AN EARLY BENEFACTOR - JIM BALLENY
INITIAL DEVELOPMENT OF LITTLE HAY (BALLENY
About the year 1958 and again in the 1970's, Joe Pearson was approached by the Society with a view to the purchase of his Lea Marston site. He declined the offer, intimating that this piece of land had a special place in his heart and that while he was prepared to lease it, he would on no account part with it. Subsequently, however, Joe did provide the Society with some very sound advice. He advised the Society on the desirability of acquiring suitable land within its capital capabilities before land values outstripped the Society's capital assets. A paradox indeed, as these assets were small and no evidence existed that they were likely to be increased.
It was at this time that Jim Balleny, a bachelor and comparatively recent member of the Society, came into prominence when it was discovered that in his last Will and Testament he had bequeathed the residue of his estate to the Society after all other specified bequests had been met. This gentleman, who was invariably to be found wearing shorts when conditions permitted, laid the foundations for the next phase in the Society's history. His photograph can be seen in the club house at Balleny Green astride his locomotive on the high level track at Lea Marston.
His particular bequest is perhaps an object lesson on the drawing up of a will; or rather how not to do so. Patently, at the time he drafted his Will, which comprised fixed bequests to his dependants with the residue to the Society, he had not considered on how many years he would live nor how his estate would appreciate. The net effect of all this was that, in the mid-1970's the Society became the recipients of some £8000. This was a great surprise to many within the Society and a great disappointment to others not so connected.
At the time of his bequest Walter Laight was Chairman but, due to the closeness of Fred Palmer - along with others - to Jim Balleny, the news of this windfall reached the official ears of the membership not from Walter but from Fred. Consternation prevailed and Walter Laight removed himself from the position of Chairman forthwith.
In writing this account of the affairs of the Society, it must be remembered that at times emotions can run high and harmony is often put to the test. Inevitably tempers cool, common sense prevails, and business resumes as normal. Such was the case in this instance and that great stalwart, S. A. Greenway, stepped into the breach to restore the equilibrium of the Society until the next Annual General Meeting. At this meeting Stan became Chairman and, with his calming influence, set the scene for the next phase of evolution which was about to take place.
Under the leadership of Stan Greenway the decision was made to use the legacy to purchase land as a means of locking into escalating land values, and here the original advice from Joe Pearson is repeated. Joe advised: "Buy a piece of land so as to secure your purchasing power and sell later if you cannot obtain planning approval".
A search was instigated to find a suitable plot of land, but this was not an easy task. Several potential sites were investigated and found unsuitable for a number of reasons. Among these sites was a field at Nether Whitacre, but access proved to be unsuitable, Land adjacent to the A3 8 at Fradley was rejected because of plans for road development, and a large meadow at Alrewas, which unfortunately proved susceptible to flooding from the river Trent, was also rejected.
Eventually the Society learned of the forthcoming auction of a farm at Little Hay which was to be divided into small plots of land. Three of the plots were deemed to be suitable if planning permission could be obtained, quite a gamble considering the green belt status of the site and the up-market nature of the local area. A Sunday morning inspection of the site was arranged and the general opinion was favourable, although considerable scepticism was expressed on the likelihood of planning consent being granted.
As a result Chris Strong, the Society's Treasurer, undertook to attend the auction and bid whatever was considered sensible and necessary. Several members attended the auction with Chris, including Dick Pearce and Ken Little. Bidding turned out to be brisk and the parcels of land attained prices far beyond the auctioneer's estimates. In the event the only plot within the budget was a 2.5 acre field which was snapped up for £7,100. Many members, conditioned to low capital aspirations, were somewhat
dumfounded at such boldness but the die was cast and the future of the Society was confirmed at a stroke,
Though legal title to the land had been drawn up and Society Trustees appointed to assume responsibility for this new asset, planning approval for its proposed use required to be negotiated with Lichfield District Council. A public relations exercise also required to be mounted in order to pacify the local villagers who, in many instances, had been "out-bid" at the public auction.
In the capable hands of Ken Little, Stuart Harrison and Dick Pearce, Lichfield District Council and their planning officers were approached. Bill Hall, Ken Little and Peter McMillan surveyed the new 2 1/2 acre field. Meanwhile Ken Little, now being the Chairman following Stan Greenway, consulted the membership. A consensus of opinion was obtained as to what facilities members considered would be desirable at the new site.
The New 2 1/2 Acre field
The management committee considered all this information before it was passed to Bill Hall in the form of a design brief. Speed, co-ordination and co-operation were the order of the day and all members pulled together in what amounted to a tremendous and challenging task. Suffice it to say that within the comprehensive design produced by Bill Hall, the following on-site facilities were fully detailed in the planning submission to the Council.
