Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Faresaver - Whippet to Bath, x31 and 272
Delighted to welcome the new more direct Faresaver bus service from Chippenham to Bath which starts running tomorrow (20th November 2023). The existing X31 service becomes the 231 and only has minor changes. The route number X31 applies to the new services - "X" originally stood for "eXpress" and will again. It runs every hour during the day, Monday to Friday taking just 45 minutes end to end rather than somewhere between an hour and 75 minutes for the 231.
Good news - the growth is passenger numbers on the Chippenham - Corsham - Box - Bath axis means that the flow should now support both routes, saving longer distance passengers a great deal of time from going all around the houses! Wishing Faresaver the very best with this - one of Wiltshire's new Whippet services. Full new timetable at https://www.faresaver.co.uk/timetables/6542b55dd146c.pdf
I'm a Melksham Town Councillor - so does this mean anything at all for us? YES ...
1. It confirms the strength of our 272 (direct) and 271 (residential Melksham Forest, Whitley and Bathford) structure as being mainstream structure, with a mixed route in the same way in the evening
2. It shows a growth and addition of services which sets us in good stead for the future. The nature of improvements is that the come in steps for each area - this is a good step for Chippenham and Corsham
3. With growth returning, this is not a one size fits all approach. We already have our 272 Whippet and what we in Melksham need next is the return of the evening and Sunday x34, and that can be single route and not a fast / slow split, at least north of Leap Gate.
4. I note that Faresaver / Wiltshre Council have gone for 2 residential and one express service, and that MUST auger will for town bus service. A pointer that the need to have a frequent Town service in Melksham just as they are maintaining in Corsham and Chippenham
5. If there's one note of disapppointment it's that the x31 does not serve Chippenham Station. Chippenham BUS station to Box is 15 minutes, but Chippenham RAILWAY station to Corsham is 22 minutes. To Box, 25 minutes or 43 minutes. OK - something has to give, but at the end of an express jounrney from London, the last thing people want is a ride around the houses!
Published Sunday, 19th November 2023
Melksham needs appropiate "Siftware"The information you want is available. It may be in public. But can you find it? And is it current? Search algorithms remain embryonic - an issue from Google and Alexa right through to Melksham information, where town and council information are often available if you know where to look, and then have the perseverance to trawl though large amounts of irrelevant data on sometimes obscure and convoluted links.
Someone mistyped something in an email to me the other day and mentioned "Siftware" rather than "Software". What an apt name for something we need to search and filter.
To my knowledge, there is no simple answer. Google and Alexa have teams working on the issue and massive electronic resources. For more local searches, you can buy into Google's algorithms if they work for you, but that is a big "if". Dividends for getting it right are massive - look at WikiPedia, for example - and note the requirement for both really good structure and a team of data managers moderating and working to a set of defined guidelines.
The case for siftware:
Lack of an easy way to find data can put an incredible load on the people who's job it is to inform and help the wider audience. The lack can also mean that effective use is not made of the data, to the cost of the business holding it. The lack of a pattern / policy of how data is managed - by the data managers and other contributors (such as public comment) also adds an incredible load on those data managers and commenters; they simply don't know where they stand.
The Great Western Coffee Shop forum - founded in 2007 - has an incredible amount of data on it, and over the years our team of moderators (data managers) and contributors have helped us build a searchable archive. I'm rather proud of this - open source software with code I have added and the search will help you navigate though:
* 1933 Mirrored documents
* 2535 Stations
* 25340 Forum topics
* 137143 "Did you mean?" words
* 337789 Individual posts
It's not just searching - these resources are indexed by category, date, security level, and geographic area too ... and there are 1562 timetables and 28819 images which come up within other documents or just by geographic and date index. Here is an example ... searching for "Rail Link Bus" if you wanted the history of the shortlived bus servive to Melksham Station
It's my belief that Melksham Town Council, its staff and councillors, and the residents of the town would benefit by having appropriate siftware, policies and data management. It would help everyone being better informed. It would reduce the number of queries that had to be raised with staff. It would help market the town and the facilities we have here to the benefit of both our own resources such as the parks and Assembly Hall, and the town as a whole.
