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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Sustainable Energy in Melksham
Avon memories - three structures to cherish
Remembering Dad who would have been 100 today
Who should the Town Council help with a grant?
Giving voice to the public
Revisiting "Melksham South Ward" Group
An end to the Town Council soliciting public input?
Painting the town pink.
Melksham Town Council Play Areas
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Some other pages on this site:

Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
Graham Ellis - background and • views
Philosophies of working as a town councillor
The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
How YOU can help and • Contact me
Links to other web sites and • pictures
Through April 2021, I posted most days. Thereafter (elected) you hear from me here at least once a week.

Principles of being a good councillor

"You won't find many people who disagree with the Nolan Principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership" says the front page of the Good Governance Institute, and indeed I don't disagree with the principles. But there is nothing in law to require your elected councillors to adhere to them in everything we do. In fact as Town or Parish councillors, whilst we (like everyone else in the country) need to adhere to the law, we are pretty much free to do as we wish, with just an ongoing penalty of loosing the respect and ability to influence out colleagues is we transgress in a way they do not approve of, and with a potential penalty of being voted out next time around, should we consider it to be a penalty to loose an unpaid volunteer job.

A member of the public in my ward has been in touch with me to raise a concern about the behaviour of a fellow councillor of mine (from another ward) - "who do I report this to" I am asked. My first reaction having heard just one side of the story is "perhaps to the police" but really that would need to be an extreme situation for it to be worthwhile. I'm the only Melksham Town Councillor elected independently of a grouping. Somewhat relieved the complaint is not about me, and for all of the others you could have a word with the people who lead their group. Different situation, but I note that MPs who have been naughty girls or boys can loose their party whip and be chucked out of the club, which does no good in terms of their chances of a senior role or help locally to get back in.

So - sorry - we town councillors are pretty well teflon coated! Most of us do agree with those fine principles, but in most of them there are shaded of grey; I have some excellent colleagues but most of us perhaps deliver less that we could on those principles. I become exhausted in leading and perhaps sit back more than I should and follow rather than leading at times. Others make decisions or proposals based on limited public information - not being open. If we're campaigning to be re-elected or be promoted, are we really being selfless, and if we're pushing a pet project are we being objective?

So - to the person who wants to complain about a town councillor - you could informally ask the mayor, or the councillor's party leader, or the Town Clerk, and any of those might result in a quiet word in their ear reminding them of the priciples. But such has been the level of robust conflict of late that such quiet words tend to fall on already-deaf ears. If it's serious enough such as an assault then you should involve the police.

We have mostly excellent councillors who do their level best to adhere to the Nolan principles. Time is given for free (and sometimes taken advantage of) and it's so the great credit of these councillors that they rarely snap, they rarely let "leadership" turn into bullying. But, yes, there is a temptation that must be resisted when a helpful leading word is offered but is unwelcome.

Diagram from a far more detailed article at Surviving Church - "Exploring abuse in The Church. Why does it happen? How can we move on?"

Published Wednesday, 24th April 2024

Sustainable Energy in Melksham

Illustration - the electric car charger points in the King Street Car Park, and we have other public charging points in the South Ward on Spa Road at the SEB offices and depot, and at the Wiltshire Council campus. Elsewhere in Melksham there are public charging points at McDonalds and the Railway Station, and perhaps others I don't know about, and those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a house with a driveway are able to install a private car charger too.

But switching from a petrol or diesel car to an electric one does not magically remove the need for an energy source to move the vehicle. With petrol or diesel, that's energy released from fossil fuel within the vehicle, and for an electric car it might be (the worst option IMHO) simply a move away from generation in the vehicle to generation at a power station from burning oil - or gas, or coal (formerly), or biomaterial, or waste, all of which are hardly carbon friendly. Thank goodness we have other options available to us. Wave power and other forms of hydroelectric, wind power and solar power are "sustainable", other sources such as nuclear are to put it mildly contentious and may well leave an unwanted legacy for thousands of years.

Here in Wilshire, what are our sustainable generation options? Should we be even concerned, as a landlocked county with a relatively high population density compared to places outside England, should we assume that we can say "not appropriate in my back yard" to sustainable generation systems which need space and expect other places with geography that leads to more efficient generation, and with less effect on their populations, to generate power for us? On the flip side, places like London are even less suited to generate the power (by wind turbine, for example) that they need, so should we be doing so as best we can here in Wiltshire and shipping it to them?

