PLANS to preserve the spiritual home of “The Few” have been shelved after a contract fell through.

The credit crunch has hit a housing project at RAF Bentley Priory, in Stanmore, dragging down proposals for a Battle of Britain commemorative museum at the same time.

The two schemes were bound together, with the development of flats and houses on the site helping the RAF Bentley Priory Battle of Britain Trust pay for the museum in mansion at the heart of the site.

Squadron Leader Erica Ferguson, a member of the trust, said: “It’s very sad. We were very close. We really believed the deal was going to go across the line and then in the end it didn’t.

“We were in the right place at the wrong time. For the veterans I think it will be a disappointment.

“We’d wanted to be able to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain by opening the museum and that’s not going to happen now.”

The two projects could both be brought back to life if the recession eases, but have been put on ice until next year at the earliest, when it is hoped the housing market will have recovered.

New attempts will then be made to find a developer.

The base was home to Fighter Command during World War Two and holds a place in the hearts of many former pilots.

The museum, which would have included historic rooms like Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding’s office, was intended to preserve their memory and remind future generations of the sacrifices they made.

For Dorothy Pope, of Runnelfield, Harrow-on-the-Hill, who survived the Coventry blitz, the museum had special meaning.

She said: “It’s so terribly sad. I think it’s important that coming generations know how much they owe to The Few.

“I still get a lump in my throat if anyone says Spitfire. They saved me. They saved my life but they saved democracy as well. I now live in a country with freedom of speech and freedom to operate.

“Britain is possibly the best country in the world, Britain and America anyway. They would not exist but for these people.”

But the base is also cherished by the community in Stanmore, residents around the borough and air force enthusiasts across the country.

John Williams, chairman of the Stanmore Society, said: “I think residents will be disappointed. The museum is certainly further away rather than nearer now.”

Bentley Priory was taken over by VSM Estates after the RAF withdrew in May, and Harrow Council has given the go ahead for the projects.

Guy Gusterson, land director at the company, said: “Although we have not been able to conclude negotiations with a specialist developer at this point, we are confident that a suitable housebuilder will be appointed in due course who can deliver this exceptional development.”

The base was opened to the public for the first time in 80 years in September, with thousands of people taking tours of the Grade II* listed mansion house and relaxing on the lawn outside.

More open days will be held this autumn, with the dates expected to be September 10-13.