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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Millenium Post. Where are we going?
Full Council highlights, 25.9.2023
350 pages and I feel ill informed!
Melksham Town - some statistics
Can a private citizen make a difference?
Decision on Blue Pool to be taken behind closed doors next Monday?
Which councillors actually attend meetings? - Subbing
Yes - you can!
Rail Conference - and looking ahead for Melksham Trains
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Some other pages on this site:
Home page and • town diary
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.

Splash Pad - my last shift

Shared from Facebook - here for the record. It has been really enjoyable and I'm open to accept an invite to help again next year. It has also been useful - helping keep me informed as to what's going on and meeting our residents and staff - and people who come into Melksham to use the park and other facilities too. The role is to some extent like that of a babysitter - long periods of sitting around and then a few minutes where attendance is vital, and those long periods used, as I am now, for other thing such as writing. Fitter (and younger!) staff on other days have a whole variety of Park Ranger tasks to get on with during the blank times.

Open today - Thursday 28th September 2023 - and Friday, Saturday, Sunday too - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. then closed for the winter. It's a cool morning, but set to get warmer this afternoon.

This is my final shift - I have enjoyed doing the the job one day a week, meeting people, helping ensure the Splash Pad is open and running sweetly and safely. I have enjoyed working alongside colleagues who have been doing an excellent and largely unsung job, rain or shine - and have been doing much more that me around the area with other resposibilities like loos and litter - big THANK YOU to them.

As a Town Councillor, you are welcome to pop in for a chat today or to get in touch at any time. Community input helps inform discussions and decisions and gives me real strength; perhaps especially so in my case without party or group affiliation, though working with all staff, councillors and other volunteers for the town.

I hope than over the next weeks - before we summer staff forget the detail - we'll have a wash-up to help the council learn and perhaps tune for next year. 2023, in spite of significant challenges early in the year, has been enormously better and more reliable than I understand 2022 was - and we can help pass on our experience to help the 2024 team do well.

Numbers in the SplashPad at any one time may not be massive (when they are, they challenge the water cleaning system) but it brings lots of people into the park to enjoy all the facilities we have here. Perhaps 15 in the splashpad - but another 30 with them as parents, guardians and siblings and another 50 in the dry play area, another 50 picnicing or enjoying the cafe. It makes the park as a whole substantive enough to be a destination.

Published Thursday, 28th September 2023

Millenium Post. Where are we going?

1000 days ... from 1st January 2021, which is the baseline for this blog. So today's post is something of a test - waking up on 27th September 2023, I am checking in real time that the blog software I have written works with 4 digit day numbers as well as 3 digit one. I don't expect problems, but I know (or by the time you read this, knew - past tense) that I needed to check.

The supporting image show John O'Groats and the north east tip of Scotland showing some very long distances to places. I looked at various "starting line" images but many that I have show the start or races. But getting things right - be they Melksham or wider - is not a race; it's a long term thing and it's more imporantant to get to the right place than to rush to be first.

Most of us councillors are looking as a Town Council at being where our people want to be, which involves looking after the good we have, and moving things forward to reflect changing wants and needs too. There is no point (and a frustration) in taking a very long time to get to where we want, but at the same time we have to manage risks and plan and get things right as we progress to destination and it will often take longer than we wish.

We need to define, though, "where we want". On 26th June 2021, our then-new coucnil held a visioning day where all of us looked forward to the next four years, but I'm struggling to see the outcome documents which correlate and filter all the ideas and give us a vision. And this has been such a very long time that the intent to set the scene for four years has gone and we proceed along without that rudder that would help steer us. The lack of a rudder also means that a lot of short term projects are on the books, clogging our systems and without an overarching strategy that makes it obvious which way we need to proceed.

The Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II is one of the "works in progress" and should be coming to a public consultation later this Autumn. Whilst it must conform to the Wiltshire local plan / core strategy, it will allow us in Melksham to have a greater influence in where and how our town develops. I note this morning that there is social media discussion on a planning application just to the East of Melksham, with various critical comment about the lack of supporting infrastrucure; JMNPII won't stop the critical comment nor the growth mandated by Wiltshre Council, but it will help make growth better planned and supported by compleimentary infrastructure. Help us define "where we want".. Meeting tonight and I am deputy chair (excellent chair!) and it's a pleasure to have everyone pulling in the same direction on this one, including Town and Without councillors who have been briefed and staff who have put a lot of time in.

