A unique project to build a world-class aerodynamic testing facility in a Victorian-era railway tunnel in Northamptonshire has been awarded £4.2million in government funding.
The contribution towards the Catesby Aero Research Facility has been agreed by the South East Midlands Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) from the £59million awarded to the region through the Local Growth Fund.
The project, by Brackley-based firm Aero Research Partners (ARP), would see the perfectly straight, 2.7km-long tunnel remodelled with the installation of a smooth asphalt roadway, lighting and end closures amongst other substantial upgrades.
The only aerodynamic testing facility of its kind available for hire in the world, it would be expected to attract interest from customers across the globe, ranging from cycling and race car teams to major vehicle manufacturers.
The site would also house a 4.5 acre science park with offices, workshop units, and a research facility and would create around 50 new jobs. Planning permission for the scheme was granted in February 2017.
Daventry District Council (DDC) is supporting the delivery of the project and intends to acquire the tunnel from Highways England, so it can lease it to ARP and enable the scheme to go ahead.
Councillor Colin Poole, DDC’s Economic, Regeneration and Employment Portfolio Holder said: “This is excellent news for this innovative project to bring a world-class aerodynamic testing facility to our District. We feel extremely privileged to be involved with this project and are fortunate to have the only tunnel suitable for this facility located in our District.
“The Catesby Aero Research Facility would provide a real boost to our local economy, creating new jobs in this high-tech industry, providing opportunities for local contractors and suppliers, and further cementing our District’s place within ‘Motorsport Valley’.
“The aerodynamic testing and other specialist work that would take place in the completed facility would also help manufacturers lower the carbon emissions generated by their vehicles, which could make a significant contribution in the battle against global warming.
“The Council is proud to support this unique project to revitalise a piece of our industrial heritage to create a facility of international importance, and we are pleased that the application for funding has been agreed by our partners at SEMLEP.”
Luke Abbott, an architect and director at the Roger Coy Partnership in Eydon, Daventry, said: “This is an innovative and exciting project for us as architects to be involved with, over the last three years.
“We were appointed as architects and lead consultants from inception. Our brief included; to masterplan the site, prepare design scheme drawings for the test facility building, link to the tunnel and the science park and to appoint and manage the other professional consultants as a design team. We also prepared, collated and submitted the planning application, which we lobbied to approval.
“It is extremely unusual to work on a project such as this, because it will be the only industry test facility of this nature worldwide.”
Dr Rob Lewis OBE, managing director of Brackley-based TotalSim, which is part of ARP, said:
“This government funding unlocks the project. It is an important step as we look to start work on the tunnel in October with a view to it becoming operational in 2019.
“The goal is to keep the tunnel open for the automotive industry in Britain, Europe and the rest of the world, rather than it being used exclusively by a single manufacturer. Without this testing facility, the structure would have been lost, along with a unique opportunity. We are very grateful to the Highways England Historical Railways Estate for believing in our project and supporting us for the last six years.”
Stephen Catchpole, Chief Executive at SEMLEP, said:
“SEMLEP is committed to supporting key sectors in the Government’s Industrial Strategy that will the secure the future prosperity and economic growth of our wider area, including Daventry.
“The South East Midlands is increasingly known for our expertise and innovation in testing facilities, vital in supporting advanced technology developments and commercialisation of innovation in high value and high growth sectors. We are pleased to support this project as part of our £265M Growth Deal, particularly as the project is utilising an existing railway tunnel and is raising the majority of the funds privately which offers excellent value for money to the public purse.”