Military chiefs have been asked to bankroll a Battle of Britain museum at Bentley Priory whose existence is threatened by the credit crunch.

Harrow Council wrote to the Ministry of Defence yesterday to ask if the Government can step in to ensure the promised heritage facility comes into being.

VSM Estates won approval in July 2008 to turn the 23-hectare ex-RAF site off The Common in Stanmore into a luxury housing estate.

One of the conditions of planning permission was that the eventual developer must provide the funds to convert of part of the 17th Century Grade II* mansion house into a Battle of Britain museum to be run by a trust set up by the Battle of Britain Fighters Association.

But since the proposed sale of the land to Barratt Homes has fallen through, the creation of the historical attraction has therefore been delayed indefinitely.

The letter from Councillor Marilyn Ashton (Conservative), portfolio holder for planning and development, to the Government said: "While the site remains unsold, there is no prospect of this museum opening. There is therefore the very real risk that this crucial piece of World War II history will be effectively mothballed, possibly for years, until the economy stabilises.

"As a first step towards rescuing the Battle of Britain museum, I asked Harrow’s most senior planning officer to set up a meeting with George Kernaghan, the head of disposal for Project Model at the MoD.

"I was both surprised and dismayed that this request was refused and the enquiry re-routed to VSM Estates, the contractor currently struggling to sell the site.

"Given that the Government feels able to rescue banks with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, I hope you will agree it should be able to find a way to support a museum at a site which – and this does not overstate the case – ensured the UK’s freedom in the war against Nazism."

In a statement, VSM Estates said: "Despite a positive and encouraging response from a number of housebuilders during the marketing of the site, VSM Estates has unfortunately not been able to finalise negotiations with its preferred bidder.

"The continued uncertainty of current market conditions, which have affected the property industry as a whole, has been the primary factor in reaching this decision.

"VSM Estates proposes to retain ownership of the site until the property market improves, and it is predicted that the site will be marketed again in 2010 when there is greater certainly in the economic climate."

Bentley Priory was the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command from where Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding co-ordinated The Battle of Britain against the German air force in 1940.


DEVELOPERS' COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTIONS

* £200,000 museum start-up costs and business case

* Up to £6.2m to convert house to museum

* £3m to set up trust to help fund museum perpetually

* 10-year-old woodland management plan

* £100,000 towards borough ecology centre

* £100,000 to improving Common Road

* Travel plan

* £100,000 towards education and health

* Plan for locally-recruited construction workforce

* Arranging 20 affordable homes off-site

* Money for maintenance of Bentley Priory Site of Special Scientific Interest


BENTLEY PRIORY MUSEUM

* Entrance Hall: Designed by Sir John Soane and will featuring shop

* Abercorn Room: Guides meet visitors and introductory materials

* Air Marshall Dowding's Room: Audio-visual exhibits and Dowding's office preserved behind glass

* Adelaide Room: Displays about the house during wartime

* Ante Room: Five special tables on air defence and projection exhibit

* Ladies Room: Museum exhibits based on imaginary talks with key characters

* Rotunda: Art gallery with portraits and searchable audio database of veteran pilots