Questions asked of Chilton Polden councillor over West Somerset Railway sale

Bridgwater Mercury: West Somerset Railway. West Somerset Railway.

A TOP council chief from Chilton Polden has come under fire over his handling of the sale of the West Somerset Railway.

An email seen by the Mercury appears to reveal Cllr David Huxtable, who had been tasked by Somerset County Council with deciding who to sell the railway’s freehold to, planning a “media campaign” against one of two potential buyers.

The West Somerset Railway plc, which holds the lease and runs the attraction, and the West Somerset Railway Asso-ciation, a charity made up of members and volunteers, both submitted bids earlier this year, thought to be in the region of £250,000, for the railway freehold.

But in an email released under the Freedom of Information Act, Cllr Huxtable appears to be siding with the association.

The email was sent on February 3 – before bids had formally been submitted – to Roger Bush, from the West Somerset Rail-way Association.

Cllr Huxtable wrote: “I am coming to your parish council meeting on Feb-ruary 12 when I think I might open my ‘media campaign’ which will point out that it is not in the public interest for the plc to hold the freehold.”

Bishops Lydeard county councillor Mike Rigby, who held several meetings about the sale with interested representatives, des-cribed the revelation as “scandalous”.

He said: “Here’s the man charged with achieving the best outcome for the council in the sale of public property, effectively acting as an adviser to one of the two parties interested in the freehold.”

However, Cllr Huxtable rejected criticisms that he “cosied up” to one of the bidders and said he “tried hard to negotiate with both parties.”

He also denied that the disclosure of the private emails had forced the county council into a u-turn, after it revealed last Tuesday that it had shelved plans to sell the railway.

The Mercury emailed several questions to Cllr Huxtable over his actions but he said the council press office had already dealt with them and did not comment further.

The county council confirmed a formal decision not to sell would be made by council leader John Osman, not Cllr Huxtable.

A council statement said: “In view of the public and member interest in this matter the leader of the council has decided to consider this decision.”

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