Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Melksham Public transport - a growing need in the next decade
Bus and train campaigning and surveying has given me a unique insight into the lives of many people who live and work here in Melksham, including those for whom age, medical, economic or other reasons, or choice, use public transport rather than driving. And I am delighted to report significant public transport improvements which to some extent are the results of my work and that of many others. There are still gaps in provision, and areas where we have lost services - in some cases causing real hardship. And much remains to be done to tune things for the future.
By providing an integrated public transport network of quality, we can not only provided better for those who cannot drive, but also provide an environment in which people who could drive choose to use public transport. That encouragement required running services as a network with connections between services, an understandable fair and flexible fare system, timetables and other information (including real time tracking so you know when your service will arrive), clean, well lit bus stops (with current information there), and welcoming warm, safe, smooth vehicles with friendly staff. It also requires in most cases service that run from early in the morning into the late evening, and at sufficient frequency to enable people to travel when they wish without having to plan around an infrequent service.
Does it sound like I am describing Utopia? Perhaps it does - but it is very practical, with more buses and trains, on a wider variety of routes, each carrying more passengers than current services do. Taking the train service, where passenger numbers have risen from 3,000 per annum to 75,000 in a decade (on a rise from 2 to 8 trains per day), modelling suggests a rise to between 250,000 and 400,000 in the next few years if the service rises to 15 services per day.
That rise is not just numbers - it's people. It's your teenage son headed off to Swindon to meet friends. It's you yourself not driving to the office - but leaving the car at home for your partner to use during the day. It's your family day trip to Weymouth - no need to elect a designated driver as you can all have a pint at "The Ship Inn" or "The Fat Badger" before taking the train back to Melksham and the connecting bus to Windsor Avenue.
Public Transport - especially at present - is heavily subsidised. That's because so many journeys are made on ENCTS cards ("senior bus passes"), and many of the other have been made at peak times leaving expensive vehicles, staffed, underutillised the rest of the day. That changes - with office habits post-covid reducing peaks, there is a far more efficient spread of usage, and with sensible fares paid by new users, that subsidy burden can be much reduced.
The movement towards more use of public transport brings with it some reduction in private car mileage, eases up congestion, reduces the need for new roads, and allows existing infrastructure to be toward bus and cycle lanes, pedestrianised area, and walking routes. It also brings a reduction in fossil fuel burning and carbon used - a necessity for the next decade - and reduces particulates in the environment too. There is even a physical and mental health benefit too - and that's big enough to be measured - as people walk even a short distance to access public transport, meet people as they use it, and don't end up shut in their homes because they have no way of getting out.
I asked "am I describing Utopia"? No - I'm describing practical, positive steps to a cleaner, better mix of getting around. There will still be awkward journeys where private car is the obvious choice, journeys that require more to be carried than you can easily manage on a bus, deliveries and other cases. And what I describe is "Bus Back Better" - the government's plan to take buses forward in a passenger positive (and have it work for the operators and councils too). This is a remarkable policy from them in many ways, accepting the need to buses to be an integrated social service ... and it closely mirror what I and the Option 24/7 team have been saying and working on for years. We could almost have written it!
The Bus Back Better mechanism offers funding to Local Transport Authorities - in our case Wiltshire Council - to continue to support buses provided that they provide and implement Bus Service Improvement Plans. Which involves either an "Enhanced Bus Partnership" or Franchising (Unitary's choice and I would be amazed if they go the latter route)
Published Thursday, 15th April 2021
Addressing Issues - School drop offs and pick upsIn my school days, I walked to my first primary school. Subsequent schools involved a train journey, with significant walks to and from stations at both ends. For a period, that gave me "Dad time" - he caught a different train in the mornings to his job just outside the City. How times have changed! These days, it's the school run in Mum or Dad's taxi for so many of our children, and that can create a very real problem around schools designed and built before habits changed - not only in terms of the congestion and parking issues for the school traffic, but also for the residents in nearby streets.
There is one primary school in the Melksham South Ward - The Aloeric School - and it's at the end of a short cul-de-sac. Two further dead end (for vehicles) roads lead off the cul-de-sac, with around 70 private homes - many with two car families - living on them. "Someone's going to have an accident sometime" and "If an ambulance needs to get to my house, it won't be able to". Those are a couple of the comments to me as I went around dropping off leaflets.
