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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Draft Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II
Lighting in KGV Park
In planning, for land south of Melksham Town
Planning - for everything and anything
HS2 phase 2 cancellation - effect on Melksham
Planning - should we have looked across the road?
How does planning work?
Planning - big consultation week
My "Update Needed" list and comment on council structure
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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.

Neighbourhood Plan - open for consultation

The draft reviewed / updated Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan has been published and is open for public comment until Sunday 3rd December 2023. Overview - website and links to the plan and the evidence base - are (here).

There will be public consultation events at the Melksham Campus on 26th October starting at 4 p.m. ans on 11th November starting at 10 a.m., and at Shaw Village Hall at 4 p.m. on 10th November. All welcome, and there will be members of the steering group and other members of the team at all three events. I'm a member of the steering and I'm planning to be at all three events - happy to answer questions and explain there or at other times / places if you want to get in touch.

The Melksham Joint Neighbourhood Plan II steering and specialist groups have been collecting evidence of what you, the public, want for the area up to the year 2038, and this is your oppotunity to read, review and make further comment on the resultant plans they have drawn up

Please find (below) the invite letters to residents and to statutory consultees that have just been sent out. And you will be hearing a lot more about this in the next few weeks. If you scroll further down, you'll come to my longer description of the Neighbourhood Plan and how it fits in.

Dear Resident

We are writing to you as someone who has asked to be kept up to date on the review of the Melksham Neighbourhood Plan.


Melksham Town Council and Melksham Without Parish Council has reviewed its current Neighbourhood Plan (adopted July 2021) for the Melksham Neighbourhood Plan Area. The reviewed draft Plan updates some existing policies and provides some new policies which, once adopted, must be used in the determination of planning applications within the parishes of Melksham Town and Melksham Without.

In accordance with the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, Melksham Town Council and Melksham Without Parish Council are required to publicise the draft Neighbourhood Plan and invite comments. Copies of the Plan will be available for public inspection from Monday 16th October until Sunday 3rd December 2023 for a period of 7 weeks.

The draft Plan and associated material are online at:

A copy of all the material has also been sent to the Neighbourhood Planning Officer at Wiltshire Council.

Hard copies are available at:
· Melksham Town Hall, SN12 6ES
· Melksham Without Parish Council offices, SN12 6ES
· Melksham Campus (Library), SN12 6ES
· Spindles Café, Top Lane, Whitley, SN12 8QU

Drop in consultation events are being held on:
· Thursday 26th October, 4pm to 7pm at the Melksham Campus (past the Café area)
· Friday 10th November, 4pm to 7pm at Shaw Village Hall, The Beeches, Shaw, SN12 8EW
· Saturday 11th November, 10am to 2pm at the Melksham Campus (past the Café area)

Representations may be made in the following ways:
· Completing the online questionnaire at
· Downloading and completing the questionnaire and emailing to:
· Downloading and completing the questionnaire and delivering/posting a hard copy to Melksham Town Council, Town Hall, Market Place, Melksham, SN12 6ES or Melksham Without Parish Council, First Floor, Melksham Community Campus, Market Place, Melksham, SN12 6ES
· Completing a Questionnaire at any of the places where hard copies are available and dropping into the Comments Box
· Completing a Questionnaire at one of the drop in consultation events and dropping into the Comments Box

All representations must be received by either Melksham Town Council or Melksham Without Parish Council no later than midnight on Sunday 3rd December 2023. All representations will be publicly available* and will be considered by both Councils in producing the final plan, which will then be submitted to Wiltshire Council for Regulation 16 consultation and Independent Examination.

(*with personal information redacted). We will share information of who was contacted with Wiltshire Council to enable contact again at the Regulation 16 stage.

Please address all correspondence to

Yours faithfully
Melksham Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group
On behalf of the Qualifying Bodies: Melksham Town Council and Melksham Without Parish Council

Dear Statutory Consultee


In accordance with the requirements of Paragraph 1 of schedule 1 of the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012, I am writing to let you know that the reviewed Melksham Neighbourhood Plan will be out for Regulation 14 Consultation from Monday 16th October until Sunday 3rd December 2023 for a period of 7 weeks.

The draft Plan and associated material is available at:

A copy of all the material has also been sent to the Neighbourhood Planning Officer at Wiltshire Council.

All representations must be received by either Melksham Town Council or Melksham Without Parish Council no later than midnight on Sunday 3rd December 2023. All representations will be publicly available* and will be considered by both Councils in producing the final plan, which will then be submitted to Wiltshire Council for Regulation 16 consultation and Independent Examination.

(*with personal information redacted). We will share information of who was contacted with Wiltshire Council to enable contact again at the Regulation 16 stage.

Please address all correspondence to

Yours faithfully
Melksham Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group
On behalf of the Qualifying Bodies: Melksham Town Council and Melksham Without Parish Council

Published Sunday, 15th October 2023

Draft Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II

To Melksham Town Council, 10th October 2023

This evening's meeting was asked to approve draft JMNPII.