Many of the homes and commercial buildings in our town ARE suited to "rooftop" generation of electricity - as an example we have solar panels on the roof of our home and generate the majority of electricity we use, including charging the electric car. Solar generation comes when it's light and that's only half the time - less in winter, and so we have a battery which stores power when we are generating more than we are using, so that we can use it later. Our car also has a battery (as do all electric cars) and we charge it in the sunshine, and "trickle" so that we're not pulling off the grid as it refills.

The Town Hall is probably not suitable for solar panels (educated guess, listed building restrictions), but the Assembly Hall probably is, and I'm pretty sure from the structural survey done that the Blue Pool could host a considerable array that would generate more power than needed by Melksham Town Council and make a local contribution.

Let's look wider at opportunities to help provide sustainable / renewable energy in the Melksham area - and these are contentious:

There is an ongoing early consultation on a large battery storage area at Whitley. That's in association with a large area of solar panels at Malmesbury. In that part of the county the headline reaction has been very negative indeed, with public opinion as showing on media being very negative indeed. Voiced reception in the Whitley area as been negative too. Interestingly, although I saw a large area suggested for batteries, I did not see any suggestion of solar panels on top of them. Perhaps I have missed something in the fine print?

I have been watching the sale of the former Cooper Tires land by Cushman Wakefield - Plot A being largely brownfield land on the west of the Avon and Plot B being greenfield on the east - total site area 68.5 acres according to the Wiltshire Times.

Melksham's Green Space group entered a bid for Plot B, but have lost out and as I write this I don't know who too. I do note "The selling agents Cushman & Wakefield offered the freehold for sale, saying it would prefer the whole site to be acquired by one buyer, although it was willing to accept separate offers for 'Area A' and 'Area B'" and a likely scenario is that they have, as per there stated preference, selected an offer that includes both. Area A is the old factory site and has complex re-use issues, but those challenger can be overcome, whereas Area B is for the most part land with severe flooding issues and is not proposed for housing or industrial use in the new local or neighbourhood plans. I speculate that there's a strong chance that the whole sale has gone through to a company looking at the redevelopment of Area A and with little or no real interest in Area B, but including it in their purchase in order to increase their chances of winning the "prize" of the main site.

Should my speculation prove correct, there may well be an opportunity for the Green Space group to negotiate either a purchase or lease of the area they were interested in, even having a better chance now because there may also be a desire on the part of the new owners to offload what was in effect an unwanted part of the total purchase.

There's also another very interesting scenario in that a redeveloper of the Plot A / factory site looking to achieve a carbon neutral build and meet requirements could look to Plot B for energy generation. There are three options and they could be combined:
* Solar
* Wind
* Hydro-electric

I read "Solar Farms can produce up to 5 megawatts (MW) on approximately 25 acres of land … which is enough to power 10,000 homes and businesses." I also read that solar panels on a flood plain are regarded as being 95% penetrable by flood waters and take that as confirming that the land which is currently used for growing a corn crop each year might be used for generating electricity - and with the land on the periphery, perhaps, preserved for biodiversity and leisure use - it could be attractive.

Wind turbines need a staggering amount of space (though you can do plenty underneath them!) and ideally you would get just one of the largest model in, or potentially two slightly smaller giving approaching 4 MW of generation.

We have a head of water in the River Avon (interesting maintained at the Melksham Gate for industrial use by the Mill and later by Avon, Goodyear and Cooper Titres. Some work has already been done with regard the feasibility of this, using an Achemidies screw; as an educated guess the amount of electricity generated would be very very much less than solar or wind, but never the less worthwhile.

All three options could co-exist and work together, peaking at different times of day / year and to some extent balancing out, though some form of storage would be useful. Looking at the 'numbers' we could come close generating enough power to making Melksham Town net carbon zero.

I started at the beginning of this ramble taking about electric car charging and where that electricity comes from, suggesting that an electric car isn't much good if you simply burn fossil fuel (or anything else) somewhere else to power it. But actually, how you provide power is only one part of the equation. The other side of the equation is how much power to need.

Lisa and I drove in our electric car to a difficult-to-access-from-Melksham place in Bristol the other day. With a fossil fuelled car with a conventional engine, braking as you go down the hills generates heat that's lost into the environment but with the electrics, the braking is regenerative. I'm sure that there's significant energy loss in taking in out and saving it back, but is does lower the consumed energy.

Is there a need to drive individually? Should we be using public transport which is naturally more efficient for mass transit journeys? Should we improve and join up public transport to encourage this? Should we (and those hundreds of cars every hour with spare seats) be able to fill the seats as we travel? For short journeys on our own, should we legalise and use an electric scooter?