The "Virtual Hub" project dates back two years, to the early days of this current Town Council (September 2021) ""It was proposed by Councillor Oatley, seconded by Councillor Houghton and UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED to set up a Virtual Community Hub Working comprising of five Councillors. Councillors Oatley, Houghton, Aves and the Deputy Town Mayor, Councillor Goodhind were appointed as members, with an invitation for membership extended to a Councillor not a member of this committee."" In early 2022, this working group did its work, extending to another councillor who was charged with coming up with a specification, and plan was for it to launch that autumn. There was a budget set, and (I believe) other people's solutions looked at - Melksham's need is far from unique. Plan was for the system to go live in the autumn of 2022. However, the budget was then reduced (I thinks it may have gone completely now) and the working group is, I think, moribund. The issues of our awful "siftware" and the toll from its unsuitability remain.
This is frustrating - very frustrating - to me. I look back at my September blog where I listed 43 outstanding projects. There has been progress on, perhaps, a half of these projects, but goodness it would take so long to go through them all and there should be an easy way for me and for others.
I provided comment on the initial Virtual Hub spec, and what should be in there, to people who were Town Council staff at the time. So I know what's in there, and I know I could put something together in days that would take months for others; it's exactly the sort of thing I have done in the past - see example above - and taught too. However, I'm a councillor - I can't be paid to work for the council, and I can't do it as a volunteer councillor because of the significant risk that I could loose my seat in 18 months. There is a great fear of doing things that way as the Town Council is, as I understand it, tied in to other data systems and their maintenance costs and limitations.
So where do we stand? We have various bits of software such as Rialtis and ModGov which keep the council running. I am not convinced that we make best use of them as they feel unexplained and confusing in my interaction with them, which they should not. We are supposed to have Teams but I don't think that's kept up to date. Our web site has limped along, and our social media team and councillors has not been given direction / moderation policies making their job very difficult - a serious concern which lead me to ask a public question at last full council, which lead to me getting two contrary answers within a minute - either we don't have a policy, or we do!
What would I like to see
* A consistent and published electronic information (including social media) policy.
* Appropriate siftware that provides answers much easier to find, and motivation for contributors, users and managers
One way to achieve that would be to go with an open source system, and (yes) I could help tailor that, using standard languages and databases such that maintenance and support could be passed to another party at an appropriate time.
In the summer of 2022, I provided a feed for residents of what was open when in Melksham - ongoing news - to roll into the hub that was scheduled for that September. A useful exercise and used by perhaps a couple of hundred people. It could be done again for the summer of 2024 ... though I remain in the dark as to when items 12 (Teams), 18 (vision for Melksham), 19 (improved public information) and 31 (communications policy) of my list submitted in late September will be addressed, and it will be difficult to progress appropriate siftware without progress on at least some of these.
Published Saturday, 18th November 2023
Blue Pool and Assembly Hall - what YOU want
Many thanks to everyone who's gone through my long list of things that people have said they would like or use within future facilities provided at the Assembly Hall / Blue Pool site. Over 50 people have clicked on over 1100 checkboxes in the last week here where I asked on my blog for your thoughts to help inform me in my role as a town councillor. Architects are being (or perhaps have been by now) engaged to look at the art of the possible - with options to include both making best use of existing buildings and building something new on site. Councillors have been asked to input their list of what they would most like to see, and for my part I am submitting the survey results, backed up as being not just what I would like, but what YOU would like and use.
The top 15 of 54 things people would USE are listed on the graphic - with 38 of you (75%) saying you would use a cinema, 26 of you (50%) saying you would use ten pin bowling, etc. Some of the facilities would be small ones, others would need to exclusively occupy significant space. And there are compromises to be had; raked seating would be wonderful for some events ... for other events in the same space, they would eliminate the possibility of dancing in the aisles as we so often see. It's this sort of consideration that a professional can advise us on. If you want to see further results, the top 30 things people would use are here.
You supplied optional extra information too - writing in comments to help inform me. THANK YOU. You will not find those here in public (GDPR etc), but they are helping to inform me forward; I find myself as chair of the "Assembly Hall Working Group" and very much involved with the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall, and I expect both of those vehicles to be active throughout the remainder of my council term to Spring 2025.
Published Thursday, 16th November 2023
News Briefs - what's happening where?1. The Footpath up alongside the river and also across from Scotland Road has been declared a Public Footpath.
2. The old Maintenance Shed has been demolished. Melksham Town Council continues to hire a unit on Bowerhill as its amenities depot.
3. The new train timetable - to June 2024 has been published. Trains all day, every day - still a thin service, though.
4. The Community Rail lease on the car park at Melksham Station is being released back to Wiltshire Council at the end of the year. I have asked (but yet to get an answer) what plans there are, and indeed whether car parking will remain available at the railway station.