"Members here will be familiar with a great deal of the work done on this, but the public watching in the room and online less so. There has been a great deal of consultation on some issues but other elements have been discussed in confidence while we look at the merits of alternatives that will have significant consequences.

Planning policies provide protection against random development. They don't prevent us moving forward and growing, but rather they help us to do so in a co-ordinated way with thought and funding for infrastructure and service too. Without planning policies, you'll see developers grabbing at chunks of land to build on, without long term plans as to how those plans integrate. However, with plans they'll be much more informed and co-ordinated and they'll be guided as to what's wanted and where it's wanted - a "win, win" for both the community and those who want to help develop it.

The Wiltshire Local plan, out for consultation at the moment, places around 1500 new homes to the eat of Melksham, and invites a neighbourhood plan to fill in around 200 more. And it's the draft neighbourhood plan we're looking at tonight. Both plans also look at other infrastructure for employment, transport, leisure, countryside, heritage, the environment, and much more.

A huge amount of work has been put into the joint Melksham Neighbourhood plan. It's a community plan with community members in the majority on the steering group, and it's a joint plan between the two parishes of Melksham Town and Melksham Without. As well as steering group members task group member, staff of Melksham Without and Melksham Town, and our consultants have done a very great deal and have been and are a pleasure to work with. It has been a pleasure too to see early community engagement with things as diverse as green spaces, heritage and Town Centre master planning; I recall four of us expecting to sit quietly working in the Campus during a long early consultation in February, only to find we were busily and thoughtfully engaged all day and that input has helped inform us to make it really a community plan.

Tonight [spoken 10.10.23, remember], for the first time in public, we can describe the detailed proposals. they were published last week in your agenda packs and councillors have been briefed too. In summary, we are taking up the option of recommending around 200 more home locations rather than leaving them unplanned. The two councils have agreed on a brownfield policy, which means that although Wiltshire Council has specified its extra housing into undeveloped areas, our own extras are within the town on sites released from prior use.

Firstly, we are allocating the site around the old library on Lowborne for 50 homes, specifying that are to what are defined as "affordable" and for people over in later middle age or older. They will have good access to the town, facilities and transport and the site is well suited to the more mature people.

We are then allocating at least 150 homes on the site that's being released by Cooper Tires in the coming months. Initial estimated are that, were it pure housing, this site could take several times that housing, but the local desire based on the consultation earlier this year was for mixed use - looking also at employment, shopping, leisure and green space too and what's proposed is in line with that. It's very much broad brush strokes at this point and we are working vert closely with teams such as the regeneration team at Wiltshire council to help make this happen. Together to help move the old Avon site forward in coming years, and provide what's needed and wanted ... which is not a derelict site in the centre of our town for a generation.

The local plan also calls for a housing allocation in large villages, and there are 50 homes in Shaw and Whitley too. Well away from Melksham Town, I won't comment in detail save to say that a difficult set of choices was made there.

In and around the whole Melksham area, a large number of land owners have offered sites for growth to both the joint plan and the Wiltshire local plan, and the work on scientific evaluation on each of them has been massive. That has helped both the county and the steering group come up with what we believe is the best combination of planned growth for the next decade. A big "thank you" to all the land owners we have been working with. A few will be happy; mathematically far more space was offered that was needed of required, and I'm sorry we're disappointing the others. Our evidence base is available in public so you can read the details.

So - what now? I'm going to propose that after discussion this council accepts the draft plan to go forward to public consultation - opening shortly and running a little longer than legally required into early December. In the winter, updates will be made based on consultation inputs and in the spring the plan will go to examination under "section 14" and, passing that, to a local referendum.

This is an update to neighbourhood plan 1, which still hold some weight, though dropping off. Any our new evidence base is already useful in informing our inputs, and the decisions made, by planning officers and committee. By voting to accept the draft and pass on the the next phase tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you'll be helping strength our local input to planning for year ahead.

As a latecomer to the steering group and NP, a personal Thank You for making me welcome, and I commend to you the incredible work done thus far by the team. What they have come up with is - here's that work "incredible"ly good and I comment the draft to you for acceptance.

Thank you

Three edits were made to correct the text from the draft in the agenda, and after clarification of those the plan was passed to the next stage

Link - Melksham Neighbourhood Plan
Link - report pack including draft JMNPII - I will come back and add a link to the amended document

Published Wednesday, 11th October 2023

Lighting in KGV Park

The Town Council's Assets and Amenities Committee found itself between a rock ans a hard place yesterday evening as it took lighting in KGV park forward. We have decided to place festoon lights around the circuit, three lights up the back passage, and replace the light heads on the lights on the path by the adventure centre.