The issue is not a new one. And you have what seem to be an immovable object (the homes and residents around) against an intractable force (parents wanting to deliver their children safely to school and pick them up later).
How has this arisen?
* Melksham has grown, and children live further from the school now
* More people have cars
* Government school choice policy allows the selection of a school which you can only reach by giving a lift
* The Aloeric school is popular / sought after
* There are fears for the safety of children making their way to school on their own in the modern world
* There has been / is no / not much extra provision at the school for car pick up and drop off
* People seem less inclined to share lifts (ride share seems a very hard sell!!)
* An arrangement to use the pub car park in the days it was a "Hungry Horse" is no longer in place
Yellow lines have attempted to reduce the problem, but it appears that they have just moved the problem, and also infuriated those who live behind the yellow lines and see them not fully enforced. Afternoons are said to be worse, as that's not so much the quick drop off but the wait for the kid(s) to come out of school.
So - can anything be done? Does anything need to be done? Please let's look at the causes of the problem, and not just at sticking plaster measures to mitigate them.
* I am delighted to see a new primary school being added on one of the housing developments just off Pathfinder Way; although just outside the Melksham South Ward, that will be within walking distance of the end of Longford Road / bottom of Campion Road
* Improved provision of (and encourgament to use) Walking and Cycling routes. Some are good - but an exit on foot and for cycles onto Lime Avenue - a path 20 metres long - would save a 400 metre walk around, and that would offer a real encouragement to families living in Lime Avenue, Hazelwood Road, Cedar Close and half a dozen other streets to walk to school!
* I have to find myself wondering if a new arrangement to use the West End car park could be negotiated in the mutual interest of everyone.
* Towards the longer term, as we become more public transport and less multiple private fossil fuel car dependent, should we be encouraging parents to choose schools which fit in with this new style of living; I am not suggesting any transfer of children already at or booked in, but let's alert parents to the benefits of walking / cycling to a local school as they book the next generation in. Healthier, fitter, and perhaps saving the cost of that second car.
You will note that I have not put any onus on the householders near the school here. However, you can help mitigate the issue by timing journeys away from school time. "I shouldn't have to!" you may say; perhaps so, but you could really help if you did. When I was dropping off election leaflets, I planned my route in this area to be at a time away from school start / finish times.
And - if you drive the school and have little choice, please turn off your engine while you wait for Amelia or Oliver in the afternoon. And the residents would appreciate you keeping the radio at a reasonable volume too. Little thinks that would be greatly appreciated by the neighbours, and you may not have considered.
What's this got to do with Town Council? One of the roles of a town councillor is to help interface the elemets of the community - talk to people, help sort issues out, for the good of us all in Melksham South. Should you elect me (please vote GRAHAM ELLIS on 6th May), I assure you that this issue is on my radar and I'll see if there's anything to be done to improve the situation.
Published Wednesday, 14th April 2021
Persistance pays - overcoming political hurdlesHow has the political situation in Burma affecting my campaign? What about influences from the behaviours of Donald Trump and his supporters? Well - these are two reasons (Myanmar and American Politics) quote to me on Facebook as I tried (but failed) to boost a post there to help me reach voters in the Melksham South Ward for the Melksham Town election. It turns out there's a whole lot more complexity involved in saying "Please take a look and me and vote for me" than saying "Please choose me for your python training" or "Santa will be oin the train on 12th December".
Problem overcome, however, through persistance and a series of authorising steps - at each step trying again and being give another reason why I couldn't boost. I am very much reminded of the story of Robert the Bruce. From Wikipidia: 'According to a legend, at some point while he was on the run after the 1305 Battle of Methven, Bruce hid in a cave where he observed a spider spinning a web, trying to make a connection from one area of the cave's roof to another. It tried and failed twice, but began again and succeeded on the third attempt. Inspired by this, Bruce returned to inflict a series of defeats on the English, thus winning him more supporters and eventual victory. The story serves to illustrate the maxim: "if at first you don't succeed, try try try again."' And, like Robert the Bruce, I keep trying until the goal is achieved. Actually, I have something of a record on that ... be it getting a decent train service, Sunday and evening buses, the best hotel in Melksham or the library's new location in the centre of town rather than out beyond Melksam Oak on the Devizes Road. Image from ((here)) on WikiPedia - it's in the public domain, but still deserves a "Thank You" to Kaldari - its originator.