However - there's an elephant in the room - the environment and the climate change element of it. We as a race have pushed the natural balance of our planet to, and perhaps over, its limits of stability. At the very least, we are in for a rocky ride. And there's a very strong possibility - a probability if dramatic habit changes are not only signed up for but also really implemented - that we are changing the world in a way that's irreversible and catastrophic.

The previous Town Council adopted an environmental policy in June 2019 and a get together of the Environment and Climate Working Group members last night took a look through it in review; really good stuff in there an we should be (and need to be) acting on it wider. Our own council operations are not going to change the planet's future directly, but the example we set in our little way can help establish a framework that others can follow.

The environment is so important that our "ECWG" has stepped up to meeting formally every three weeks - ahead of the Economic Development and Planning meeting in order to be as efficient as possible in town council staff time. And additionally we get together informally at the same time in almost every other week. That's a big step up from where we were a year ago and it's a direction to b maintained - not (please!) for the joy of another meeting but to have the environment at the heart of our agenda. Appreciation of how important the environment is does grow, but I still see "Environemntal Impact - None" on some of my fellow councillor's proposals. Well - our environment is everything and the impact of decisions all effect it.

To close - two maps that were presented at Melksham's ClimateFest earlier this month. Both are distorted - one to show the world by its carbon footprint, and the other to show the world as it's currently being impacted by climate change. You may argue detail of how the numbers are reached but the overall picture is bleak.

Published Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Full Council highlights, 25.9.2023

Something of a return to sanity at full council last night - with the offer from Wiltshire Council to asset transfer the Blue Pool to Melksham Town to be left on the table until we sufficient data to know what would be taken on. The discussion was in public - something of a victory for local democracy and a long way from the proposal for us to make a decision, out of public site and without the option report we funded in June. Getting that going has been slow, but progress is being made. The proposal to run a competition "what could be done" was withdrawn; it may make sense once we know the outline of what is possible, though one councillor out of the ten present clearly already knows the outcome - or was he letting his heart rule his head?

The proposal to set up a brand new committee (or sub committee) to scrutinise projects was, perhaps, born out of a frustration at some current situations where things that are resolved seem not to progress to completion, come back and keep being revisited / changed, and are very hard to track / know where they are. I understand the intent, understand the proposal, but adding yet another committee and system on top of what we already have seems over the top and liable to make the workload worse before it's better. So having a "standing" section on the finance, admin and performance committee, with an agenda item that gives a tabulated progress report on all projects / resolutions makes sense ... the big open question remaining is to actually see how the work of updating these things happens. Last year's attempt at using Microsoft Team failed because the projects weren't updated and most of the staff actually entering data and knowing the system have left. We don't have a member of staff with the sort of project management skill / background on our team - we declared that person redundant 2 years ago and identified the gap in our skill base at the time, but it remains unfixed.

Prior to "Scrutiny Committee" proposal, I had written down a list of a dozen projects I would like an update on, and further items were raised by the member of the press present. Not necessarily any answers, but my expanded list would include in no particular order ... Yellow lines on Waverly Gardens; Lighting to The Forest Centre; Our Team system; Visioning for the Town Council; Improved public information; Progress on environmental considerations; Virtual Hub; Sensory Garden; Lighting in KGV; Demolition of Maintenance shed; Blue Pool and Assembly Hall Structural Survey; Happy to chat / PB memorial bench; Cycle maintenance station at the Papillion; Dog park gates; Priority for People; Assembly Hall Working Group; Communications and Social Media Policy; Informal Councillor and Staff briefing; BMX track; Wedding Venue; Town Hall hours and evening opening; Assembly Hall roof works; High Pavement and Union Street; CCTV; Allotment water; Sandridge Common footpath / Maple Close corner; Staffing issues including prioritisaton; Speed detection devices. List does NOT include many things I feel fully in the picture about - so it's not a complete issue list!

We DID go into confidential session on the Neighbourhood Plan and correctly so; that will inform a further meeting with Melksham Without tomorrow, and is expected to be public by the middle of next month. Really good to be working on long term planning, through and within a system with some teeth and local inout and gain, across the whole Melksham area.

Finally, a note of thanks to the Mayor, assisted by the Locum Clerk and Commitee Clerk on running a positive and polite meeting with a heavy agenda, yet within the time allocated and with all speakers who wished called to have their say. It was not an easy one with an agenda like that! I will admit to going into the meeting with serious concerns as to how much of it would turn out - revieved at how it went.