This has been a saga, worthy of Tolkein or Tolstoy, and we have managed to spend an incredible (excessive?) amount of our time, and that of people interested in installing lights, on looking at a whole series of schemes and options. I am emarrassed at the length of the saga and feel that the rules under which councils work make for a significant overhead which many councils, including ours, then exhaserbate by how they apply them. We have not been helped by having many and varied opinions on this project, with some councillors who didn't like the original decision working to get it reversed even after it was made. I get it, I happen not to personally wanting the circuit lit, but understand that the majority do and once that decision was made I have voted to progress the project.

Plan is that the installation will take part during the winter. I am being intentionally vague on dates still, but at least we're no longer in the middle of project planning - we're at the end of working out what we're doing an it will be "shovels in the ground" next, not that there are many earthworks!

Illustration - from the demonstration of some of the festoon lights as have been chosen for the circuit

Also KGV updates:
* Town Clerk re-assured us of proper consultation with experts prior to installation of dog agility equipment - member of the public question, written answer to follow
* EcoLoos after teething issues now working much better and much more eco than they were initially
* Sensory garden work to be undertaken largely(?) by our inhouse team

And also:
* Business case requested before we license the Town Hall for weddings
* Audit of allotments requested to ensure fair, sensible way forward for all sites
* Assembly Hall roof - quotes coming for 6/12/18/24 month fixes for the two major leaks - thanks to our volunteer for oiling the wheels and getting this moving

And finally a welcome to councillor Charlie Stokes who we look forward to seeing at future meetings too.

Published Tuesday, 10th October 2023

In planning, for land south of Melksham Town

Wiltshire Council refused planning permission for 210 new homes and a care home with 70 beds just across the road from the South Ward of Melksham Town on 27th April. An appeal has been lodged and will be heard in Melksham Town Hall from 10 a.m. on 24th October. Public welcome.

Although Melksham Town Council was not a statutory consultee, this application may be of interest to many of the residents of "my" ward being just across the main road from them. See (here).

I understand that a planning application (a lot earlier in the process) has just been submitted in detail for a primary school behind the new housing that's being built off Pathfinder way, and again this runs up to Western Way and so it's just across from Melksham Town, so once again we will not be a statutory consultee. Update Planning Application just submitted ... PL/2023/08046

The housing and care home application, refused and being appealed, is in the area indicated by the red dots on the map. The primary school is in the area indicated by the blue dot.

There is considerable merit in the plan for a primary school which is within easy walking distance of the Campion Drive / Burnet Close area; the recently added light controlled pedestrian crossing over Western Way brings the school close to home for families in those roads and the neighbouring ones. As even with planning for schools, road access for those who chose to take their children there but don't live so close will be an issue that I'm sure the planners, and Melksham Without, will look at, and it will be doubly an issue should the appeal for the next door site be upheld.

Published Monday, 9th October 2023

Planning - for everything and anything

150 people have clicked through to my "How does Planning Work" article and 180 to "HS2 - Phase 2 Cancellation" according to Google Analytics. Of those, over 80% are identified as being from the UK and that and other stats help assure me that each of those articles has really been brought up on someone's screen around 100 times. Whether they have been read is quite another question!

"How does planning work" was an interesting one and it used to baffle me - many elements of it still do, and I learn every day. And I become all the more aware that so many other elements - our entire lives, indeed, effect what we need to plan for. I wondered whether to write a whole series on planning:

1. Overview of planning
2. The National Infrastructure Commission

Then looking at the layers of general planning:

3. National Planning Policy Framework
4. The Local Plan
5. Neighbourhood Plan
6. Planning Applications

But then there are other elements linked to make the whole:

7. Environmental Planning
8. Wealth Planning
9. Population Planning
10. Transport Planning
11. Health Planning
12. Welfare Planning
13. Education Planning
14. Utilities Planning
15. Waste Planning
16. Security Planning

And a herd of elephants in the room:

A. Social Control
B. Operational Issues
C. International Matters
D. Unplanned events
E. Variance
F. Religion
G. Motivation
H. Staying at the helm

By background, I am an analyst and I fear I'm analysing things so wide here that I'm asking questions like "what and why is government" which is perhaps as far removed as I could get from my position on this page as a parish councillor.

How public finances work: [link]

National Infrastructure Commission: [link]

Image - from - under Creative Commons License 4.0

Published Sunday, 8th October 2023

HS2 phase 2 cancellation - effect on Melksham

Background: On Wednesday, the Prime Minister cancelled phase 2 of HS2 (the High Speed Rail link from London to the Midland and North) which means it is now planned to run only from London to Birmingham. At the same time, he announced the equivalent transport spend on other projects. A new body - "Network North" has been created and has had funding directed to it, including in spite of its name, some towards the South West. On Thursday, some of the other projects were withdrawn from the list, or were conditionalised so they are not certain to happen. And it became clear that some of that spend is a re-announcement of funding already in place - indeed some Wednesday schemes are even done already!

What does this mean for Melksham??

Very little obvious, but yet a great deal in reallity.

1. Use of HS2 as a transport link

Headed north from this area / constituency, we were set for a natural choice "change trains at Old Oak". Much less the case if the high speed line runs out at Birmingham - train travel to the is (and will probably remain) via Cheltenham Spa or via Oxford.