I have looked at the things we could do to reduce the power needs of transport as it's an area I know a bit about, and it's a significant CO2 generator / use of power that is stubbornly resistant to reduction. But other areas are also important. Home and office power use for keeping warm - insulation, draught exclusion, turning the thermostat down a degree or two, reducing the heating in rooms that are not in use, etc. Then there is industrial use. According to Staistica, electricity use has dropped from 350 terawatt hours in 2005 to 274 terawatt hours in 2022, and that in not withstanding a transfer of elements from oil to electric. Oil use dropped from 1.8 million barrels per day in 2005 to 1.3 million barrels per day in 2022.

Before I "put my pen down", I should also note that sustainable electricity and fossil and burning based provision are not the only energy sources. Where does nuclear come into this mix? How do heat pumps fit into the picture? Geothermal systems?

I started this article with a picture of an electric car charging point here in Melksham and asking "where does the electricity come from?" I wondered if and hw we should collect or generate it locally or import it, and indeed whether we should be collecting or generating it for other communities whose structure make it harder for them than us. And then I took a look at energy requirements, and whether we need to collect or generate as much power in the first place. Complex topics, no solutions - but in writing and thinking it has certainly helped me see the complexity and issues.

Published Sunday, 21st April 2024

Avon memories - three structures to cherish

The Neighbourhood Plan is the local vehicle that allows us as a community to say how we wish our (Melksham) community to move forward over the next decade and a half. The work on it by the steering group and task groups on individual aspects has been massive and continues; it's not only the outcome of giving us some legal weight as to what we want to see in our town and countryside in th future, but also the very thought process that puts it together and has made us think, ask, consult to come up with outcomes that are good and practical, and give us a strategy for the future. If we know what we're aiming at, it is much easier to look at individual steps and opportinities that come up along the way, and know (rather than guess) what individual step decisions we should take.

Walking home from Melksham Station on Tuesday, I went past the Cooper Tires site which is included in the proposals under discussion in the draft plan, with its brown field policy proposing that locally lead housing growth is to be on re-using sites that have prior developed use. To some extent, this is a confirmation / continuation of current policy; the redevelopment of the upside station yard has already been passed through planning and looking back areas like Foundry Close are recent(ish) history examples of the same 'policy'. It makes sense. And providing housing on the Cooper Tires site makes sense, while at the same time not putting the whole site to housing; there are waterside areas that fit well for other entertainment / leisure use, and there are flood plain issues which also make housing - at least on the ground floor - something of an issue. There is also the issue with site heritage and indeed three items seen on my walk.

The old canteen is a unique art nouveau building with fond memories, and is proposed as a local heritage asset - something to be cherished into the future by the town, even if not of the significance of a listed building.

The Avon War Memorial is also cherised, but was not proposed to the Neighbourhood Plan as a cherished asset nor is it a listed monument. It could have been put forward, but wasn't. And there is now a great deal of work (or at least discussion) ongoing about it resiting that has been occupying councillors and council staff recently. It's clearly not suggested that it stays in situ, but where shoud it go, who moves it there, how is it move, what about ownership, insurance and furure access and maintenance issues?

Avon House - the former main office - is a listed building that's around 200 years old. Very much part of the history of Melksham and goes "without saying" that it has protection even beyond what the Neighbourhood Plan can offer.

Published Wednesday, 17th April 2024

Remembering Dad who would have been 100 today

10th April - Dad would have been 100 years old today; sadly, he passed away in January 2017 - a shock to us all when it happened but peacefully, unexpected and overnight in his sleep at home having gone to bed, everything ready for the morning. That's the way to go, and we have the joy of remembering him as he was right to the end. And today will be a day of memories.

In early life, Dad talked of having been something of a misfit at school; bright but not aligned with the education system, perhaps, and he left school at what would be an early age these days to join the Midland Bank as a clerk. He was shortsighted (physically) in the extreme - though he made up for that it being extraordinarily far sighted about life and times. As a result of his sight, he was not called up to serve in the forces during World War II, but rather was an air rid and fire lookout officer in Liverpool, under determined attack from the Luftwaffe as a vital sea port facing the Atlantic.

Mum and Dad worked together, and got married in 1948 [ck]. In those days, married couples couldn't work together (so it was a heck of a decision to get married!) and Mum left to help at her parent's grocery shop. Some sad times there, with the grocery business failing but that's rather Mum's story than Dads - but he was very much there to support by all accounts, and I came along in 1954.