Photo - our plate is stacked high at the Town Council with all sorts of different issues ... Image from wikipedia

Published Tuesday, 26th September 2023

350 pages and I feel ill informed!

I am having my final wade through 350 pages in the agenda pack for tonight's full council meeting. An incredible amount of data for us to take in, and a big ask on us as councillors, though confirming that all 14 of us stood for election to this role knowing we would not be paid to do it and would need to find the free time to learn and read in. I will do my best tonight, as I know that most of me colleagues will - each of us in our own ways an hopefully bringing sensible compromise to the decisions. And yet in amongst so much bumph there are so may unanswered questions.

But the council has changed since I was elected, and I feel naked and uninformed in making decisions for the town. We started in May 2021 with a clerk, a deputy clerk, a business development manager, a head of operations and an Assembly Hall manager. Of those five, three are no longer with us and not replaced - workload not much reduced but falling on a much smaller team. And if you email either of the two remaining, you'll get an "Out of Office" message. There is, of course, very much a practical limit to what a much smaller employed team can do, so the situation is best attributed to early staffing decisions and the activities of the staffing committee, which meets quite often but is only open to those councillors on that "star chamber".

In June 2021 (that's right - over 2 years ago) all councillors and staff gave up a Saturday ("their free time" for councillors, but I suspect staff were paid) to do a day's visioning and come up with long term plans. Long term plan are recommended for setting budgets and ensuring that organisations such as the Town Council don't waste time and money on short term disjoined activities, some of which contradict each other and some of which put the kibosh on others. I still await the outcomes; I asked for them about a year ago so that last winter's budget setting could look ahead for sensible spending with the longer term in mind - we should have a three year plan at least. But I fear that we'll be looking to address the immediate issues only again this December without clear vision.

I've hinted above that I don't know what's going on in some sectors of the council's work and indeed other councillors feel the same and are regularly asking for updates. This leads to more work (answering us) on are already-stretched team, and drives them to an unnecessarily increased workload, and a spiral of frustration all around. I'm not sure if the "Project Scrutiny Subcommittee" that's proposed to be set up tonight will act as a cure to kick things into line, or just make things worse. An informal meeting of councillors which could have discussed this last week was cancelled at a couple of hours notice - a problem with the room, I understand but had it been my business I would have made a couple of phone calls and relocated - let people know by email, notice on the door for anyone who missed it. But of course it's not my business - if it was and I was leading / guiding, there is much I would look to tune differently.

You might thing that one of the first steps to sorting out our efficiency would be to get information systems and communications right. Our Electronic Communications and social mediapolicy was due to come before council on 17th July but got lost because we ran out of time. It's not even made it to the agenda tonight because "you will notice that Social Media Policy has been removed from item 11, Policy Review and Adoption. [Officer name] has been unable make any amendments to the proposed policy in line with suggestions so it will be back on the agenda another day".

Picture - Blue Pool at night. On the agenda tonight. Goodness only knows what decision if any we'll make.

Published Monday, 25th September 2023

Melksham Town - some statistics

note 1 - 20.8% overall aged under 18
note 2 - 21.1% overall aged over 64

General note - Melksham's Forest, East and South wards correspond to Wiltshire Unitary Councillor wards, but the North Ward is only part of a unitary ward; the figures above are derived for North Ward from the figures for the whole of the Melksham Parish.

Observation - to be noted, the significant differences between the proportions of younger people in each ward, and older people too. Also noting the very different growth rates and population densities.

I was surprised by the lower population density of the North Ward, but then when I think about it, it includes large industrial areas such as Cooper Tire, Avonside, Challeymead Business Park and the Up Yard at the station. It also includes Leekes, Asda and other businesses in those area and some land to the north of the Urban area before Beanacre, and to the south of the Blenheim Care Home on the Bath Road.

For my own ward of Melksham South, from Citypopulation I can also see it's 49.1% male and 50.9% female, that 4225 out of 4577 of us were born in the UK, and that 2343 of us regstered as Christian and 1806 selected no religion at the census.

Published Friday, 22nd September 2023

Can a private citizen make a difference?

What can I as a private citizen achieve? Is it worth even trying? A question asked of me the other day.

18 years ago today (Wednesday 20th September 2005) I hosted the inaugural meeting of "Save the Train". See my old Horse's Mouth blog

"Graham - this is Melksham - it would be a miracle to get 20 people to a meeting". So said the doubters.