Let's face it though - from Melksham and Chippenham, headed north or to Scotland, most people drive or fly. Neither of which is good for the environment. Trains running from Old Oak to Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh at a competing speed with air, and pricable to compete because of the journey volumes, would have been a real environmental opportunity. The opportunity is not removed, but the marketing edge and competitive gain are lost - and in any case there's going to be less capacity which HS2 is really about.

2. Local works and contracts

Lots of contracts all over the county for HS2 work and that includes directly five companies based locally (in the constituency). The largest is Knorr Bremse, who make brakes for trains amongst other things; it is not clear to me yet how much cut back there will be on the number of trains to be made. Each of the other suppliers locally will have a potential impact, as will the services and suppliers down-chain to each of them. Perhaps there won't be as many people visiting Knorr Bremse to stay at the Travel Lodge and eat at the Milk Churn, or as many people working at the plant to buy local houses or their lunch at Greggs.

At one point, plans were for spoil from HS2 to be used to infill Quidhampton Quarry near Salisbury, with trains running from the construction sites via Melksham. The line, though, does not have the capacity and there was a window of opportunity for redoubling - back to where we were prior to 1967 - and with that extra capacity the side-effect opportunity to step local trains up to hourly; doubling would put capacity of trains though Melksham up from 2.5 per hour to around 12 per hour.

3. Trust in Government

Huge investment has already been made in HS2 and the government promised us high speed rail. And lots of decisions have been made and other plans made on that. They have now changed their mind and reduced HS2 to a shadow of what was planned. Readers may agree or disagree that HS2 was a good thing or not in the first place, but how sad it's been reduced to a trunk without the feeder branches. Perhaps the same mistake that Dr Beeching made in the 1960s, cutting off the feeders that in themselves were not profitable and so starving the centre core that had been.

But there's more to it than that. There is a pattern. Remember the our government was electrifying and modernising the railway from London to Oxford, to Bristol and to Swansea. But then halfway through they changed their mind. The Oxford electrification runs out at Didcot. The Swansea electrifiation runs out at Cardiff (though the Maliphant depot in Swansea has some very fine overhead electrics!), and the Bristol electrification runs out at Cocklebury Lane to the east of Chippenham, with some very fine half-built overheads and substation at Thingley a few miles north of us in Melksham.

It gets even worse. Our Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that the same amount of money would be spent on other transport projects as had been cut from HS2. Sounds good - but look carefully. "Other transport projects" includes road building, for which there is already an equivalent budget, so the net effect is to take a previously planned budget split between rail and road and skew it towards road. It gets yet worse. Many of these projects where alternative spending was shouted are making use of other funding already announced - there might have been an implication that money was bring transferred, but it has become clear that we may have been invited to draw that conclusion, but it's not the reality.

Can it get yet worse even again? Yes, it can. Projects touted on Wednesday were deleted from the government web site on Thursday. Amongst them, completing the electrification of the railway from Cocklebury Lane, Chippenham to Bristol. Projects such as the funding of the new station at Wellington in Somerset, which has been through so many stages of business case already, has had "subject to business case review" added on. Taking HS2 into Euston, restore to the plan on Wednesday, has had "if we can get private investment to help pay for it" added on.

I DO trust that the £2 flat fare on the buses, which was due to increase at the end of this month, will indeed remain throughout next year, and I applaud that; if the next general election doesn't happen until January 2025, I expect it will be extended again. And I do expect we'll see our incumbent MP standing in front of pothole-filing machines in Melksham and Devizes telling us of this local benefit from her government. And I do applaud road repairs and affordable bus travel. Other investment promises - whether real new money, or re-announced, sorry, I don't trust our government. I will work and walk forward in hope, but I'll always be doing a "what if" worst case, especially for spring 2025.

Illustrations, clockwise from top left
- an HS2 train, brakes from Knorr Bremse of Melksham
- a list of HS2 contractors in the Chippenham constituency
- HS2 contractor map showing wider area
- planned HS2 interchange station
- Abandoned electrification near Chippenham

Published Saturday, 7th October 2023

Planning - should we have looked across the road?

Your Town Council represents resident's views on planning applications in the town. Last night we considered two major applications for care homes (yellow pin) and are submitting our views (one objection, one OK but with conditions) to Wiltshire Council. But why, oh why, did we not take a look at the 300 homes proposed just across the road from the Water Meadow (white pin).

Three hundred more homes, some less than 100 metres from the pub, are or significant interest to residents of Melksham Town. On past form, new housing to the East of the town will get transferred into the town in due course, and in my view we should have taken a look. And whether we objected or accepted for the town, we should have specified the infrastructure elements we believe should have been specified to support the new residents and other residents in the vicinity.