I'm not sure if it was cruel or a kind statement of a hard truth, but Dad was told he should manage his expectations in the bank - he could not be considered for a management role because of his birth mark. As far as I was concerned, it was just Dad - supremely irrelevant but clearly not to others - "customers wouldn't like it". But this was Dad - loyal to the bank, and yet also no wanting to just "clerk" for 40 years plus.

A lecture attended about the new fangled machinery for automating the records and calculating of banking - the "Punched Card Accounting Department" lead him to express an interest, apply to join, and be appointed to this part of the organisation, based at an office on the corner of Holborn Circus in London - between the City of London and the West End, with the Central line rattling by underneath. I remember that building with its sorting and tabulating machines, wires feeling for holes in punched cards and very much mechanical computing operated by a team of staff who were very much responsible for the data handling. And remembering too the young (they mostly were) ladies (I think they all were) who spend their day operating keyboards to punch the cards, with a second person rekeying on a verifier machine that added an extra nick on the card. Ah, I digress!

The office moved to Finsbury Square and got its first Computer - an IBM 360/20, and Dad got very much into helping with the programming, both in doing so himself (in RPG) and with a staff to help - for he rose to be Manager of Punch Card Accounting which after a reorganisation turned into Card Serviced Department. Staffing rose for a dozen or so at the lowest point to around 150, and doesn't that go to show that even if one career path is blocked there's another there. But I know Dad - his progress was on merit and he ran an effective but very fair ship with much of his day to day work being involved with Human Resource issue. Let's face it, it required a certain type of staff member to spend all day, every day doing data entry and some were not the world's brightest bunnies to look after themselves.

In case you wonder why a little department grew so big, it became the forefront department for the production and recording of plastic cards - initially cash cards which issues you with £10 each time you put them in the first ATMs, then cheque guarantee cards and so on. The department moved from being a quiet little office to a much bigger and more secure one, though still well hidden, with a thumping great vault for things like blank (unencoded) cards in Worship Street.

When we moved from Liverpool, my dad's new boss took a day to drive us round and look at various places we could live, and gave his thought on the options. Thank you, Mr Edwards - my Parents selected Petts Wood and we lived there from 1959 - myself until 1976 and my parents until Dad retired from The Bank - by now HSBC - a few years later.

I had a good childhood, but Dad found the pressure of work and his determination to do an excellent job in what had grown into a massive role told very much on him - he took it personally and life wasn't necessarily easy at home. A difficult period, which much of the frustration of work being expressed verbally (never physically) on the family.

We had no car in Petts Wood. We didn't need one; the train to Holborn Viaduct (and later Cannon Street) dropped Dad off a few hundred yards from his office in London, and from an early age I was commuting by school to Sydenham Hill and after the age of 11 to Sevenoaks. Dad could drive but didn't enjoy it; mum learned and much later that most families we had a vehicle.

But there comes the rail travel. I confess I enjoyed it and Dad did too. At the weekend, we would book on a "Merrymaker" trip from London to some place that the rail people thought would fill a train and we - all three of us - saw places fa and wide. From Northampton (for Stoke Bruerne) to Llandrindod Wells, from Sheffield to Morecambe, overnight to Oban or Fort William. Good times; and we looked and studied and learned. It's a love of rail travel that never really passed away; in the final year of his life, we did a Melksham to London day out and how proud I was to use that new service with him.

Dad (and Mum) moved to Devizes when her retired, and had an active and long second lifetime there. They were always taking photographs, and darned good ones too and indeed became fellows of the Royal Photographic Society, and went round taking audit photos of treasures for the National trust, and also presenting AV (Audio Visual shows) in the days of two projectors to crossfade and a sound track that "bleeped" the projectors forward. Typically ahead of their time and making the very most of life.

Whilst they drove (or rather, Mum drove) of necessity to the AV shows and so forth, they retained an interest in public transport ranging from the local bus into Devizes to a cruise to the Amazon and I could always trust dad to keep me informed on what was happening on the ground.

Dad had strong views but never pushed them on people; he was an effective communicator and worked from the strength of an understanding of his subjects and not from an oratory that pressed his position. He looked the outcome he was wishing to achieve, and the personalities involved in the making it happen - both in terms of lining up there desires and always giving an acceptable way forward.

There are so many things that I look at and admire in Dad that I see to some extent reflected in myself, and I like to think that much of his wisdom lives on it me. Whilst we are not the same person, but you were certainly my father; there is so much that we are alike in. We all have an aroma and I grew to know and love Dad's - and I notice more and more as I age that I mirror him in this too.