Site layout. The Main Gate had To Be Relocated
Buildings design, including sanitation.
Raised level track layout
Steaming bay canopy.
F. Whitehead had the landscaping proposals cleared by his professional staff in the Property Services Agency, of the Department of the Environment, who fully endorsed the proposals.
The scene was set and, following requests from several members, modifications were made to the plans to include a ground level track layout. Bill only completed his design work, including a complete re-draw at 2.30 a.m. on the day of the planning application deadline. Needless to say the planning application was turned down. Objections, mostly made on an uninformed basis, had been received from a number of local residents and, more significantly, by the Severn Trent Water Authority who contended that the proposals could cause pollution to local water supplies owing to the proximity of their pumping station.
A long and complex battle then began between the Society and the Severn Trent as to the validity of their objection. Stewart Harrison led the fight and it was he who finally succeeded in winning the day following, it has to be said, some rather "unconventional" tactics. Sewage disposal proposals, which included a triple chamber storm water chamber design, were finally accepted. This removed the hard-pressed objection from the water authority.
During this period intense lobbying of District Councillors was also undertaken in order to convince them that the proposal was not intended to resemble a theme park. This entailed a number of visits being made to the facilities at Lea Marston by Councillors who, once they could see and understand the Society's aims and ambitions, became much more sympathetic to the cause. As a result, the plans were passed by the planning committee at the fourth attempt, the only conditions being that no model aircraft were to be operated on the site and that the permission was to be for a period of five years. If no problems were experienced within those five years then permanent permission would be granted.
It should be recorded that Dick Pearce, one of the trustees, assisted Stewart Harrison in the negotiations with the planning officers with regard to the aesthetic treatment of the construction so as to not conflict with environmental factors within the area.
At the end of the day, the Planning Authority at Lichfield District Council, including their building inspectors, complimented the Society on the quality and clarity of their
application. All this is to the credit of those officers of the Society who had devoted so much time and effort to the initial stage of the process.
Having expended the bulk of the original capital derived from our benefactor, Jim Balleny, whose name is commemorated in this site, the next problem was marshalling our remaining financial resources.
F. Whitehead, having been appointed Treasurer in 1981, set about drawing up a forward budgetary plan of projected expenditure to sustain this proposed programme of ambitious works. At once it became apparent that income had to be increased to line up with planned expenditure. Suffice it to say, the Society had always lived within its means and by attention to such aspects had, at all times, by one means or another, been able to fund the aspirations of the members. Many members were generous in the extreme and a succession of anonymous donations coupled with profitable fund raising events sustained the financial reserves. Generally, the limiting factor proved to be one of human resources. As the construction at Balleny Green progressed, and in spite of heavy expenditure, the financial reserves of the Society have increased as the years have rolled by. This has been due to unremitting activity by Society members.
During the construction phase, extending throughout the 1980's, a tremendous effort was put in by all the members who took an interest in the development of Balleny Green. Overlapping this construction work, a secondary problem arose. This was the ongoing maintenance of the construction work already completed and the attendant grounds facilities. At the end of the day when the site is fully developed the main problem will always be the overall maintenance and servicing of the site, including all overheads. This, of course, includes the financing and running of the regular twice monthly meetings at Wylde Green Library.
At the time of writing this record of the first fifty years in the life of the Society, whilst many names have already been documented, likewise it has not been possible for many of the silent majority to be mentioned. During the period 1985 to 1995 membership has stood at around 120 to 140 and this appears to be about the optimum size of the Society. Whereas in 1948 annual membership subscriptions stood at ten shillings, the full membership fee now amounts to some £32.00 per annum. Such is the passage of time with its attendant inflation.
Before closing this review of the initial development at Balleny Green, it must be recorded that in 1992, in anticipation of the Golden Jubilee celebrations scheduled for 1998, upgrading of the track and storage facilities was put in hand. All this is now coming to fruition and has resulted in the need for further planning approvals and additional site work at Balleny Green.
Though reference has been made to the generosity of Jim Balleny, which enabled the great step forward that the Society made in acquiring its present site, the high standard of site facilities presently enjoyed by the membership are also due to the steady efforts and contributions - in labour and cash - from a small nucleus of its members. The society has never found it necessary to borrow money - donations and the successful running of events have raised it all.
As an example, when the tunnel was under construction by Colin Davis, we ran out of bricks. In the space of some 36 hours £800.00 was raised internally from members, allowing work to progress. Again, in the case of the signal box, this was not only donated by the late Frank Ashmore but also designed and constructed by him. There have also been other anonymous donations; the footbridge being one such valuable facility. All these gifts have been to the benefit of the Society and born out of a desire to contribute by whatever means was considered appropriate at the time. This trend continues.
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