A TOP Somerset County Councillor has resigned from his cabinet position following an investigation into his behaviour regarding the sale of the West Somerset Railway freehold.

Conservative Cllr David Huxtable was responsible for the sale of the council-owned freehold.

The freehold is leased to the Plc, which runs the tourist attraction with the support of the West Somerset Railway Association.

Last year, both the Plc and the association submitted bids for the freehold but, in May, the council announced it would no longer be selling it.

The decision came after a string of e-mails, seen by the County Gazette, appeared to show Mr Huxtable planned a "media campaign" against one of the buyers.

Mr Huxtable, councillor for King Alfred, was in charge of the sale and was expected to announce the buyer last June but, instead, an investigation was launched following five complaints.

On Tuesday, Somerset County Council announced Mr Huxtable had resigned and published the findings of a report.

He was found to have breached the Code of Conduct in the following areas:

  • Not to use or attempt to use your position as a member improperly or give yourself or any other person, an advantage or disadvantage;
  • Not to conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the council into disrepute.

He was also found to have failed to comply with the following requirements of the Code of Conduct:

  • Avoid doing anything which compromises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of the council;
  • Not to disclose information given to you in confidence by anyone, or information acquired by you which you believe, or ought reasonably to be aware, is of a confidential nature, subject to the exceptions there listed.

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

"Cllr Huxtable has today written to me with his resignation from his Cabinet position.

"This is the honourable step to take and nothing less than I expected of a councillor whose three decades of dedication to public service include 26 years with SCC – six as a Cabinet member.

“I know that he will continue to represent residents in his division to the very best of his abilities. I’d like to thank the Standards Panel for their work on this matter.

“I can announce that I will take on the Cabinet Resources brief temporarily.”

Independent Cllr Mike Rigby who originally accused the Huxtable-Association relationship of being “cosy” said: “His (Mr Huxtable’s) behaviour has been anything but honourable.

“He should have resigned as soon as his e-mails were released, saving council taxpayers the cost of an expensive and timeconsuming investigation.

“What we still don't know is why he behaved like this.”

A spokesperson for John Irven, chairman for the PLC, said he was “pleased” with the outcome of the hearing and looks forward to “reopening the negotiations” in respect of the lease of West Somerset Railway.

David Baker, vice-chairman of the West Somerset Railway plc, said: "The bid by the West Somerset Railway Association for the freehold of the railway and the subsequent investigation has been a massive distraction for all those involved in the railway.

“We now need to look the future.

“We will be discussing with the county council an extension to our current lease in order to provide the solid foundation we need to develop our facilities and encourage even more visitors to our railway."

Association chairman David Williams said it is “difficult” for to comment as the association was not a complainant and not invited to give evidence.

He said: “The conclusions of the report neither augment nor diminish the merit of the charity's offer to purchase the railway freehold, as that does not appear to have been any part of this investigation.

“The association trustees have at all times sought to do what is best to secure the future of the West Somerset Railway and that has been their only consideration throughout."

The sale of the railway’s freehold remains on hold because neither bidder met the council’s criteria.

The County Gazette contacted Mr Huxtable who said that he would issue a statement shortly. 

We are still awating his statement.