Bluebell Railway

Operation Undercover -
Progress Report December 2002

First published in Bluebell News

I am pleased to be able to report that after long hard months of negotiations, we have at last reached the final outline deal to purchase the Woodpax site.

Members will remember that at the start of the year, we were in negotiations for a subsale of a triangle of land immediately next to the west side of Sheffield Park. The area of land was not an ideal shape or size, and would have restricted the length of the building we could have erected. This would have had a knock on effect on the number of vehicles stored inside as well as creating a number of construction and operational difficulties in using it. It proved difficult to agree terms for this purchase, particularly as to price and access, and there were a number of unwelcome restrictions attached to the contract.

In July, this transaction fell through and we began to negotiate directly with the owners of the site, who were keen to see us acquire such of the land as we needed and could afford. A deal was soon struck for the purchase of a larger area, which extended further north up to the river and which would eliminate some of the accommodation and operational difficulties of the first building. Access though, remained a problem, as it became clear that prospective purchasers of the rest of the site were not keen to have the railway exercising a right of way across their land. This could have caused us difficulties, particularly as we would want access at weekends, when the rest of the site would be shut and locked.

The solution was to carve out a separate access strip at the very north end of the site, which gives the railway its own access without the need to cross land not in our ownership, and enables us and our new neighbours to secure our separate sites without affecting the other. We have now agreed to buy this site at a slightly increased price, but one which both the Trustees and the Board consider is good value in all the circumstances. The price agreed is £300,000, which is up from the £240,000 we had agreed in principle to pay at the outset for a much smaller and more restricted site.

We hope to exchange contracts by the end of the year if at all possible. Once that is done, we will be calling on all those members who pledged funds to let us have the money as soon as possible. There will also be a concerted fund raising effort amongst all members and shareholders and we will be entirely dependent on your support if this project is to go ahead. Completion will be arranged for a date probably in late February 2003, to allow us to pay the VAT element at a time most convenient to the Railway's finances. Some 480 members have so far pledged funds totalling just under £225,000, and many have pledged to do so via the Bluebell Trust utilising Gift Aid. Please do so if you can, as this will add 28% to your gift. There are also additional benefits for those who pay tax at the 40% rate. We have also had offers by way of standing order, which will be immensely helpful over the years of the project.

If you have not yet pledged funds to this project, or would like to increase your support, please consider doing so. Operation Undercover, like so many other major projects on the railway, will only happen if we find our part of the funds. The purchase cost of the site will count as part of our Partnership Funding obligation for the proposed HLF application. While we can look to the Company to bridge the costs of VAT and legal expenses etc, there is no prospect that Company money can be directed to this project. The desperate need for covered accommodation has been recognised for many years. We now have an opportunity to do something about it with your help.

Please contact either me at or tel 020 7359 2819, or our Hon General Secretary, Gavin Bennett at if you would like further information or can offer to help with funds.

Once we have secured the purchase of the land, work on our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund will crank up to full speed again. We have a preliminary estimate of the cost of the proposed building in the region of £1.3 million. With the land purchase, the whole cost of this stage of the project is therefore likely to be around £1.6 million. The HLF will expect us to fund at least 25% of that cost, ie a minimum of £400,000. As you see, the land purchase itself goes a long way towards that total. Put another way, every pound contributed to the project could attract matching funding from the HLF of three pounds.

Separately, we have been working with the Museum Group towards developing that part of the building which will provide improved display and interpretation of our collection. Work is being directed towards obtaining registration for the Museum, which once achieved, should create opportunities to attract additional funding towards this part of the project.

We will give you further news as the project progresses and we intend to have a detailed display of the project available for members at the AGM in May 2003.

Nicholas Pryor

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