Going forward at that point, the train service was 2 trains each way per day (06:36 and 19:18 southbound, 07:21 and 19:47 northbound) and there were 3,000 passenger journeys per day - that's an average of one passenger arriving and one passenger leaving on each train. The platform was long enough for a single carriage, there was just a bus shelter on it, and the bunny rabbits hopped around if you ventured down there. Few people in Melksham even knew we had a railway station!

Where are we now?

* We have 9 trains each way per day rather than 2.

* Passenger numbers have risen to 75,000 journeys per annum rather than 3,000

* We have daytime and peak trains that we didn't have before, and in the last few months a late evening service has started

* Our trains (of necessity) are now 2 or 3 carriages long and our platform has been lengthened to that passengers can leave and join at any carriage

* We have a new much larger waiting shelter. Cycle racks, help point, CCTV and a ticket sales and collection machine have all been installed

* We have two real time departure boards, telling you when the next trains are due and alerting you to any disruption on them

* Car parking has been expanded from 6 spaces outside the station to around 60 spaces, some with electric charging points

Pictured - 46 people got off the 18:09 arrival from Swindon last Saturday, and a further 12 joined. 53 people remained on the train - passengers from Swindon and Chippenham to Trowbridge and Westbury, giving a total of 111 passengers. That's twice as may on one train as would have used the entire service in a week when I first got involved!

Good, but we're not all the way there yet

* An appropriate service would run every hour rather than every 2 hours, and we forecast that this would raise passenger numbers - 3,000 a year when we started, 75,000 now, up to over 250,000.

* Foot and cycle access to the Station from Foundry Close and / or the A350 opposite Scotland Road would bring many more homes within walking and cycling distance of the station

* A bus service to connect to and from each train at Melksham Station to the Town Centre, residential areas to the east and south of the town, and industrial and business areas at Bowerhill and Hampton Park would allow the station to serve the whole urban catchment and not just a part of it.

* We have always had a problem with service reliability and that remains. In early days, as few as 60% of the trains ran. It's been up and down over the years, but is now officially around 90% excluding industrial action which at present is loosing us all service on 2 or 3 days per month. We need to reach 98% running with robust alternative transport provided for the few remaining cancellations

* There is a desire for direct service to Bath and Bristol rather than passenger needing to change at Chippenham or Trowbridge. Once that can be provided as an hourly service in addition to hourly services to Swindon and Westbury, it would make sense

* The present trains are diesel powered and over 30 years old, and they will need replacement in the next decade or so. It would make sense to electrify the line as that is done, not only for our passenger trains but also for the heavy freight.

* The fare system is complex and off-putting. Having a simplified system and / or advise available to help would make a huge difference. This is a national issue but we must work to ensure that changes work for Melksham.

The question at the beginning was - "Did I as a private Citizen make any difference?" I am not claiming to having made the differences listed here, but I am claiming to have had a hand in them happening, and with the rest of the communty too. I have been pretty visible along the way, but it's beem pretty much a team effort. Full and fulsome credit to the many, many people I have enjoyed and still enjoy working with and to the wider public who use the services, and the mostly-wonderful people who staff them.

Published Thursday, 21st September 2023

Decision on Blue Pool to be taken behind closed doors next Monday?

The agenda for next Monday's full Town Council meeting (25.9.2023) has been published at (here). A confidential session is proposed at item 22 - from the (16 Mb) full public agenda pack:

22. Assembly Hall & Blue Pool
22.1 Updating report (Pages 277 - 282) - To receive an updating report on progress.
22.2 Asset Transfer (Pages 283 - 314) - For decision – Whether to accept the transfer of the Blue Pool on the terms suggested.
22.3 RIBA Competition (Pages 315 - 342) - For decision – Whether to hold a RIBA Competition for design of the Assembly Hall/Blue Pool site.

* From 22.2 it is clear that Wiltshire Council have offered terms to Melksham Town Council to transfer the Blue Pool to us and we are being asked to make a decision

* From 22.1 it is clear that Melksham Town Council's work to study whether we want to take on the Blue Pool isn't completed - we are offered just a "progress report"

* From 22.3 it would seem that we are deciding whether to hold a design competition for the future of the site ... and that word site suggests, does it not, something new to be built?

And all of this in a confidential session with the press and public excluded! Looking at the background information in the pack, those items are marked "Document is Restricted" and although I have the full documents, I am not at liberty to share them, nor their content.