I am - disappointed - that neither our staff nor the chair or vice-chair of the commitee brought this to the committee, and when I asked last night discussion was refused. I note in contrast that Melksham Without consider planning applications which are just across the road from their parish and which may have significant effect on them, and I commend them for that. We do have an opportunity at the next "Econ Dev" meeting which is a few days before the deadline, and I will be asking for it to be added to the agenda, together with any other planning applications within 100 yards of the town.

Published Wednesday, 4th October 2023

How does planning work?

Yesterday, I posted four upcoming plans for new building in Melksham and I was asked "how can I express my views" and "will expressing my view make any difference". The answers are "yes, you can express your views - but in a different ways depending on what type of planning it is" and "you might be able to make a difference, but bear in mind you're starting off making an input to a well informed system that has to consider the whole wide picture and will have already done so professionally before you were invited to comment".

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Core Strategy / Local Plan
Core Strategy - adopted 2015
Local Plan - in process / consultation open
Illustration - from the consultation, page 88 (Download here)

Neighbourhood Plan
Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan I - adopted 2021
Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II - in process / consultation soon

Individual Planning Applications
- Outline
- Full

On the various layers

The Neighbourhood Plan is required to adhere to the core strategy or local plan, which in turn is required to adhere to the NPPF. Individual planning applications are required to meet planning law and the various layers of plans.

The Local Plan - currently out for consultation for Wiltshire - recommends where new larger scale strategic housing is built. Failure to provide enough "land supply" leaves the authorities open to un-coordinated building which is likely to be more profitable for the owners of potential sites, but unhelpful to the growing community as it fails to ensure that there's good supporting infrastructure and services.

Local plans also allow neighbourhood plans to provide for additional housing below the larger scale allocations, and if a certain amount of that is provided for in the local land supply, it reduces the opportunities for smaller builds that don't have good supporting infrastructure and service too.

Both the local plan and the neighbourhood plan have called for sites in the greater Melksham area, and a massive amount of work as been undertaken at both county and Melksham level to evaluate all sites offered and come up with frameworks for the future. As the inclusion of a site into either plan can make a significant difference to the site owner and the community, this process is conducted away from the glare of publicity, with recommendations then coming to the public for their views on what the planning group has come up with for further comment, updating based on that comment, inspection by higher authorities to ensure it is robust and wellformed, and then in the case of the neighbourhood plan to a local referendum.

The Local Plan is currently out for consultation, and it would be very surprising if the Neighbourhood plan wasn't too; the neighbourhood plan needs to be a little behind the local plan as it needs to know what it has to conform too (and of course it can't allocate the same development sites a second time), but at the same time it needs to be prompt in order to help guide developers rather that have new building proposed and perhaps happening where it doesn't work well for the area.

Melksham's neighbourhood plan steering group comprises around 10 voting members - 2 each representing Melksham Town and Melksham Without councils, and the others (making up a majority) of community representatives some with specialist backgrounds such as environmental and transport. We are aided by the Town and Parish clerks, their admin officers, and specialist consultants who guide us through and advise on this complex process. Please feel free to ask me questions as I'm one of the town reps. A massive amount of excellent work has and is being done by the folks involved - I have to admit to personally having come in during the process and being rather lightweight, but I will commend the outcome to you personally when that's all in the public domain, and express my thanks and admiration to the active key players.

On individual applications

Application are submitted to Wiltshire Council and uploaded to their web site and appear in weekly lists. "Statutory Consultees" are contacted and they include the local parish council - so Melksham Town heard about the care homes, but not via this route about the 350 homes proposed across the road from the Water Meadow because that's in the next parish.

Anyone can make comments to planning applications. The Town Council's committee that looks at the meets every three weeks so that we can be sure to cover everything in time, but please note that we are purely advisory and whilst our view carries some weight within our Parish, Wiltshire Council make the decision.

Decisions are usually made by the specialist planning officers at Wiltshire Council, but an individual councillor may "call in" an application in his ward, asking for it to be taken to a panel of councillors in a public hearing. Recommendations from the officer go to that panel, which in most cases decides on the officer's suggestion anyway.

Decisions look at a wide variety of factors, including the planning strategies described above, to which they must conform in all but a few unusual circumstances. Everything must be right for permission to be granted so - for example - if the building design is excellent but it creates a risk of flooding, it won't be allowed, and this is why you'll often see applications hanging around for a long time. The applicant can insist on a quick decision but it's likely to be "no" unless everything has been looked at.

Decisions can be appealed above Wiltshire Council and we do have instances where Wiltshire have refused but "Whitehall" has decided otherwise.

Published Sunday, 1st October 2023

Planning - big consultation week

Next week is a big week, especially in the East Ward of Melksham.

On Tuesday, the Town Council considers two planning applications for care homes in the ward. The Town Council is a statutory consultee. This is your opportunity (19:00, Town Hall) to make your inputs to our committee to inform our input, which must be on planning grounds. You also have (or have had) an opportunity to make inputs direct to Wiltshire Council under the reference numbers given here. Link to meeting aganda, including links to the full applications

PL/2023/06725 – Full planning permission
Address: Land at Longleaze Lane, Melksham, Wilts, SN12 6QJ
Proposal: Construction of elderly care home (Use Class C2) with associated access works, landscaping and drainage. Improvements to site access and Longleaze Lane/Snowberry Lane junction.