As I come to a conclusion, I note it's been "Dad" all the way through. For the record, Norman John Egan Ellis, born 10th April 1924 in Crosby, Lancashire, only son of George Ellis and Nellie Dora Ellis (nee Egan) - a.k.a Gran.

Dad - 100 years to the day and I will be celebrating and remembering you today - as always. I'll be taking an unusual train ride in a place where I'll be learning how it's done. I'll be taking photos - hundreds (and no need to wait for them to come back in the post in bulk). I'll sit down somewhere for a rest and a quiet and reflective cup of coffee and watch the world go by. And I will thank you for all those happy memories; you live on in me - and indeed I see you living on in Chris and Kim too. Gone, but never forgotten - remembered with great love and fondness.

Published Wednesday, 10th April 2024

Who should the Town Council help with a grant?

Making decisions as to how much money to levy as the precept on each council tax payer in Melksham Town to then give to help support good local causes (including through them the local economy) and then deciding how to pass on your money to the right groups / people are two very hard decisions for your Town Council.

There is a checklist of over 20 criteria against which applications are judged - and they include things like "will it benefit local people" and "should it be funded from elsewhere" and "is it good value"; your Town Council has laid down things like this to ensure that the money we take from you is used to your benefit and not just putting money into a bigger and wider pot that other who tax yoy 10 or a hundred times more should be funding, or should be selffunding. There's a hidden cost to grants too - the cost of preparing the applications on the organsations that ask, and on the council in evaluating, awarding, and following up; on a totally different aspect of council work (our LHFIG - Local Highways and Footpath Improvments Group) the cost of actually buying materials and installing them is just a tiny fraction of the total council spend on process to get it right.

In past years, I have been involved with making grant applications to both Melksham Town and Melksham Without. For some organisations, the application has them give worthwhile thought to "why are we doing this" and "how do we engage the public". And having an award given brings a vote of support often as valuable as th award itself. For a grant to be awarded, someone needs to apply, and one of the most common reasons given to the question "why did you not fund x" was because x did not apply. It may be they didn't know they could. It could be that they did not need the funding. It could be that they have other funding sources they are using. It could be that the benefit, whilst great, would not be to local people. Where an application is not made, the Town Council cannot formally help (though councillor can offer informal suggestions). Where an application is refused, it is almost always with good reason in the eyes of the decision makers, and with an explanation - often accompanied by suggestions as to how an updated application would likely be accepted on a future date.

I would encourage all grant applicants and recipients to provide good information as they apply, attending the decision meeting to give a brief intoduction to why they are applying and what a grant would do for them, and to provide feedback at later meetings (and the annual town meeting) to help the wider people not involved with the group be aware of the wise decision to fund and to show it's really made a difference. It is daunting to stand up and say a few words and council, but typically the councillors involved will help people who are nervous, and also be able to resolve any unanswered questions straight away that could make the difference between a grant being awarded and not.

Illustration - grant application evaluation chart (here) from the draft minutes of 11th March meeting of the finance committee which may be found (here). The minutes also include links (for anyone who wished to read) to the further monitoring data for our major ongoing grant recipients.

Published Monday, 8th April 2024

Giving voice to the public

Addendum - suggested principles to act as a foundation for standing order changes - Saturday 6th April at 15:30

We are not alone in looking for new ways to invite residents interaction - the piture alongside is from an article from Peace River, Alberta, Canada.

Principles for everyone

* Members of the public (and Town Councillors are members of the public too) should regularly and with reasonable frequency be given the opportunity to raise questions and make comment to the Town Council in a public setting. There should be no age limit.

* There should be no expectation of an immediate response to matter raised; it would be unreasonable to expect there to be an expert available to answer a question that came out of the blue. However, a substantive written response should be provided and published within a reasonable period.

* Where an input is of a complex or technical nature or has backing documentation, the person asking the question is encouraged to submit that to the Committee Clerk to help inform the written response. Note that such data may be published together with the response.

* Time is limited, and to ensure it is best used people should keep there questions short and not address a topic than another person has already addressed. The public input session is not an invitation to debate, and the chair will normally move on quickly. It may be that an issue is such that an item raised in public contributions come to the council as a subsequent agenda item.

* It is understood that it is intimidating for many people - newcomers especially - to ask questions and the chair and officers at the meeting should make them feel welcome before and during the meeting.

* It is also understood that members of the public may not be clear on council responsibilities, and responsibilities within individual committees and working groups. Members of the public should be advised where to address their input if outside the council, or have there input referred on to more appropriate groups.

* As for any meeting inputs, what's said should be kept polite, legal, and should to the best of the knowledge of the person asking the question be factually correct.

