HISTORIC TEST tanks used to develop the Dambusters bouncing bomb during the Second World War are under threat of demolition by a £300M Private Finance Initiative redevelopment of the National Physical Laboratory's site at Teddington in Middlesex.
English Heritage is campaigning for at least one of the tanks to be saved as a memorial to Sir Barnes Wallis, who used the tanks for the early work on the revolutionary bombs.
But the Department of Trade & Industry insists that the whole tank complex, which has never been listed, is redundant, expensive to maintain and not worth saving.
A DTI spokesman said it was important to consider the proposed demolition of the tanks 'in the broader context', and added: 'They have not been used for several years and have no architectural merit.'
One of the tanks dates back to 1909, the second to the 1930s. The longest stretches for more than 200m and contains millions of litres of water which has to be regularly aerated to prevent it becoming stagnant. With the British shipbuilding industry in long term decline, the tank complex has not been used for at least seven years and so has had no income to offset the costs. Pigeons now nest inside the crumbling buildings.
Many of the 50 occupied buildings on the 32ha NPL site are in little better condition, with some more than 70 years old. The plans currently awaiting planning approval from the London Borough of Richmond involve the demolition of all current buildings and housing all research facilities in one new laboratory complex.
The redevelopment is planned by Laser, a joint venture between John Laing and Serco, the contractor currently operating NPL on behalf of the DTI. Much of the area will be returned to parkland, but some of the land will be sold for housing. As the tank complex is neither listed nor in a designated conservation area, there are no planning constraints on its demolition.
But a spokeswoman for Richmond said the local authority would like to see 'some vestige' of the tanks retained as part of the landscaping proposals for the site, and was currently negotiating with Laser on this point.
If these negotiations are successful planning approval is likely within the next few weeks, the spokeswoman said.