It is my view that the transfer of the Blue Pool from Wiltshire Council is decision for us that will have huge consequences. The price of the transfer may be trivial, but the opportunities it offers the town of Melksham are massive. And so are the risks and costs of us owning, and perhaps operating, a building without a proper outline plan, and without as yet even a condition report to tell us what's the framework of the possible for both the Blue Pool and the Assembly Hall which shares part of the structure and houses some Blue Pool equipment. This is not a decision which should be rushed, nor one that should be made behind closed doors, without public sight and comments on the documents involved, and without the decision makers being informed of the state of what they are buying and the likely consequences

In June, we (Melksham Town Council) allocated £10,000 to look at what could be done with the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall, with a three month timescale for the work and having a strong indication we would be offered the Blue Pool. The Town Council has failed to deliver to me, or as far as I can see in public, the reports needed to make a good decision. The Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall have, using local volunteer effort and expertise, produced an outline business plan looking at the various options, and an example of what could perhaps be done with the existing buildings, putting community need first. You can see these document via the Friend's library.

More Background Last week, I was invited by one of our officers to "if could you forward any ideas you think I may not have seen so I can forward them on" ... to our structural engineer. Casting around a dozen key FoMAH volunteers, I came up with the following over last weekend. These are my writing, volunteer's inputs, and I am happy to share in public. It gives you an idea of the questions that need to be addressed in order for your Town Councillors to make an informed decision:

Quoting from me ... "Formally, thank you for asking. As discussed in subsequent emails and in person, I have taken the weekend to cast around friends involved in order to do our best to ensure that as many aspects as possible are covered. See below my signature. They should be read in conjunction with the documents and presentation to council on 17th July - business case outline at and the example of what could be done within the repurpose option at - our document library where we try to keep all of this together is at

"I don’t think we are party to the work brief given to the Structural Engineer (are we? Is it published?) so this is very much a set of fill in notes from various people to help inform yourself and the other staff members involved, and it’s a bit rushed as we’ve cast around ourselves in less that a week, though obviously we have know since late June that this work was to be undertaken so you can characterise the below as pulling thoughts together to help you ensure that noting is missed,

"Inputs are a combination of thoughts from about half a dozen people.

"On a related topic, I am being asked again how we are doing on roof repairs … did we get an estimate for lesser works and how are we proceeding?


"P.S. Happy to answer questions / meet / fill in as appropriate, [officer name redacted] - and to ask our other minds with more experience of this sort of thing to do so. We are here to help."

Backing up that emails ...

Structural Engineer notes / specification / my thoughts

Overview - the objective is to allow us (the Town Council with, one hopes, community input) to be informed as to the current state of the Assembly Hall (including the caretaker's cottage) and Blue Pool (including the patio area and wall) so that we can make good decisions as to the future of those buildings and the site, and to what extent we as a Town Council should be involved. We are looking for a report that tells us

* the condition of the buildings including a look forward to life expectancy and ongoing maintenance issues if we retain the buildings

* the works needed to be done in order to remove and allow for general use of the buildings (removal of specialist swimming pool equipment such as water tanks)

* the structural integrity and any necessary ongoing reliance should the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall continue in separate ownership or be handled as two semi-detached properties

* the structural integrity and any necessary issues should the Blue Pool be demolished

* The relative costs and timescales of clearing one or both buildings and starting again!

We are looking at not only immediate costs but ongoing costs and it is logical to consider the next 15 years in line with the local plan and neighbourhood plan, and the next (say) 40 years looking at total project lifetime

Of particular and growing concern are environmental issues; we are of an understanding that a new building could be more environmentally friendly in operation, but that the capital environmental investment might negate or reverse that benefit and guidance would be appreciated.

Notes from others to be considered ...

It’s quite understandable to initially think in terms of extending the Assembly Hall with the addition of the Blue Pool, but does the Assembly Hall really need extending and what might be any real benefit in doing so ?

Why not give consideration to creating a Town Museum in the previous gym area of the building, and part fill and part leave as a small lake with possibly a waterfall in the swimming pool.

A mini Eden style of project as in Cornwall with seating and tables around the outside for public relaxation/coffee and drinks, and also as a venue for small gatherings and meetings could very easily be created.

This would certainly be a unique venue in the county, could be maintained by the street scene people, balance the forces of ground-heave on the pool walls, and if a few large boulders were incorporated there is ample available on a site very locally.