Published Tuesday, 13th April 2021
Melksham, litter picking volunteerI took the opportunity to help "Melksham in Bloom" volunteers picking litter from "The Woody" on Queensway yesterday - catching up with old friends, making new ones, and catching up with what's making the town tick. Nothing new in my helping with litter picks - first picture today is from just before Christmas, clearing up leaflet vandalism at Melksham Station; I didn't shout about it at the time - just let the "powers that be" know that we were having problems. So much of this sort of work does on site unseen and has done for years.
You'll note the official GWR Hi-Vis tabard. Melksham Rail User Group volunteers are GWR trained and 'signed off' for rail safety and security, and at the station we keep our eyes open when at work. It's rare for an incident to require us to step in (though I can and have - on one occasion - had the line closed) but very, very common for us to provide a friendly face and help for people using the station, many for the first time.
Yesterday, however, was a picture opportunity, standing out from the back room for once and letting people know that I'm around and there to help. Really there to help too - I rather surprised the organiser by taking another bag after this picture was taken, and doing another round. Far too used to parliamentarians who stick along just long enough for the exposure and photocall - yes, I have organised them too ;-) .
We see our parks, streets and station at their worst when we do a litter pick. From the previous pick through to the one we're doing, they have moved from good through reasonable to being at their worst - but actually not all that bad. And good to see that the majority do make good use of the rubbish bins along the way; we're clearing up just after the minority at such events.
Published Monday, 12th April 2021
Big changes in our streets - electric car chargingI know Melksham South "quite well" but walking around, delivering leaflets, is taking me into a number of quiet cul-de-sacs I have not visited before. I am struck by the number and variety of motor vehicles (not only cars) parked around. I have been considering just how much this or these vehicles need to change over the next decade, as we head for "Zero Carbon". Readers may agree or disagree with where we are headed, but we are headed there for sure and must look to establishing the best future quality of life for ourselves and for our community.
A move to electric powered vehicles is a partial solution. But (nationwide) only 40% of homes have car parking at which they can recharge their vehicles. Personally, Lisa and I are fortunate that we can park close beside our house, but so many, many people park across a pavement or remote and cannot trail cables / charge at home. There are charging points in King's Street Car Park and at the Melksham Hub on Station Approach, and a couple in Melksham without (Lowden Garden Centre and Beechfield House Hotel) too. But, really, these are not facilities that people who live locally will use on a regular basis - they're much more tuned for visitors, just as you (a Melksham resident reading this) would look to charge in Southampton or Taunton or Bristol if you drove a round trip there.
One of the key elements of moving to electric cars will be an ability to refuel ("recharge") them in the same time it takes us to fill a fossil-fuelled vehicle. But even then, the electricty still needs generating somewhere, somehow. And you can have just as much road congestion with electric cars, and much of the same particles from rubber tyres on the road.
Thirty years ago, I drove 30,000 miles a year, in a fossil fuelled car. In the year to March 2020 (i.e. before Coronavirus), I drove under 1,000 miles and that in an electric car. It's not that I had stopped travelling, just that things have changed and I can use public transport for almost all my longer distance journeys. At times that may be slower, and I may have to wait a while for a service, but I can arrive at destination fresh rather than worn out, and if I choose I can work at my seat as I travel. It's really added a quality of life to my travel.
As journeys get shorter, service frequency and local access to the service become more significant so although regional journeys and long distance ones have transformed easily for me, shorter distance trips have transformed less easily. It becomes more important for local public transport to become frequent, to pick up and drop off closer to home, and also to connect with onward transport. I'll come back to that topic in another day or two - but for the moment I'll conclude with re-iterating the news that we're going to need to see major changes on our residential streets in coming years - a re-organisation to aid charging electric vehicles and a reduction of vehicles over all - for quality of life purposed to be encouraged by much improved public transport, and much improved cycle and walking provision.
If elected to Melksham Town Council on 6th May 2021, it will not be my responsibility to pilot these changes through - but it will fall within my remit to campaign for best provision within all the changes for the residents of the town, businesses and visitors. And prior experience sets me up well for taking up that cause.
