Midlands is recognised as the most innovative area in the country. Our high-tech clusters and expertise, and the unique offer that the Catesby project in particular offers, secures our role further as the test-bed of new and emerging technology, and as the commercialisation core of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Growth Corridor."
Richard Wakeford, director of construction partner Stepnell, said: “The original tunnel is in remarkable condition given the low levels of maintenance since its decommissioning as a railway tunnel.
“In planning the works, including the construction of a technical research building, we are looking at the materials, trades, access requirements, specialist plant and processes. All this is accessed from the southern approach, accessing from the old station yard and under a very weak bridge that Highways England is looking to strengthen during the development work.
“Developing the design of the testing environment, managing and minimising the environmental impact of what we do and planning the construction sequence is a challenge equal to building the new facilities.”