Minister visits world class Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility

The Minister for Business and Industry, Lee Rowley, visited the multi-million-pound Northamptonshire-based Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility (CARF) – a previously disused Victorian railway tunnel transformed into a unique indoor world class aerodynamic vehicle testing centre.

During the recent visit of the almost 3km-long and perfectly straight tunnel, the Minister heard how it is more accurate and efficient than a wind tunnel and will give the UK a unique proposition in automotive and race car development, to attract global interest for its use.

At the CARF, Mr Rowley met Aero Research Partners (ARP), which instigated the project, and construction firm Stepnell, which was awarded the design and build contract to develop the unique scheme, set to create a world-leading precedent. Now in its final stages, once ARP has undertaken its own commissioning and trials, Stepnell will then return to lay the final asphalt layer – this will be the last operation before vehicle testing happens.

Following a tour of the facility, Construction Minister Lee 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.”

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 brief was to take a disused 1.7-mile-long railway tunnel and to bring it back to life with a super flat road surface that is capable of testing vehicles in a variety of ways to improve their performance.  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.

This project has required very close working with our client, ARP, to deliver a new concept in vehicle testing whilst managing the project risks. Stepnell has completed these works with our first-class supply chain who have all stepped up to this exciting if unusual challenge.”

Rob Lewis, director of Aero Research Partners, said:

“We are very pleased to take possession of the tunnel from Stepnell who have worked closely with us and led a professional team of great subcontractors to successfully complete the civil engineering and building works. The Stepnell team have converted the tunnel from a wet hole in the ground to a pristine running surface that allows sophisticated vehicle testing.  ARP will now fit out the building, install telematics in the tunnel and complete testing of our procedures before opening once the wearing course has been laid.”

The delivery of the project was made possible through a partnership approach, which has also involved West Northamptonshire Council. The council bought the tunnel from the Department for Transport and it is now leased to ARP. The CARF received £4.2 million of investment from the Government’s Local Growth Fund, secured through the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

To find out more about the Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility visit:


Image L-R: Scott Kilby (Operations manager, Tarmac), Richard Wakeford (Project director, Stepnell) Ian Chattington (Managing director, Power Plane), Lee Rowley MP (Construction Minister), John Baker (Managing director, Hawkins Group), Alan Lyons (Project manager, Stepnell), Mark Wakeford (Joint managing director, Stepnell) and Chris Henderson (Managing director, Trent Construction Services).


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