For 37 years, from 1971 to 2008, the West Somerset Railway Association has gone quietly about its business, and has been a good friend to the railway. They have undertaken many projects to enhance the railway and even came to the rescue of the Plc in the 1980’s when they were in financial difficulty. The Association donated their entire funds to keep the Plc afloat. Again they came to the Plc’s rescue in 2007 after the rail grinding situation ,which was because of the total incompetance of the Plc to manage the situation. The Plc purchased Ditcheat Manor to suppliment their locomotive fleet, the Plc soon realised this loco needed a major overhall, and would not fill the gap in their fleet, so the Association came to their rescue again, and purchased Ditcheat Manor, to plug their shortfall of capital. What is interesting about this transaction, did the Association know it needed a major overhall when they purchased Ditcheat Manor? From what we can gather, the Association were lead to belive that the locomotive had a least two years of life when they purchased it, but lead by whom? It was also suggested at the time they could also hire it back to the WSR Plc for a two year period to help with the overhall. What is also interesting, is the latest information put out by Mr Courtney and the reform group, is that Ditcheat Manor needs nearly £1 million pounds to rebuild it. The reform group criticised the Trustee's for an overspend on 4561, but it would be totally in proportion with the costing, if you compare it with Ditcheat Manor, and considering 4561 would cost between £400,000 and £500,000 to complete. 4561 has had new frames and cylinder blocks, which are a major cost in a rebuild. The question has to to be asked, was this level of expenditure absolutely necessary, or was it someones idea of perfection. This proves beyond any doubt, that statements made by the reform group, that the cost of rebuilding of 4561, had got out of hand, are just plain ridiculous.
There seems to be some misconceptions about the role of the Association within the railway. The respected ex-Chairman, David Holmes, puts it into perspective. “The Associations role is to provide a channel for members and supporters to contribute to the lines success and provide funding for the heritage aspect of the railway. These are perhaps not key to the pure operation of the railway, but they are never the less, vital to the creation of the ambience and future well being of the West Somerset Railway as a portrait of railways of the west country in the 1950’s and 60’s rather than a 20 mile tourist attraction. One common misconception is that the Association exists to ’support’ the Railway in the context of financially subsidising the West Somerset Railway Plc. That is not, and has never been the case, since its conception.” But, over the years it has funded many projects, such as the purchasing of 36 acres known as the Norton Fitzwarren triangle.
It was somewhat surprising when in 2007/8 rumours started to circulate about the desire to change the role of the Association. In 2010 a very confidential report was written by Tim Stanger, a newly appointed Association Recruitment Officer and Trustee, also Roger Saville, the Plc’s Finance Director. This report suggested that all the Association’s commercial assets be taken away and transferred to the Plc. This was news to the remaining Association Trustees and they were made to sign a non-disclosure agreement to even view the report.
After this confidential report was rejected by the majority of the Association Trustees and those Trustees that were in favour moved to the Plc Board as directors, other things started to happen. David Holmes started to become aware of this and documented his concerns. “The Plc regarded the Association as a threat rather than a strong and supportive partner. Long standing agreements, in writing but not counter signed, for the Tarmac Shed Lease, Norton Operating and Running Rights, Station Farm common staff conditions and procedures, began to be ignored and simply denied by the Plc. Face to face discussion and promises, even in confirmed emails, were similarly denied. I felt I could no longer trust the word or agreement of people I had formerly considered long standing friends. Every continued attempt to place the WSRA on a sound footing was resisted and frustrated and an underground campaign began to paint the WSRA as 'failing to support the railway’ and operating in competition to the Plc.”
How can this be the case when they have 37 years of solid faithful peaceful support by the WSRA towards the Plc? What has made the Plc hostile towards the Association when they have done nothing to deserve this treatment? Is there an outside influence bringing pressure to bear on the Plc Board? This certainly would explain their behaviour.
One educated guess is the very valuable land at Norton Fitzwarren! There are also many other valuable fixed assets belonging to the WSRA, totalling in excess of £7,000,000 (seven million pounds) that comprises land, locomotives, rolling stock and equipment. The income comprises the stone contract and the Quantock Belle. These assets are due in part to the goodwill and generosity of the over 5,000 membership over the years. The majority of these assets were to be transferred to the Plc in the 2010 confidential report (reproduced here under the Archive page). Is this why the Plc are supporting the invalid election held on the 27th February?