Published Sunday, 11th April 2021
How does Melksham Town spend your Council Tax?There has been lots of talk about Melksham Town Council's budget / expenditure. From (here) I have extracted the budget figures for a recent year to help inform me. Here are all the individual entries of £5,000 or more:
(A) £314,900 Central Costs
£269,000 Salaries, National Insurance and pension
£15,000 IT monitoring, support and backup
£5,000 Conference and Training
(B) £53,000 Grants
(£15,000 Miscellaneous small grants)
£10,000 Young Melksham
£7,000 Melksham Christmas Lights
£5,000 Citizens Advice Bureau
(C) £20,500 Corporate Costs
£10,000 Audit, Year End Costs, Professional Fees
£5,000 Human Resource Consultancy
(D) £13,400 Civic and Democratic
£5,000 Election Expenses
(E) £0 Capital Projects
That's a total of £401,800, and that works out at between £25 and £30 per resident - that's about £75 per household. The rest of your council tax bill relates to Wiltshire Council, Policing, etc.
Declaration of interest - I am vice chair of the Melksham Rail User Group, which received a grant of £350 last year (and very grateful we are too as it makes a massive difference). Until Summer 2018, I was also with TransWilts for whom the Town Council budgeted £3,500 last year but I have no knowledge as to if or when such a grant was actually paid. Credit must be given to other candidates who look to continue as town councillors for making similar declarations of interest and standing back from votes where Town Council expenditure has funded organisations with which they are closely involved.
In recent years, some elements of the budget and expenditure have changed dramatically year on year, and it is likely there will be other big changes in the next four years. I don't yet know what my detailed decisions / votes will be on future budgets - that will and should depend on the background circumstances at the time. I can confirm that I will steer a balance between being frugal with your money (getting best value) and spending where appropriate to continue to support our town and the community here. That is almost certainly a view shared with most candidates.
Published Saturday, 10th April 2021
Online answer questions, every 4 days.Updated link at the base of this page - joining details for 4th May 2021
Starting on 10th April 2021 AT 18:30 (that's a day after we know all who's standing for Town Council) and every four days, I'll be online ... ready, willing and able to chat via Zoom about any issues you like in relation to my standing for Town Council (South Ward). That's an opportunity for YOU to tell me your thoughts, and to understand where I am coming from.
As an independent candidate, I have more to tell you than most. Although I have been living in Melksham for 20 years and have a lot of community background, there is no current or recent political party position to tell you about me, so I have much more new to tell you than many others. my about me page and my philosophy and views pages tell you more - but why not come along to one of these Zoom sessions and have a chat?
I am delivering leaflets, but I am not knocking uninvited on doors to canvass you. Although it's now legal again (has been since 8th March) to cold call for this purpose, many people feel that it's an unnecessary risk as we come out (but are not fully out) of Coronavirus restrictions, and many more simply don't like being disturbed at their door by someone looking for their vote. I respect those views - however, I am more than happy to speak on the phone or online, to call round by appointment to speak with you (needs to be in the garden) or to invite you to pop round to my home in the heart of the ward on Spa Road, and speak in the garden here.
You'll often hear people say "(s)he was around all the time when (s)he wanted my vote, but now that (s)he is elected, we never see (him/her)". You may say that of me, too, in the future - you'll see me less, but it will never be never. Once elected, energy moves from campaigning for permission to do the job to actually doing the job. And doing the job still involves listening and communicating both ways, but more targetted to individuals and groups rather than bulk publicity. So the Zoom sessions every 4 days will run up until the election; thereafter (if elected), I'll set them up so you can reach me every month but make sure that I'm reachable, anyway, by other means / at other times too.
Next Zoom meetingI have selected every four days to ensure I'm around once on every day of the week before the election. If no-one's around, I'll stick there for half an hour - come on, unmute yourself and shout "hello"; if you're the only visitor, I may be working in another window!
Graham Ellis is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Graham Ellis - Independent candidate for Melksham South Ward
Topic: Ask the candidate
Time: May 4 2021 06:30 PM London
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 854 7110 3560
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Published Friday, 9th April 2021
Making it walkable to the station - saving lifts and drivingLiving here, you could walk to the station in 10 minutes. But I could not recommend it - far too dangerous. I would have to recommend an 18 minute route instead. And if you walked purely along roads, you would be taking a 27 minute walk.
