Somerset councillor David Huxtable censured over conduct in railway bid process

Steam train going through West Somerset Railway line. Image copyright APex
Image caption Somerset County Council wanted to sell the freehold of West Somerset Railway but shelved the proposal because neither bidder met the council's criteria

A politician has been censured for bringing his office into disrepute over the sale of a heritage railway.

An investigation found Somerset County Council cabinet member David Huxtable breached the authority's code of conduct during the sale of West Somerset Railway's freehold.

His impartiality was questioned after a Freedom of Information request released emails he shared with a bidder.

The council confirmed Mr Huxtable had now resigned from his cabinet position.

Two groups - the West Somerset Railway Association and West Somerset Railway Plc - bid for the railway's freehold. Mr Huxtable was to sign off the sale.

'Quieter the better'

However, after emails between Mr Huxtable, a Conservative, and Roger Bush from the West Somerset Railway Association were released, their relationship was described as "cosy" by fellow councillor, Mike Rigby, an independent.

The emails showed various statements from Mr Huxtable including:

  • "I would have thought Mike Rigby would be making a big mistake if he made too much of this proposed transfer of freehold. Perhaps that needs pointing out to him. The quieter this is kept, the better, and making a fuss could be construed as damaging for the railway."
  • "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."

A standards committee hearing panel found Mr Huxtable had used his position improperly to give another person an advantage, and conducted himself in a manner which could bring the council into disrepute.

Council leader John Osman said: "This is obviously a devastating outcome for a councillor who has devoted more than 30 years to public service."

He described Mr Huxtable's decision to resign from his cabinet position as an "honourable step to take".

The sale of West Somerset Railway's freehold is currently on hold because neither bidder met the council's criteria.

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