PL/2023/06976 - Full Planning Permission
Address: Land at Verbena Court, Melksham, SN12 7GG
Proposal: Construction of a care home (within Class C2), parking, access, hard and soft landscaping and other associated works.

Also in the planning consultation cycle at the moment - public input sought, tgough Melksham Town Council is not a statutory consultee because it's outside the town (just outside our boundary from the Water Meadow)

PL/2023/07107 - Outline planning application
Address: Land South of Snarlton Farm, Snarlton Lane, Melksham, Wilts, SN12 7QP
Proposal: all matters reserved except for two pedestrian and vehicle accesses (excluding internal estates roads) from Eastern Way, for the erection of up to 300 dwellings (Class C3); land for local community use or building (incorporating Classes E(b), E(g) and F2(b) and (c)); open space and dedicated play space and service infrastructure and associated works

On Wednesday from 4 p.m. there is a local consultation at The Campus on Wiltshure Council's local plan. I am not going to attempt to tell you all about it here but you can look for yourself at (here). Consultation open from 27th September until 22nd November - though I suspect that if you say something that forces major changes they'll be pretty miffed at having to rework it!

On Thursday, the East Ward by-election takes place with four candidates who I have been reading about in the Melksham News. When personally campaigning and working towards a goal, I find it very informative to read what is being written for consumption elsewhere, and the piece in the Melksham News this week featuring each of the four candidates for Town Council in the Ward is no exception. One quote from each of them, in no particular order:

"Our current town council has been lax in having the will and execution to deliver on projects"

"Our town council seem to argue among themselves, rather than try to make a difference to residents’ lives"

"It’s time for action – I have the experience ..." ...

"If elected, I have the business management experience, with time and enthusiasm to make a positive difference to Melksham."

There's no secret that Melksham Town Council has issues - and the first two tell us what's wrong with us. The third suggests we are wrong and hints at putting them right. The writer of the last one has spoken of working with us, and I could not find criticism of the current council in his writing, though very much committed to helping us move forward. I look forward to working with whoever wins. I wonder if any of the four will come along on Tuesday to start working with us by informing us, as members of the public, on their thoughts on the care homes.

Published Saturday, 30th September 2023

My "Update Needed" list and comment on council structure

Two related items in one today. Jump ((here)) to read my "update needed" list and read directly below for comments on council structure

A discussion deep in the bowels of a Facebook thread the other day erupted when a comment suggested that we dispense with parish and county councillors and let paid managers get on with doing the job. The commenter, as I understood it, suggested that councillors have their own agendas and don't really represent the people who elected them. And that (paid) professionals would do a better job. He raised an interesting set of points (here):

"The system of so called local government which extends from County down to the lower parochial levels doesn't work. It isn't just Melksham that is experiencing the incompetence, and self serving nature of this system, you can find countless other examples spread across the whole country. Time for a root and branch change. This current system is not democracy and so there is no loss to replace it with paid professionals that answer directly to the community and both do what is best for it, rather than best for the so called representatives, and also have the skills and experience to effectively and correctly perform that function. But I don't see the turkeys voting for Christmas anytime soon, too much much personal investment for that to happen."

There is a strong argument in the present system to suggest that it is over-managed by elected councillors. At times it feels micro-managed - when I read in minutes about elected members discussing cut (large) cakes or cup (individual) cakes for an event in November, I find myself asking "is this the best use of everyone's time"?

There is also a strong argument to suggest that the representatives often have a conflict of interest or are serving multiple masters. Some of these things have to be formally declared, but others such as a paid role as a representative at another council level, or a political or union allegiance, or self promotion towards greater career things, do not. Some of those things, mind you, are not easy to define.

We already have paid professional managers with many of the skills we need, and indeed there is a project under way to review staffing (it's in public - staffing minutes, 7.8.2023) which will be brought to full council. We have some good people there, and a lot going on well and quietly behind the scenes. And we and that team have the opportunity to call in consultants and contractors to bring us skills that we don't have in-house - done quite a bit already.

The question remains, though, that is much more is done by those managers, how are they directed - not managed, but directed. And that direction could and perhaps should come from a far less micro-managing set of councillors. You still need something. To the original questioner - you overlook (or have not answered) how the tasks of the paid moguls are set, and how they are evaluated and tuned / altered over time. And that's where I'll differ from you as I think we not only want but need some form of board of directors, selected by the people of the area. Call it an elected council.

Locally, we have a huge pool of skilled volunteers which we should and to some extent do use in both the day to day operation and long term changing of our town. Some of these volunteers are councillors, others members of the community who have no desire, not enough time, or don't feel robust enough to take on the role, or have stood in the race for election and have come in with a creditable return though not on top. Any revised system should cherish and make best use of those volunteers. Those volunteers should be members of the team and they are so at times, but in a very patchy way, at present.