It may possibly also act as a source for growing plants for the town displays.

It appears to me that a project like this would reduce any significant structural revisions or costs.

Further questions / suggestions I have correlated

A Structural Engineer has been appointed by the Town Council to take a look at the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall and provide a report on their condition. I have been invited (and passing the invite on) to suggest some more specific guidance for him. Your inputs would be much appreciated - virtually by return as this request has come in about 6 weeks later than I would have wished.

I don’t personally know the engineer, but my feeling is that our backup brief to him in addition to “tell us what condition the buildings are in” would be to tell him that we are looking at options going forward for the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool, and his work will help inform us between the options. He is being copied, I understand, on the business case and also suggestion put by the friends to council in July. Headline must be to inform us (or rather the TC) to make the decisions rather than going on educated guesses and assumptions.

Specifics already passed to me / questions to be answered

• If the Blue Pool was torn down and the Assembly Hall remains intact, what damage if any would be done to the Assembly Hall wall? How structurally sound is this wall?
• If the Blue Pool remains and becomes the main entrance to the Assembly Hall, is it possible to remove the wall on the right side as you enter the Blue Pool front lobby to create a double-wide walkway through to the Assembly Hall? How difficult will it be to remove the pipes and equipment from this area? Is there anything there that is used for utility or other purposes of the Assembly Hall, or is it only for Blue Pool use and no longer needed? In other words, can this whole area be stripped out to create this lobby extension into the Assembly Hall?
• Is the roof of the Blue Pool sound enough to be able to install solar panels? (These would help to supply electricity to the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall areas and the Town Hall).

I would also request something to answer questions such as
a) Pool condition - without water is it likely to collapse / would it need filling
b) Patio area - suitability for reuse such as parking
c) Assembly Hall roof - condition

And I would look to having a look at relative cost of works of various options, ongoing running costs, and environmental impact relative to other options. I would also suggest we look ahead to 2038 - a fifteen year window aligned with local plan and new neighbourhood plan - with comment as to the life of the structures for the following decades too - a forty year vision might help inform.

Published Wednesday, 20th September 2023

Which councillors actually attend meetings? - Subbing

It's common practise for councillors to stand in for one another at committee meetings. Committee meetings are usually scheduled well in advance (for the whole year) so, really, when we join a committee we should be able to plan our diaries around them but there ARE circumstances that arise late on, very much like occasional absences from work in employment for - for example - medical or urgent family matters.

The system (know as subbing) makes sense for occasional use, allowing a grouping on the council to be formally represented at committee meetings, typically, by another member of that grouping who can then vote and help the meeting have its minimum number (quorum) to proceed.

You'll find it very rare indeed for me to appoint a "sub". I have tried, and so far succeeded, in making most meetings. Partly due to my only serving on committees I have the time for, partly because I make a point of "zooming" in even when out of town (though that means I cannot vote or be part of the quorum, and some chairs choose not to call remote speakers) and partly through my good fortune in not having other health or similar matters come up.

"Subbing" as a common practise worries me. It can routinely place councillors, selected by a private arrangement between two of them, into a decision making position where they are not as familiar as the proper member with the topic. Perhaps it's a bit strong for me to suggest it's an afront to our democracy - the electorate can see which councillors are on which committee to lobby them on matters arising, but what good is that when a different councillor turns up at the meeting?

Of course, it's never that simple:

1. There's no "subbing" at Full Council - all councillors are there in their voting rights and so there's no-one available to stand in

2. The Staffing Committee is NOT open to all councillors to attend, and those of us not on that committee have only the vaguest idea (if any) of what's going on

3. Working Groups have no authority - unlike Committees which have delegated powers. Each differs, but usually any councillor can attend if (s)he knows about them. As I see it, little point in asking a colleague to formally "sub", but it is done - there's a cast around going on for a Park Working Group sub as I write to come in (evening of 19th) and help make recommendations for the parks and leisure areas.

4. Meetings dates are planned for the year (good) and but occasionally extras are necessary to consider urgent matters. These have (in my view) become less that "occasional" to the detriment of the good sweet running flow and full representation we should have; I cannot attend a late-called meeting on the evening of 20th, for example.

We're halfway through our four year term, and who could have predicted their personal circumstances for September 2023 in March 2021? So some seepage is only to be expected - but it's sad that we've been having trouble being quorate at our meetings.

