Biggin Hill Heritage Centre plans set for take off
Biggin Hill was the launch pad for driving back Germany in the Battle of Britain. DAVID MILLS hears about the proposals for a long overdue heritage centre.
A 3D TUNNEL, an aerial dogfight and chronological history trail are just some of the ideas suggested for a heritage centre at Biggin Hill.
Plans are beginning to fall into place for the centre, which will remember the role RAF Biggin Hill played in pioneering the development of wireless technology and fighting the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
The Biggin Hill Battle of Britain Trust is proposing the centre be built within the RAF enclave, next to the Memorial Chapel in Main Road, as opposed to the alternative and smaller Leavesden site across the road.
Trust chairman Dennis Barkway said: "This creates the best opportunity we have had given the site is on the operational side of the airfield, where we have always wanted to be.
"The site would be right next to war time buildings."
Being "air side" would also open up the opportunity for possible Spitfire operations, but this would be subject to negotiation with Biggin Hill Airport and Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, who owns the west camp neighbouring the RAF site.
Mr Barkway said: "There would be room to put a Kent Spitfire hangar there and integrate that into visits to the heritage centre. But we are quite a long way from that, due to costs and the consent of Mr Ecclestone and the airport."
Building within the RAF enclave would also secure the future of the Memorial Chapel and the Air Training Corps, as the site, no longer operational, is on the Ministry of Defence disposals list.
Three options for developing the RAF quarters are being considered, which will all keep the chapel and remembrance gardens in their current form.
One option is to demolish all buildings except the chapel and build a new centre and ATC facility; a second is to convert existing buildings and build two new ones, while the third would keep the existing buildings and construct a centre to the rear or side of the chapel.
Notably the trust report states it would be "odd to the public and potential donors if the trust were seen to be destroying that which Adolf Hitler could not, in order to build the heritage centre".
Among the other items planned are classrooms for school visits with possible activities including making DIY radios and model aircraft.
It is also hoped the centre will contain historical artefacts and digital displays telling the personal stories of individuals who served at Biggin Hill.
One of the more exciting ideas includes a 3D tunnel which would place the visitor up in the sky in a Battle of Britain dogfight.
A plotting room has also been suggested where visitors would be able to use technology to plot incoming aircraft and manage the ensuing battle.
Mr Barkway said: "The way technology is moving on, there is scope for bringing some really interesting products into the arena.
"But keep in mind, it's technology that first put Biggin Hill on the map."
Spitfire pilot Rodney Scrase, who arrived at Biggin Hill in 1942, said: "It's extremely important young people hear the story of Biggin Hill.
"I had a young man write to me the other day wanting to know what I could tell him about my flying training for his school project.
"Of all the airfields around London (during the war), Biggin Hill was the most important. It was a key location."
2015 - the year the centre will open, should everything go to plan. It would appropriately tie in with the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
£3m - the total cost of building the centre, from which £2.2m would need to raised. The trust is in talks with a number of potential bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund.
18 months - the time it will take to build the centre.
12,000 - the number of visitors the Memorial Chapel receives each year. The centre would hope to capitalise on this market.
2.11 acres - the size of the RAF site. The Leavesden site is 1.73 acres.