So what? Typically people (and that includes your neighbours and yourself) will walk 15 minutes (source - via Mendip Council) to a railway station on a regular basis ... about a half of that to a bus stop. So via that 10 minute route that I classify as unsafe, this part of Melksham (South) illustrated is the sort of place well set for a more carbon friendly future, where people will comfortably travel around without taking a car every time; no more need for Mum's taxi to be called on for every outing, and perhaps no need for that second car just to sit in some car park all day while Mum / Dad is at work.
Thank goodness for our network of public footpath and cycle ways. At least that reduces the walk from 27 minutes down to a much more manageable 18 minutes. But with some tuned changes, we could make our town so much more walking and cycle friendly. May of them need to be "waymarked" - here is a typical path, with no clues for the visitor that it leads anywhere but the play area!
Let's take the specific example above. I walked from the corner of Alder Way and Hazelwood Road to the Railway Station, with a HiVis vest and at a quiet time of day, via the Challeymead (A350, bypass) bridge. From the Cemetery Entrance to the bridge, there's about 100 yards of wide verge to walk on that could do with surfacing for walking. The bridge itself has a wide enough and surface sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists BUT the way safety systems for motorists have been installed blocks that use; those systems could / should be modified to allow walking. There is then, perhaps, a further 100 yards of wide verge to the generous footpath-to-nowhere that starts at the Farmer's Roundabout.
Let's take the specific example one further step. Look at Wiltshire Council's Local Plan for Melksham which has been under consultation, with the suggestion to develop for housing the land on the other side of the (present) bypass, and the Wilts and Berks Canal plans to provide the canal through that area. Providing a safe pedestrian and cycling route to the Station (and stores and services on the way) would transform that area from a car-dependent suburb to being a much greener, healthier, more sustainable part of the town.
Published Thursday, 8th April 2021
From 2 empty trains to 9 busy ones. Next, buses!A decade ago, we had 2 trains each way per day in Melksham - the joke was "too early and too late" and indeed that was the case - hardly anyone used them as no-one needed 11.5 hours in Swindon or 13 hours in Westbury. We (sure, I took a lead role) got work done to work out an "appropriate" service, then get that implemented, make sure it worked and marketed it.
Passenger numbers grew 25 fold ... stopped at that point because there as no more space on the trains. We now have longer trains ... and a longer platform. We also have to work with TransWilts, GWR, Wiltshire Council and the Department for Transport to recover passengers after CoVID, and then work up to an hourly service which (we know) is what's needed; background work suggests we'll rise to 250,000 journeys per annum, and that's before lifestyle changes encourage even greater growth.
We are also headed towards a major uplift - of the same sort - on buses. I'll write that up another day ... been a long day today with one thing and another. Please vote Graham Ellis for Melksham Town Council on 6th May 2021 - from the Town Hall, I can represent the local needs of an appropriate and effective bus service strongly - as I did with the trains - with the prospect of a result that works for YOU.
See also http://option247.uk where our team is working with the Government's Bus Back Better strategy (announced 15.3.2021) to bring in funded modernisation into s system fit for the decade ahead - buses going when and where you want, with understandable timetables and affordable fares, using clean vehicles of quality with well provided infrastructure
Published Wednesday, 7th April 2021
Campaigning in partnership, and with passion, for MelkshamI am ... a campaigner. But not usually a "protest" campaigner, more a "partner" campaigner. I work with and within the community that will gain from the campaigning, alongside the planners and providers who will help achieve our goals. I live in the South Ward of Melksham, and for the purpose of local activity, THAT is my community. Over the years, I've had successes and failures. But in reality it's sometimes hard to know which is which - or indeed which results I have had a piece in promoting, and which would have happened anyway without any of the campaigning activities of mine and those standing alongside me. It's made all the harder to analyse where we have made a difference when there are far too many people claiming credit for successes in which they had little input - even things which they opposed at the time, but have proven to work and be popular.