Additional for councillors (on this council)

* Councillors may also submit written questions to full council or the appropriate committee five clear working days ahead of a meeting, for a written response to be provided as a minimum of 24 hours before the commencement of the meeting.

* These questions and their written responses will be published.

A thought - why am I suggesting this just for councillors? Perhaps because the procedures could become impractically long and overrun the business of the council; at a first step, the "Principles for everyone" takes us a lot further than we have been before, and should a member of the public wish they can ask a councillor to take matters further.

Another thought - should there also be a mechanism for asking questions and getting published answers without appearing in person at a meeting to put the question?

Original Article

The standing orders of Melksham Town Council allow a member of the public to raise a question or make comment on an item on the agenda prior to the meeting, but this has become the opportunity for members of the public to raise matters of concern.

On Tuesday, the chair of the committee that met that evening pointed out the rule, and said that it would be applied at subsequent meetings.

On Wednesday, I reported my concern at the closure of the only opportunity (apart from the annual meeting) for people to ask a question in public of the Town Council. Was I being unduly concerned, or should this matter be considered an erosion of democracy that IS a worry - leading on to wonder what should be done about it.

I got a flurry of response - aghast at change of the way the rules are to be applied; that's an excellent confirmation that I've identified something that's an issue for concerned members of the public and not just for me.

By Thursday, your inputs have been noticed, and you can celebrate the success of the informal public input triggered by your comments, as the proposer of the standing orders as they were adopted by full council in September 2021 has now said that they are out of date and need updating, rather than being applied as was decreed on Tuesday. Thank you all, and thank you Jon Hubbard for being the big man and admitting that the current rules are no longer fit for purpose.

The question - which I did not address on Wednesday - is what should apply in place of an enforcement of the current rules. "If something ain't a problem, don't try and fix it" is a good motto at the present time for a Town Council that is stretched having lost all its full time admin staff in the last 15 months and is still in the process of replacing them - and I wanted to be sure that I wasn't a lone voice calling for change. I am now satisfied that this is of sufficient general concern for a revision to be given some priority in our council's workload.

There's a need to balance the ability for the public to make inputs with the time that's available for questions and comments. There's a need to ensure that sessions are not taken over by a single contributor or group / cause to the exclusion of others. There's a need to manage expectations - people cannot realistically expect an answer to a question asked out of the blue, and perhaps to the "wrong" council meeting". There's perhaps a need to codify a timescale for a response back from the council. There's also an opportunity here to include councillors - previously excluded from "public questions" - to be allowed to ask on similar terms. And while we are at it (and if we are changing our rules) we should perhaps also codify matters relating to written questions from councillors.

Before Friday (and I am writing this on Friday), Jon Hubbard had produced draft changes which at a first reading reflect most, if not all, of the concerns. They are wordy - two pages replacing two paragraphs - and I'm now reading them with a clear head, at Jon's suggestion and invitation, to see whether I can suggest any changes to his text. I'm especially bearing in mind that the members of the public who come to address us at our meetings for the first time find it daunting , and anything we can do to help them is appreciated and widens our public involvement.

By Monday, I'll have had a chance to have some further thoughts. Jon is correct in that justified criticism of the current system and how it was to be enforced needs to be followed up by suggestions of a (better) alternative. But I do feel that my action plan
1. Assess whether the public think there is a problem
2. If so, get some idea of what all the issues are
3. Then move on to a solution
was appropriate. Jon has rather jumped the gun by offering his solution before the issues to be addressed have been defined, and I think it is does him no credit in being critical of me for looking into the problem before offering a solution. As it is, we are starting from a point of what Jon wants, and I have learned in the past (be it staffing, Assembly Hall pricing, station buses, combining mayor and leader roles) that Jon's views are not ones I necessarily feel are right for Melksham.

Image - an example of how another council has tackled this issue Source - - interesting how even in the one sentence it comes up with another element, relating to the age of the questioner.

Here is the text proposed - here for comment

Motion to amend how Public and Member Questions are managed by Council Meetings.

Amend section 3
3.e Members of the public may make representations, answer questions and give evidence at a meeting which they are entitled to attend in respect of the business on the agenda.

To read

3.e Members of the public may make representations, answer questions and give evidence at a meeting which they are entitled to attend in respect of the business on the agenda (subject to the conditions set out in Section 3)

Remove the following items from current standing orders:
3f - The period of time designated for public participation at a meeting in accordance with standing order 3(e) shall not exceed (15) minutes unless directed by the chair of the meeting.

