29 November 2021

Construction Minister visits NFB member Stepnell’s Catesby Tunnel Project

At the beginning of November, the Construction Minister, Lee Rowley MP, visited the Catesby Tunnel project near Daventry, to coincide with the project’s handover to client and use the opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by the whole project team, led by main contractor and NFB member Stepnell Ltd. and directors Mark and Richard Wakeford.

The Catesby Tunnel is a 2.7km Victorian railway tunnel built in 1897 that formed part of the Great Central ‘London Extension’. It saw active service until the 1960s when it was decommissioned and has remained empty ever since. In 2017, planning permission was granted for the tunnel to be converted into a state-of-the-art aerodynamic testing facility for road and high-performance cars on a purpose-built, straight road test track with speeds of up to 100MPH being maintained for up to 40 seconds and this year, the project has reached completion on the construction phase.

The Minister toured the facility, including the length of the tunnel and was able to see how the £6.2m of public funds, invested from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the South East Midlands Local Economic Partner (SEMLEP) has been put to good use. As well as the tunnel facility itself, the project is also delivering a £4m research, science and technology park to bring high-tech business and high-skilled jobs to the area.

The Minister then joined and co-chaired a discussion with the supply chain, including the funder, the client, the main contractor, consultants and subcontractors – including the concrete millers, surface contractors and steelworkers. The Minister heard about the successes and challenges of the project, including elements where Government policy change could help to speed-up and enhance project delivery.

NFB policy staff helped to organise and facilitate the visit and James Butcher and Mia Silverfield joined on the day.

Commenting on the visit, Head of Policy at the NFB, James Butcher said:

“We were really pleased the Minister took the time to visit the Catesby Tunnel to see the very best of what NFB members are able to deliver– a world-leading research facility, building on this country’s heritage assets to deliver a truly ‘global Britain’ construction project that is already bringing in foreign investment.”

“Minister Rowley showed an active interest in the project, took time to tour the facility, speak to staff and then engaged in a detailed discussion. The Minister took away a number of challenges to tackle, including cross-Government working, planning issues and the need for a joined-up multi-agency approach”.

“We’d like to thank Minister Rowley for coming and look forward to doing whatever we can to support him in his efforts to champion construction and ensure we have a thriving sector into the future”.

Following the visit, the Minister spoke to local paper the Northampton Chronicle and 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.”

To find out more about the Catesby Tunnel, visit: https://catesbytunnel.com/