5. Wiltshire Council have CONFIRMED the parking order for the Campus that there will be a three hour limit. My request for 4 hours so that Assembly Hall event attendees could park there (e.g. 19:00 to 22:15) was denied with "the car park is not intended for Assembly Hall Users", even though Town Council reports back to 2018 have Wiltshire Council stating that the parking is leisure use in a way that included the Assembly Hall
6. Architects are being asked to take the needs suggested and tell the council what could be done with the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool
7. The appeal by developers against the Wiltshire Council Decision NOT to allow 210 homes and a care home to the south of Melksham has been UPHELD, and the building will go ahead in spite of objections from Town and Without councils
8. Land to the East of Melksham - it's in the draft local plan and it looks like it might be one of the earlier areas to come forward. In Melksham Without's area - Councillor Aves representing the town, though
9. At Shaw Village, Melksham Neighbourhood Plan event last Friday. "Everyone" is happy with the Cooper Tires and Library Brownfield site, but there was concern in Shaw and Whitley at the plans for there. We spent much of the evening, explaining how the plan had to allocate somewhere if it didn't want a free-for-all, and as we did so, we asked people where else they would suggest instead. The conclusion was that we had come up with the best available to us.
Published Wednesday, 15th November 2023
What should your Town Council do next year?This time last year, your Town Council was deep in the process of budgetting for next year, with committees meeting to look ahead to the 2023/4 year. But this year, I have seen neither hide nor hair of any plans as I feel we have been so busy dealing with this year that we have not looked forward as a council to what we'll be doing next. We have just over 2 months to set the precept and tell Wiltshire Council.
I have asked the Town Clerk (who is also our RFO - Repsonsible Finance Officer), the mayor and the chair of our Finance, administration and performance commitee as follows - "I am looking to reading shortly ..."
1. ... updates on projects underway at Finance, Admin and Performance on 20th November as per Jennie's council resolution (Jennie cc’d) 25th September 2023, minute 575/23. This should give us all a good view of timelines, so where we stand for projects that will need funding in or after April 2024. Major projects include both East of Melksham community Hall and ongoing Blue Pool considerations.
2. ... advice from industry bodies suggests that a key input to budgeting is the strategic plan of the organisation doing the budgeting. Although work was done on this in the summer of 2021, I am not aware of any agreed (or even outstanding proposed) longer term plans and objectives. What can you offer?
3. ... a view from the staffing committee as to what the anticipate for next year - whether there will be increased or decreases, and any extra costs associated with changes. Staffing is a significant cost and I know we have a staffing review underway.
4. ... any inputs on remaining funding to be carried into 2024/25, or reserve shortfalls due to any significant overspends in monetary terms in the current year.
5. ... income estimate bases for 2024/25 - from council tax, CIL, solar benefit, Assembly Hall, Pavilion and other building hire, bar receipts, and grants such as have helped with neighbourhood plan
6. ... advice on other cost changes and major expenditures or savings - for example lower neighbourhood plan changes, utilities and insurance changes, etc.
Basically, "how are we doing this year, what do we need to carry over, what is our strategy for next year, what will our income be from other sources be, and what expenditures are coming up that we need to allow for?" In my view, we need such information very shortly in order do be properly informed as we plan ahead.
The questions have only been asked in the last couple of days - that should be in time for them all to be answered in the agenda pack publishing over the next days ready for next week.
Published Monday, 13th November 2023
JMNPII - Any questions - please ask meBig "Thank you" to staff from both Melksham Without and Melksham Town, Melksham Without councillors and steering group community volunteers who helped at the Neighbourhood Plan consultation events on Friday at Shaw Village Hall and the Melksham Campus. Two really useful events, talking to residents of both parishes. With this sort of event it's hard to know how many people will come along; I was delighted how we busy we were.
These were the final consultation events on this stage of the neighbourhood plan, but the consultation continues until 3rd December. Boards are on display at the Town Hall (Melksham Town) and Campus (for Melksham Without), the data is online at https://www.melkshamneighbourhoodplan.org and there are full copies at both council offices and printed response forms are there too. In addition, as one of the Town Council reps on the steering group, I would be delighted to help explain in person - please get in touch if you wish.