Almost all of your councillor volunteers do things on the side to help the staff team, but I can only thinks of a couple of instances where that has been working alongside staff in the same roles on the ground, and there is more scope for that - perhaps making good use of time released from micro-managing. There are also situations where volunteer or potential volunteer members of the community are offering to help; often highly skilled but the barriers and other obstacles placed in their way are discouraging, frustrating and sometimes come across as insulting of the skills held and work done in the community as a whole.

When I ran a company here in Melksham, I didn't have all the regulations to follow that are there on the public democratic sector. But my role was three-fold. Firstly, it was to provide the support and help for the customers and the staff we employed to work for us; in most cases I should have known the jobs and been able to stand in on occasions. I did so, and indeed we were set up with a team just a fraction of the size of MTC to answer the phone and respond 365.25x7. Secondly, I was there to project us forward developing what we provided for our customer base, encouraging the planned growth of that customer base, and ensuring we continued to provide what made them and our staff motivated in all the time they spent with us. Thirdly, I was a technocrat giving IT courses and writing and maintaining software and putting systems together, looking after our own IT systems that typically informed and encouraged customer and helped make all of our jobs so much easier over the years. Fourthly - not really my role - to enjoy what I did and to look forward to working with all the marvellous people encountered on a day by day basis.

This is an answer to a poster who suggested that we should replace the Town Council with paid professionals, and my writing in thinking it through got out of hand.

I am a one of your turkeys. And I would far rather be on something operating as a board of directors than as senior (or even junior) management. Then I could enjoy my Christmas. I wrote above of running a 24x7 operation here in Melksham. What I didn't tell you was that we had systems in place to run and manage unexpected happenings and to keep everyone informed. Add to that the confidence and trust we had in our team, the understood delegation to them, and the lack of competition between team members, and Lisa and I could go away for a week or two secure and happy in the knowledge that things would not be held up or go against policy in our absence. Help the team change to give me that confidence, and ensure that the public really knows what's going on, and I will/would cheerfully step across into that board of directors of holding company role which, ironically, is I suspect the intent of the system and what does happen in some places.

But in the meantime, I am an elected councillor and I said when I stood for the role that one of my three overriding philosophies was to keep people informed. And there are far too many things - little and large - where I feel uninformed myself. Stop me in the street and ask on any of these and I may not have a complete, or adequate, or in some cases any, answer.

Monday evening's Full Council meeting added a regular agenda item to our "Finance Admin and Performance" committee to provide an update on all current projects. This is no different to what's already there - "Monitoring the performance of the Town Council in meeting its obligations, Action Plan and internal objectives" - in the terms of reference. Next meeting of that committee is 20th November - feels a long way away, but this allows good time for the Town Clerk and her team to work on this and provide the updates.

I am working on this list still - 29.9.2023 - and will update as I work through things. It may change over the next day or two - to be frozen at the start of October

1. Action Plan
Where can I see it?

2. Yellow lines on Waverly Gardens
The request for yellow lines, in particular to prevent cars parking there as the drop off or collect school pupils

3. ISO14001
ISO 14001:2015 helps an organization achieve the intended outcomes of its environmental management system, which provide value for the environment, the organization itself and interested parties. Consistent with the organization's environmental policy. Clerk to investigate. What happened?

4. Clackers Brook improvements
Project to rewild, last update was for work to be done August 2023

5. Tree Planting
Competitive bids received and one selected. Missed spring planting - to be done this autumn?

6. Staffing update and issues
Questions asked by Councillor Hubbard at full council on 17th July confirmed there are outstanding issues. Is this still the case, when will they be resolved, and what load is this putting on other staff and what reduction of their availability to do other work?

7. Staffing review
Commissioned by decision of staffing committee - from public minutes of 7th August. Stated to be coming to full council. When?

8. New date for informal staff and councillor meeting
Meeting on 20th September was cancelled at very short notice - or was it postponed? If so, what is the date of the new meeting?

9. Remarking coach parking in Kings Street Car Park
Request was to be passed through to neighbourhood plan. Can you confirm this happened and what the outcome was? Did the NP tea accept this as a valid input of is it really something that should be taken up through LHFIG?

10. East of Melksham Community Hall
It appears that Verbana Court will not be available and we are not happy with the site at the extreme south end of the East Ward. But we have funding set aside. Where are we on this project?

11. Lighting to The Forest Centre
I understand that the residents nearby are being formally asked. An update in due course would be appreciated.

12. Our Teams system
One intent of the software "Teams" system we have is to allow councillors to check on all the various things in this list and see how they're doing without lots of repeated and inefficient enquiries from multiple councillors. However, it's not working at present. When will it or an equivalent system come back to life?

13. Neighbourhood Plan
OK - no questions from me on this one as I'm deeply involved; others may have questions and you'll read a lot more in coming weeks.

14. Remembrance
15. Christmas Market and lights
Both of these two going along well as far as I know - I am not on the committee / working group for either and trust to them running properly along.