Councillor Records from election (May 2021 to September 2023)

Data in the public domain from the Melksham Town Council web site; I have chosen to delete the councillor's names as I'm writing in general, though I have left my own name there as I'm happy to share my own record and face comment.

Although I criticize routine "subbing" above, make no bones, there is an awful lot of dedication to cause there - 982 meetings attended and if they average 2 hurs then at minimum wage that would cost £20464.88 even before you count travel and preparation time. But they're not minimum wage - they're all volunteers and they do it for you for free.

Now - a bit of a game for those of you "in the know" - shown are all 13 councillors who were elected in May 2021 and remain councillors today. Can you work out of guess who's who?

It's not all about council meetings though - it's also about preparing for those meetings, being involved with resultant and other council activity, and listing to the public and keeping them informed too.

P.S. Meeting invites - 1248, so about three out of four attended on average. One councillor in particular who is on a lot of committees has managed an astonishing 94% attendance and that pulls the average up - I would suggest that the six councillors who are below 80% could do better. Four are at or over 85% and that is (in my view) a realistic target when taking on a council role.

Published Monday, 18th September 2023

Yes - you can!

"I often feel that we can’t change things ..." writes a correspondent not happy with some of the Town Council activities, or apparent lack of activities and their consequences.

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that you can influence decisions and that will change things. And the bad news is that by the time most of the choices come to the attention of the wider public, they've already been made and any veneer of consultation is just that - a veneer to help make the outcome look as if it's community supported.

I have been thinking this through over many years and here are some notes:
- Get in early
- Stick at it; be there to help implement the fruit of your labour.
- Look a long way ahead, but learn from the history behind you
- have a strategy which lets you make tactical decisions easy and efficient
- Be trustworthy and partner with others
- Study those who take a different approach to yours to understand why
- Motivate and respect those you work with and understand their motivation
- Offer solutions not criticism
- Be clear and consistent in your ask
- Understand the issues and address them all
- Where others have made a decision, respect it and support them
- Have a good case and don't overplay it
- Smile when something gets pushed back; understand why and have a plan "B"
- Make sure that what you seek works not just for now but into the future
- Research and earn technical respect
- Be prepared to admit errors and explain occasional changes of position
- Listen to others and put yourself in their shoes
- Use time wisely and think "why am I doing this"
- Don't over-bug people
- Have a partner / significant other who supports you but can challenge you
- Play it as a game - though the outcome may be far from a game!!
- Have fun, enjoy friends an enjoy the mental challenge!

Sorry - a bit (or should I say "a lot") preachy. I was sitting on the train last night and started writing up. These things can be pretty darned hard and readers who know me will be able to find copious examples where I fall short of what I'm suggesting.

Success may be nothing - it may be the maintenance of the Status Quo
Success may not be noticed - it may creep up on you and just be there
Success will almost inevitably be a team effort
Success may not be notified to you and you may not even know
Success will be claimed by others, some of who's contribution you'll question
Failure is the absence of success as yet

So - where do you start if you want to change things? Look at what is up and coming and not what is coming towards a conclusion. Choose things you have a passion for. I am resisting the temptation to come up with my own examples - but let's just say I'm feeling celebratory today. Much to be thankful for - but briefly before planning the next phases ... and in that personal celebrations comes public feedback to direct that next phase.

Published Sunday, 17th September 2023

Rail Conference - and looking ahead for Melksham Trains

Yesterday, I attended GWR's Community Rail Conference in Swindon - excellent day, with a lot of follow up - initial copies below.

It's 10 years since we stepped up from 2 to 8 trains each way per day, and since then we have worked with GWR to promote and tune services. Busy trains to Swindon yesterday as I used the service to get to and from the conference (pictured). But they could have been much busier - we have moved from a useless service to a poor but usable one and in the next 10 years (or can we do it in five?) we still have a lot of work to do. Of local Melksham concern:
* Service frequency and reliability
* Easier ticketing and fares system
* Feeling of wellbeing and support at the station
* "Last mile" links by bus to homes, town centre and businesses
* Marketing and information within Melksham to encourage service use

Dear all - Melksham Rail Interest

Following on from yesterday's very useful GWR Community Rail Conference in Swindon, I have dropped a "Thank you" letter to the organisers - heart-felt as they did an excellent job and they (GWR and indeed Network Rail) are in the difficult position of being the messengers and implementors for the Government, who's agenda is not entirely beneficial for the rail industry, passengers, business development and the environment.