3g - Subject to standing order 3(f), a member of the public shall not speak for more than three minutes.

3h - In accordance with standing order 3(e), a question shall not require a response at the meeting nor start a debate on the question. The chair of the meeting may direct that a written or oral response be given.

Add new Section 3

To insert a new section 3 called “Questions to Council” and then renumber remainder of document accordingly.

3. Questions/Representations to Council

Method for asking questions.
There shall be a period of no more than 30 minutes at the start of all meetings of the Town Council for members of the public and Council to ask questions and/or make representations. This time should, at the discretion of the Chair, be split 20 minutes for public questions and 10 for member questions.
Where there are a number of people who are wanting to speak, these will be taken one at a time.
The Committee Clerk will, prior to the formal opening of the meeting, ask all members of the public and councillors who wish to ask a question or make a representation to indicate and note their names for the record.
Each member of the public will then be invited to ask their first question or make their representation. Once all members of the public who wish to speak have been given the opportunity then a second round of questions can begin for those who have additional questions. Such a process to be continued until there are no more questions or the maximum time limit has been reached.
The same process to be followed for Member questions if required.

Members of the Public
Members of the public are encouraged to attend meetings of the Town Council and to raise questions of public concern at any meeting of the Full Council. At these meetings the public may ask questions or make a representation relating to any issues of council business.
Members of the public are restricted to making one representation at a meeting and should speak for no more than 3 minutes (including any question they may have relating to their representation).
Where questions are asked at committee or sub-committee meetings these should be restricted to the subject area covered by the committee/sub-committee’s Terms of Reference. Where a question is asked that is not relevant to the committee/sub-committee then it should be passed on to the relevant officer for the correct committee and a written answer provided or, at the questioner’s request, asked at the next meeting of the appropriate committee.
All questions should be directed to the Chair of the meeting who will either respond or request another councillor or officer to do so on their behalf.
Where possible all questions should be submitted in writing not less than 5 working days before the council meeting to allow the appropriate officer/councillor to prepare a proper written response which should normally be published at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. There may be occasions where this is not possible and in these cases such notice will be given to the person submitting the question and a verbal response will be given at the meeting.
Members of the public may ask questions without having given advance notice but must be aware that a detailed answer may not be possible with the opportunity to research the matter. In these instances, a written answer will be provided after the meeting, normally with 7 working days.
Where a written or verbal answer is given the original questioner may ask ONE supplementary question.
There is no debate on public questions and, unless otherwise invited by the Chair, no member of the pubic, elected member or officer should speak to an issue raised.

Elected Members of the Council
Members of the council are welcome to submit questions for inclusion on the agenda of a meeting no less than 5 working days before the date of the meeting.
Where is question is submitted within this deadline but after the agenda for a meeting being published the question should still be considered as valid and published as a supplement to the agenda.
Any questions submitted as above should receive a substantive written response at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
Members are entitled to ask questions at the beginning of a meeting without prior notice but must accept that a detailed answer is unlikely, and a subsequent written answer will be provided within 7 working days.
Where questions are asked at committee or sub-committee meetings these should be restricted to the subject area covered by the committee/sub-committee’s Terms of Reference. Where a question is asked that is not relevant to the committee/sub-committee then it should be passed on to the relevant officer for the correct committee and a written answer provided or, at the Member’s request, asked at the next meeting of the appropriate committee.
All questions should be directed to the Chair of the meeting who will either respond or request another councillor or officer to do so on their behalf.
There is no debate on public questions and, unless otherwise invited by the Chair, no member of the pubic, elected member or officer should speak to an issue raised.
Where a written or verbal answer is given the original questioner may ask ONE supplementary question.

Published Saturday, 6th April 2024

Revisiting "Melksham South Ward" Group

I am posting to clarify what the "Melksham South Ward" Facebook group is about, partly in answer to a fellow councillor who says he is "Genuinely confused", but also to help others who may also share his confusion. It also helps me clarify in my mind what we are doing and why we are doing it - thank you for the question.

This is a community group for Melksham's South Ward. It covers what goes on in the South Ward - for residents, businesses, visitors, etc. It's like other groups covering other parts of Melksham (see list 1 below) and it was never intended or advertised to be Melksham-wide - there are many other groups that do that and I have no wish to compete with them (see list 2 below). People looking for somewhat wider area content, or to advertise what's going on in the wider Melksham area, have that plethora of excellent groups they can also subscribe to.