16. AHWG
I am chair of this - astonish having to chase up the next meeting which on 1st August was offered for 2nd October but no agenda published and I suspect it won't be happening.

17. VAT on Assembly Hall bookings for events
There was confusion on this last year resulting in the taxman being paid twice - once by the Town Council and once by the booked act. Whilst wrong, I don't expect the taxman will object. We had a long technical meeting a few months back but I have not seen an outcome instruction and confirmation that we now have it right.

18. Visioning for the Town Council
We had a visioning day a couple of years ago - time given up by all councillors and staff - to look forward to our four year term. What happened to the outcome? There may have been reports to / within "Together for Melksham" and the Conservative group, but I didn't see them, I don't think. A very useful day none the less but I have it listed as "open project" and I don't see the data it should provide when we come to looking at following years budgets - we stumble along year to year.

19. Improved public information
The Virtual Hub was a good idea that was due to go live a year ago. Project stalled, now defunded; we're doing a bit better on social media these days but it's still very hard to find what's needed, even if it's published, and to know if it's up to date.

20. Progress on environmental considerations
We have a spread sheet but it needs updating. ECWG meetings have stepped up but environemntal issues cross right over council work and we could do with much more support. I can tell you that admin progress is being made - as to action, we do some things but really we are not doing or considering enough

21. Sensory Garden
I recall funding has been voted for this ... I am somewhat out of date on what's happening - not on the relevant committee or working group.

22. Lighting in KGV
The latest is a demonstration of an option in the park and a survey in the MIN; all sorts of options come and gone - not clear on where we go from here.

23. Demolition of Maintenance shed
I hear that all the reports and authorisations are in place within the last few days and we are awaiting a contractor to tell us when. I am not clear as to how the site will be left.

24. Blue Pool and Assembly Hall Structural Survey
Funding voted for this is June for work to be completed and option survey written in time for report

25. Happy to chat / PB memorial bench
My request of 17th January 2023 et seq. Latest update request to David Elms on 14th June who I was told now looks after this. Progress report would be appreciated.

26. Rivermead School Parking
I've heard there are issues / I am not "in the know" but this should be added to the project list and with answers available to councillors.

27. Cycle maintenance station at the Pavilion
Park of a project with one at the Town Hall (installed May 2022) which has been a huge success. Latest I hear in November this year (2023)

28. Dog park gates
The second gate opens onto drop onto a grassy slope and not onto the hard surface inside. Bizarre and to be altered, but when? Second page is unsprung and can be left open. Apparently a spring was not part of the spec. What is happening with the new almost-enclosed area that was created under the cherry trees?

29. Dog park water
What has happened with this?

30. Priority for People
This was a very useful project that has massively informed transport and town work. Where did we end up with taking if forward or terminating of has it lapsed? Where has forward looking planning for people gone?

31. Communications Policy
Council Agenda 17th July, written by Town Clerk, not reached. A proposal for an electronic communications and social media policy which (IMHO) needed work. A useful things to do but had undue restrictions in it in some parts, and in other parts left holes. I sat down with Town Clerk to go through these things in August. It has not re-appeared at the recent council meeting nor have I seen feedback on my concerns. I understand that the Town Clerk has not been able to take it further - guess that's due to workload?

32. BMX track
Updated 25 October - Committee Clerk has looked at overview lis of possible alternative locations.

33. Wedding Venue
Investigation into setting up the Town Hall as a wedding venue - first stage would be licensing. What's come of this?

34. Bingo
Plan was to start quiz nights in the spring - done and bingo in the Autumn - what's become of that?

35. Town Hall hours and evening opening
Hours reduced to 4 days a week on the condition that one extension - probably Monday when staff are around anyway for meetings - was looked at. What came of that? There was to be direction to the TIC for ticket purchases etc on Fridays - what has happened to this?

36. Assembly Hall roof works
There was a massive quote for fixing the roof and staff were looking at making urgent fixes with the same contractor. This has been going on for ages and we seem to not have got anywhere

37. and 38. High Pavement and Union Street
Latest look at railing and something to slow traffic down?

39. CCTV
40. Speed detection devices
I'm getting lost ... other councillors more expert on these. Status update on what we have and where it is in use and what's being changed / added when would be appreciated.

41. Maple Close / Sandridge Road
The corner of the path from Maple Close onto Sandridge Road is to be widened - I thought this was all agreed and funded but I am not sure where the project is

42. Booking of Comedians and other acts
How have a good program this autumn and I am delighted to see Rich Hall as an act there. Comedians are popular - what actions are we taking to encourage other acts wider that the tribute acts which while they bring in a lot of guests to the hall do not have the width of attraction that we should have?

43. Pavement stones - "Temporary" tarmac in Town Centre
When will it be fixed?

Missing from the list above - a great deal; it is not a complete list - it is just a list of where I would wish to be able to look up an update.

Published Friday, 29th September 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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