I / we work well with the people at GWR, and as the people I'm writing to are also the ones we work with throughout the year, I have allowed myself to stray into a look ahead to the future, describing objectives for coming years. Something of a personal view - from Melksham as I was there representing the town's community group. It's ten years in December since our service stepped up from 2 trains a day to a train every 2 hours, and passenger journeys have risen from 3,000 to 75,000 per annum. But that's still an order of magnitude below the numbers they should be for a town of our size. The issues as to why are summarised in my letter

So what for the next ten years? Do have a read of what I have written to GWR, and please feel free to share the email and this cover.


Dear Tom, Stacey, Jane, and please share this email to the rest of the GWR team and wider if useful,

THANK YOU for running the conference at Steam yesterday, and for the invite and letting me attend. It was truly, excellently informative and a wonderful opportunity to network both with GWR contacts and friends who support rail through local government, community rail and wider channels. One of the most useful such events I have attended over the years.

As well as a "Thank you", an apology to those of your colleagues I gave a difficult time over issues such as the future of fares and ticket purchase, of service reliability, and of last mile links to and from my local station (Melksham, Wiltshire, urban area population around 23,000). I have a passion to represent these services, have been and remain a keen partner to grow them and their use - sometimes that comes across as me being difficult but I am in it for the town and the residents, and not to be high in the "popular partner" stakes; I do wish to be high in the "we can work together, long term" stakes, mind you.

Rail Industry professionals and organisations are in a "squeezed" position at present, with decisions that would have been in your hands in the past now in the hands of central government, and with some of those decisions they are taking being uncomfortable ones. The start of the 2020s have been a time of unprecedented change with so many external factors rocking the boat (or is that derailing the trains?) and on top of that an admission that a number of mature structures such as franchising and the fares system are past their sell-by date - may have been good in their time, but not fit for purpose for the next decade. There is a massive problem in defining what purpose actually is, how we get there from where we are now, how we deal with the difficult issues of those who are comfortable in their use of the current systems. The direction we're headed is unclear - in a fog ahead and with an apparent strategy contradicted by shorter term tactics that speaker after speaker (with the notable exception of the recorded message from the Secretary of State) expressed coded frustration at.

Where am I going? I'm saying that I (and I believe much of the informed passenger community) sympathise with you in the issues you are having to address. We admire and respect your professionalism. We want to continue to work with you and grow the use and usefulness of public transport - in the context of GWR, that's passenger trains and road links for last mile and more remote destinations off the network. On a local (Melksham) level, from which I am writing, we need to have issues on our mutual agenda such as:

* Service Reliability. One of the "stats" sites shows 12% cancellation over the last 4 weeks, and that excludes services cancelled on strike days. We should be aiming at - what - 98% of services run to the published twice-a-year timetable.

* A fare and ticketing system where people can buy online or come to the station confident that they can purchase the ticket they need in a way and environment they feel confident with.

* A feeling of wellbeing and support for everyone at the station and on the trains, be that on normal journeys or on the hopefully-much-reduced occasions when things go wrong.

* Marketing so that we can work with you to promote rail travel to and from our town where appropriate, looking at a target of around 20 journeys per resident per annum 10 years from now. That's about 6 times current journey numbers, and would bring us towards the figures for other Wiltshire Towns which (I would hope) would have moved on up in the meantime.

* Bus services to and from Melksham Station to connect with the trains. I will admit to jealously yesterday in listening to the stories of this being done and working - yet that gives me faith that we are not looking at rocket science here in Melksham, but rather at something which learns from established practise and will be pretty certain to work.

Ten years ago - December 2013 - we moved from a useless train service at Melksham ("2 service a day and they are too early and too late") to a service that ran every 2 hours or so. Passenger numbers up from around 3,000 to around 75,000 journeys a year. And a big success that we have worked on together. However, it remains a poor service, under which passengers need to plan their journey before they plan their day, rather than being able to plan their day and then choose their train. Make that change up to hourly each way, get the other issues resolved, and we have a model for the next 10 years - from unusable in 2013 to poor in 2023 to appropriate in 2033 (or can we do it by 2028, I wonder?)

A time of change - with so many cards thrown up in the air - is also a time of great opportunity - a puff of wind, a little blow to help the cards settle in a new way suitable for the future. Let's work for this


Published Thursday, 14th September 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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