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Wrangle over Biggin Hill heritage centre for Battle of Britain heroes

PUBLISHED: 12:23 14 September 2012 | UPDATED: 12:45 14 September 2012

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in 1940

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in 1940

Archant

On June 18, 1940, Sir Winston Churchill gave a speech which would begin months of German bombers filling Bromley skies and cement the place of Biggin Hill airfield in the history of the Second World War.

A Naafi wagon for groundcrew at Biggin Hill 1940A Naafi wagon for groundcrew at Biggin Hill 1940

“The battle of France is over,” said the Prime Minister. “The battle of Britain is about to begin.”

Though the efforts of the men who flew from Biggin Hill in the summer of 1940 saved possibly millions of lives, groups have battled for 30 years to establish a centre marking the historic site.

With architects’ designs and costing plans in place, the Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Supporters’ Club (BHBBSC) is hopeful that plans for a visitors’ centre will soon receive the green light.

The supporters are hoping the centre will open in time for the Battle of Britain’s 75th anniversary in two years’ time, though funding for the £5m building has not been found.

Darwin Cllr Richard Scoates and recreation Cllr Julian Benington at the proposed site next to Biggin Hill airportDarwin Cllr Richard Scoates and recreation Cllr Julian Benington at the proposed site next to Biggin Hill airport

Bromley Council has released £142,000 in instalments for surveys, architects’ drawings and other administration costs. The council has £655,000 remaining to give to the project but the BHBBSC has raised £50,000.

Bromley Council is expecting a completed business plan within the next few months, including funding ideas, according to Cllr Julian Benington.

He said: “We are providing money for the project, but not enough to complete it. We released a substantial amount of funds for their early work, which is all accounted for.

Part of the Salute to "The Few" fly past during the Battle of Britain open day celebrations at Biggin Hill, KentPart of the Salute to "The Few" fly past during the Battle of Britain open day celebrations at Biggin Hill, Kent

“We are now just waiting to hear how they plan to fund the centre.”

However, council meeting minutes dated July 25 state there are concerns over the spiralling cost. The centre was originally supposed to total £2.5m but this estimate has more than doubled.

Councillors also said they would not release any more money unless the group could provide firm letters of intent from financial backers.

Sharing the current RAF enclave at Biggin Hill with the existing memorial chapel, the visitors’ centre would act as a hub for guests from across the globe to pay their respects.

Flight simulators, a viewing area and an extensive reference library are all features that chairman of the supporters’ club, Gordon Wright, hopes will be included in the centre.

He said: “Biggin Hill shot down more enemy aircraft than any other station and had more pilots killed than any other too.

“When people come from all over the world to visit the site, the chapel does a very good job catering for them, but when they come out they say ‘where is the visitors’ centre?’”

Plans for a hotel at the airport were scuppered by a lack of investors, but airport spokesman Simon Ames is hopeful the heritage centre could boost the prospect of financial backing.

He said: “With a heritage centre in place, the interest in the site would double.”

After its role at the forefront of Britain’s fight against the Nazis, Biggin Hill fell by the wayside and following D-Day it became a barrage balloon centre.

Now it remains to be seen if investors will see the potential of the site to become a tourist and heritage attraction or whether time will continue to slip by with no proper venue to pay tribute to the efforts of The Few.

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