THE bid to get World Heritage status for the Great Western Railway has suffered a huge blow after its major financial backer pulled out.

Bath Heritage Watchdog, the voluntary conservation group which initiated the bid, revealed yesterday that they had lost the backing of a crucial organisation, which they cannot name for contractural reasons.

Now the chairman of the group, Patrick Hutton, is appealing for the people of Swindon to get behind the bid.

He said: “I would say to the people of Swindon, back the bid as it would be good for Swindon.

“We need a broad base of support and I would have thought Swindon, as home of the railway works and for GWR’s 175th anniversary, this would be ideal.

“One of the first things people can do is to write to the Department Of Culture, Media And Sport and support the bid.

“We need them to say they would be prepared to back the GWR as a World Heritage site.”

Two weeks ago the Advertiser reported that the GWR had made the DCMS shortlist of sites to be considered for the UK’s tentative list, before submission to UNESCO in 2011.

The 116-mile stretch of railway was included, along with 38 other sites across the country.

The DCMS is in the process of carrying out an assessment of each bid with a panel of independent experts.

The watchdog has since contacted Coun Steve Wakefield to ask him to rally support in Swindon.

The well-known railway enthusiast has called for residents and businesses in the town to get behind them.

He said: “I’m obviously going to be campaigning for support for the bid and working with the people in Bath.

“They need support behind them and I think this is something in this for Swindon.

“I’ve spoken to the Mayor Rex Barnett and he is going to give his support and we will be writing to the other mayors in the towns along the line.”

The line runs through 12 local authorities and includes notable features such as the Box Tunnel, Bristol Temple Meads station and the Railway Village in Swindon.

Coun Wakefield said the royal connections with the line meant it merited World Heritage status.

“The GWR was the first railway in the world to carry a monarch, Queen Victoria and it’s often called ‘the Royal Road,’” he said.

“I think we should remind the royals of their connection and why not get royal backing?”

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