The group description says "For friendly discussion and information about the South Ward of Melksham Town. This group is open anyone with a positive interest in Melksham Town's South including residents, businesses and visitors.". The announcement of its creation, when there was no other operational ward-specific group in the area, may be found at

* List 1 - some other Facebook area groups in Melksham
Melksham East Residents Group
George Ward Gardens Melksham Residents Page
Woodrow Road and Local Community
Shurnold and Roundponds, Melksham
Berryfields, Melksham community group
DWH Hunters Wood Melksham Community Page
The Acorns, Melksham

* List 2 - some other Facebook groups covering the wider Melksham area
Melksham Community Group
Shout Out Melksham
Spotted Melksham Town
Melksham Discussions
Melksham Bargains
Historic Melksham
Melksham Seniors
Melksham and area LOCAL EVENTS and THINGS TO DO!
Melksham and area FOR SALE
Melksham Town Centre Businesses
(and the list goes on with lots of specialist groups)

As an example of where posting boundaries lie, I will post from time to time about something going on at the Assembly Hall which is within the ward. I also have an interest in public transport activities and post a lot - but never on this group - about Melksham Railway Station and out train services, which is within the north ward.

Full Group announcment and guidelines at

Published Thursday, 4th April 2024

An end to the Town Council soliciting public input?

Did I hear this right last night? Did the chair of the council meeting announce that henceforth contributions from members of the public will be limited only to items on the agenda for that meeting - quoting standing order 3(e) on page 6 of the Standing order adopted on 27th September 2021. Fair enough, I suppose - thems were rules that we passed, but it removes the opportunity for concerned members of the public to raise matters with the council directly, except at the annual town meeting which happens in March each year.

Public participation - with a small minority making use of the opening they have had at council meetings to make comments limited to three minutes IS uncomfortable at times, but is seems to me in my personal view that it's a "price" worth paying for us to hear the grass roots inputs. There may be just one or two who are considered by those seeking to enforce this rule to be vexatious, but that is no reason for us to be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Image - standing orders - September 2021 - as adopted by your council - our "rules of engagement". Click on the image to download a copy, or you can find the original on the Town Council web site at

Published Wednesday, 3rd April 2024

Painting the town pink.

Being the morning of 1st April, I ask you to consider these proposals for the future of our town.

1. The Town Hall will be painted pink

2. Statues of little people playing musical instruments will be placed around the town

3. All Town Councillors will have their formal portraits on the web site replace by informal pictures

4. Open carriages at affordable fares will be provided on all trains

5. A room tax on visitors staying in Melksham overnight will help pay our town's local government costs, and the guests paying the tax will be issued with a guest card which lets them ride for free on local public transport

6. Town centre redevelopments will be multistory in order to provide additional affordable (really affordable, not just described as such) homes.

7. Our High Street will be pedestrianised with just pedestrians, cycles and steam trains allowed to use it

8. Our station platform will be extended so that trains can call in both directions at the same time, with a loop letting the first train to leave get past the other one.

9. The Melksham News, and red wine to purchase, will be available on trains.

10. Smoking in public will only be allowed in designated areas (as shown here with the yellow box)

Even out-of-the-box ideas are worth a quick "should/could we do this?" thought. If nine get rejected as being inappropriate and one gets taken up, that's a success. And before you rule out the ideas above, note that they have mostly been done in this part of Germany that I'm posting from this morning. And at least one of them would make very serious sense for Melksham.

Published Monday, 1st April 2024

Melksham Town Council Play Areas

As Spring comes, our play areas and outdoor facilities across Melksham come back into sustained use. There are fifteen of them (I think) owned and maintained by Melksham Town Council, ranging from smaller facilities such as this neighbourhood one to the play and recreation areas in the KGV park. The Spalshpad re-opens today for the Easter school holidays, then will be open again from half term in May right throught the summer.

In additions to the Lewington Close play area, there are four other in South Ward each serving their own local neighbourhood. Common / central / older plays such as the skate park, zip wire, bigger slide and so forth are to be found at the riverside and in KGV, where facilities such as public loos are available to older children and young adults that use them, and the youth can be there for longer periods without any concerns of them distrubing close by residents.

There is talk of a BMX track being supplied, funded and maintained by the Town Council and I am minded to think this is a good idea. For older children and youths, it's probably sensible for it to be sited either in KGV or in Melksham Forest, perhaps near the Forest Community Centre. Much as I would like the facility in my own ward, I don't think we have any site that's appropriate and has that infrastructure and neighbours to support it. I suppose the play area that adjoins The Campus might be considered, as being close to the facilities there, but I think I prefer other sites outside the ward.

Published Friday, 29th March 2024

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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