First picture today - my national award from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation. Sheila McKechnie was the dynamo behind Shelter, and the Consumer's Association (Which? magazine). Sheila passed away in 2004 (tragically young), but today the foundation in her name champions, supports and trains those campaigning for "a confident and powerful civil society in which people work together to drive change". The award was not expected - and is made all the more precious because it's an award to campaigners by other (professional) campaigners who looked at all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a positive difference. Big event - presentation at the House of Lords (well, it was supposed to be, but got moved because of the Westminster terror attack a few days before).
In Melksham, I am known for my help (when all seemed lost) to get an "appropriate" train service back. The joke a decade ago was that we had two trains a day - and they were too early, and too late to be of any real use. Miss the 06:15 from Swindon and the next train was 18:44. We have gotten back to a train every couple of hours - still a poor service ("appropriate" would be hourly) but passenger numbers have risen from 3,000 journeys per annum to 75,000. I was one of the founders of the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership - a move from protest (where we had to start) to partnership and I remain active in encouraging further development to that appropriate service, which (various sources agree) will take passenger journeys up to in excess of 250,000 per annum, even CoVID setback allowing. I am no longer a director or Community Rail Officer; in the summer of 2018, TransWilts moved on with a board on which every member has local government experience, and a professionally trained Community Rail Officer to replace me, and (see above) I offer them full credit for the Melksham Hub Cafe, cycle hire, and car park changes. They are also doing a good job for Corsham, Wilton, Devizes and other rail aspirations. I do remain active in promoting rail use to, from and through Melksham with the pure-volunteer Melksham Rail User Group (and we get listened to where it matters ;-) ) and I am available to TransWilts as a volunteer.
But whilst I might be known for rail stuff, I have been involved with lots more in the background. Historically as President of the Chamber of Commerce, I was the one who walked into Cooper Tires and enquired about land in the town for the Campus - my thought was not Melksham House but it came out of the discussions, with two other options looked at and ruled out for good reason. Also with the Chamber of Commerce, there was a great deal of hard work, but with only limited success in joining and encouraging Town Centre businesses. We weren't the only ones to try - a separate trader's association sputtered along for a while but has now gone. Perhaps, better, the current Town Council activities which bring in dedicated staff to do the work where the traders themselves are mostly too busy - err trading!
On local buses, I will claim credit for the bus meeting at Canberra on Spa Road just more than a year ago, helping to voice local opinion as to the most appropriate Bath - Melksham - Devizes service for the future as First pulled out. Whether there was a real danger of us losing evening and Sunday buses, I know not, but the outcome of the work by Wilts Council and Faresaver was their retention ... which was what we wanted, and was not what happened when First pulled off the Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge route a few years earlier, leaving the last bus back from Chippenham at around 17:30 rather than 22:16. To this day, that route has no Sunday service, though it has had it in the past.
Also on the Buses, and current, the Government announced "Bus Back Better" on 15th March - a funded scheme with a lot of positives that mirror our Option 24/7 campaign and plans of 2016 - a half victory in that we and the public got Wilts Council to retain funding for most supported bus services, when they had asked the community in a consultation to choose between 50% cuts and 90% cuts. I notice - cheeky - that candidates with the Wilts Council majority party are now telling the electors how good they have been with buses. Maybe, but that's not what they had planned; they had to be pushed very hard. I believe I can help further with buses under Bus Back Better - things like buses to the station (where a lot of background work has already been done) from Queensway, from Longford Road, and from the top of Campion Drive. Buses to the station in 2012 would have been pointless as there were no trains to connect with. But with the trains running in 2021, it now makes sense. Why drive to the station when you can get the bus? For some families, will you even need that second car?
You'll see in my election leaflet that I attended both the climate protest in Bristol in February last year, and the Black Lives Matter event organised locally here in Melksham - indeed in the South Ward - in June. I believe, passionately, in looking after our planet to pass it on in good sustainable shape to our children and grandchildren, and also in levelling up the playing field of life for everyone irrespective of ability, gender, age, colour, politics, creed, views or other differences. These are national and indeed global issues as well as Melksham ones - but I will put my heart into promoting them, and indeed following them through not just in word but in deed. Some voters may be put off by these views; I understand that. I am not going to promote myself to the ageists and racists we have in our community by hiding those views. But I will talk with you and show you what a wonderful community we have here, strengthened by its diversity.
Published Tuesday, 6th April 2021