There has been a propaganda campaign and character assassination against whoever was in the Chair of the WSRA since the confidential report, it started during David Holme’s chairmanship and has continued against David Williams and now against Peter Chidzey. The flawed Coombes report seems to be yet another desperate attempt to remove the Trustees which would clear the way to achieve the aims of the 2010 confidential report.
Any fair minded observer to the events of the last 7/8 years can surely see a pattern emerging. There has been considerable misinformation in the railway press and on the railway forums with very little fact to substantiate the accusations. This is why it has become vitally important to write a true history stating the facts from the beginning of the Association to the recent events.
If the architects of this propaganda and misinformation campaign achieve their aims the Association will change out of all recognition and the years of commitment and sacrifice from its many volunteers, some who are no longer with us, will have been for nothing.
There is obviously far more going on behind the scene that we perhaps realise, the Plc for some years have been stating that they have outside financiers, but no one knows who they are. What will they want in return for their financial support?
A recent freedom of information act request, within the last month, of the West Somerset Council where it was asked to provide details of any meetings or offers made to the council regarding the west somerset railway freehold. They were also asked if the freehold had been opened to private buyers. In responce they stated the following. "I am advising you that the information you requested is not held by somerset county council. This is because the lease of the West Somerset Railway is not for sale and has not been since the decision made in May 2014." However, we know that there have been informal meetings regarding this subject. Is gaining the freehold one of the key parts of the jigsaw that has plagued the WSR for the last nine years? So we suggest you watch this space!
Update - 12/3/2016
We would like to take you back to 2007 when Michael Grimoldby was removed from the WSRA as a Trustee. Before we go into that lets remind you of the aims of the 2010 WSRA/Plc secret report (reproduced here on the Archive page) where the aims were to remove all the WSRA's assets and pass them to the Plc. The people who were the architects of this report are Roger Saville, Finance Director of the Plc, Tim Stanger, WSRA Trustee and Recuitment Officer, other WSRA Trustees that were involved in discussions prior to the publication of this report were Steve William a WSRA Trustee, Steve Roberts who was WSRA Chairman and Geoff Pateman who was WSRA Treasurer. Stanger, Roberts, Williams and Pateman secretly met many times to discusse this report without the knowledge of 8 other WSRA Trustees. Why? Surely they should have all discussed it then voted on a decision to move it forward or reject it. These four Trustees coluded with Roger Saville of the Plc, it would appear to be a devious and underhand way of doing things. Not surprisingly the report was rejected by the majority of Trustees. Steve Roberts resigned immediately, as did Steve Williams and Geoff Pateman, shortly after their resignations they were elected to the Plc Board. Highly suspiscious. In a nutshell, they put forward an asset stripping report to favour the Plc, when the report was subsequently rejected they jumpted ship and joined the Plc who would have been the beneficiary of the assets they tried so hard to liberate.
Now to Michael Grimoldby. He and John Pearce were founding members of the WSRA in the 1970's. After John Pearce resigned due to ill heath, before 2007 the only founder member as a Trustee was Michael Grimoldby. He was a sucessful businessman in his own right but was removed as a Trustee in 2007. The people that were around at that time were Mark Smith, Humphrey Davies, Andrew Chatwin, David Morgan. Why would you remove someone that was a founder member and a very sucessful businessman, surely these are desirable attributes in a trustee. Could it be that Michael Grimoldby had got wind of the aims of the secret report in 2007. Now Mark Smith, is Vice Chairman of the HRA and David Morgan is a Director. Humphrey Davies is a Plc Director. Andrew Chatwin is Chairman of 4160 Ltd.
The charges levelled against Michael Grimoldby were that he was 'out of step' with his colleague Humphrey Davies. Subsequently he was removed from the WSRA Board of Trustees.
Around that time Humprey Davies, who was Chairman, decided to step down and asked David Holmes if he would like to take up the chair of the WSRA. In considering this offer, David Holmes view was "I was aware that the Association had changed significantly" so I declined the offer, eventually Robin White was asked by Humphrey Davies to take the Chair. Were these major changes to pave the way for the transfer of the commercial assets to the Plc? Is Humprey Davies the architect of all of this? It is hard to imagine that Tim Stanger invented this 2010 secret report by himself, or was he tasked to write this report by someone else.
History to follow shortly