Illustrative image - an overview from the Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II Draft that we are asking you about. Click on the image to see it full screen
Published Sunday, 12th November 2023
Blue Pool & Assembly Hall - Looking Ahead
The Melksham Assembly Hall, which is behind the Town Hall, has a seating capacity of 400 and has been full recently with events such as AbbaMania, the Monster Ball, the comedian Rich Hall, and kick boxing. The Melksham Historical Association and the quiz night both had their busiest nights last month, and car club, Tai Quando meet weekly. It was good to see the local "AmDram" group with big audienced over 4 performances, and to attend record fares, film showings, table sales, produce shows and much more. A wonderful bounceback from Covid, with much help from excellent hall staff, friends of Melksham Assembly hall, and you the public. But at times, it struggles. The entrance is cramped, access for acts is difficult, and there are queues for loos, and the bar, and to get in.
The old "Blue Pool" swimming pool is attached to the Assembly Hall. It was taken out of use last year by its owners, Wiltshire Council, who have offered it as an asset transfer to the Town Council. A structural survey on behalf of the Town Council has confirmed that the Blue Pool building is basically sound, and that it would be practical to join the two buildings into one.
The Assembly Hall Working Group, which comprises all the Town Council and the key commitee people from the Friends of the Assembly Hall met on Monday evening and overviewed the options for the site, with either existing buildings adapted, or a rebuild. We decided to give our list of desires / needs to architects for them to produce an outline of what may be possible. The architects are to be informed by a list generated from public input on the Assembly Hall last December, from the Town Centre Masterplan consultation earlier this year, and from the work a number of us did during the design work for the Melksham Campus, and from the "Priority for People" surveys. That's good, but in addition I would like to know what YOU reading this would like to see in the outcome.
Please indicate what you would like and what you would use. Choose as many or as few as you like, ad then "Submit" at the base of the form
This Survey is now closed - thank you for your inputs. The comment section remains open so you may use the form at the base to send me comments, but the numbers are "in".
Your help and guidance is very much appreciated - thank you.
* Inputs always welcome - this survey will be open at least until 15th November 2023, but I will be reading results as they come in
* Please get in touch / ask me about any of the things in that LONG list above if you want to ask or say more. I do appreciate there are duplicates, little and large asks, and some things which are impractical mixed in with necessities.
* Your inputs here are to me as a councillor and not to the Town Council as a whole. But I stongly suspect I'll be talking with the architects to help flag relative priorities!
Published Wednesday, 8th November 2023
Town Council Answers, 5.11.2023An update - to answers questions, as at lunch time on Sunday 5th November 2023. A pleasant morning, a lovely walk around town, lots of people out enjoying the fresh air. Also lots of cars in the Town Centre, queueing back through King Street and up Spa Road.
1. Signage in KGV
I counted 12 hard surface entrances to the main park of "KGV". People have been asking about signage in particular in relation to dogs in the park. 5 have signage of various forms to tell people that dogs must be on leads. Full audit below.
2. Dog agility equipment
Councillors have been copied on a correspondence involving town staff and discussing the suitability and I note guidelines in there for fun agility equipment. I understand guidance signage may be in process, but due to resource limitations the correspondence has not (yet?) been précised into an overview for potential users. Personal comment - clearly it's down to the individual owner and knowing their dog to make a choice as to whether or not to use the dog park, and if they do whether to use the equipment in it.
3. Pavement at Church Street Corner
A section of tarmac which was put in as a "temporary" fix in the paving slab pavement was being fixed as I walked thought the town today. Good to see it being done - it's taken a long time and there has been a lot of nagging!
4. Gate to dog park.
Stones have been laid to combat the slip hazard inside the inner gate. This is a temporary fix; the gate will be moved to the end of the inner "trap" section so it opens on to the hard standing, and that work will take place at the end of this month or the start of next month, depending on the weather.
5. Provision of water in dog park
I'm not sure what's happened on this - need to check. It may have proven to be a nice idea that would have been very expensive - need to ask the Parks Working Group. On the subject of water, part of the park and part of the dog bark were flooded this morning, and a number of dogs enjoying paddling.
6. Demolition of old maintenance shed
This is due to happen this month. Due to the presence of hazardous material, you may see operatives walking around in protective clothing. This is for safety reasons while they are within the work areas and great care is being taken to ensure that there is no public danger.
7. Cutting back of brambles on Lowbourne
This was reported about a week ago - brambles growing out of KGV and Town Council amenities team has now cut them back, thank you.
8. Perspex in Town Council display board
One side of the notice board on Church Street has been reported as being fogged to the extend that the notices cannot be read. A resident has asked for the perspex to be replaced but has been advised "The Town Council has decided that we won’t replace this panel at the present time". I confirmed this morning that the notices are unreadable, and will make enquires as to whether it's to be left like that, or if other action (such as polishing the damage surface) is being done instead. I noted that it is possible to see the notices when the panel is wet.
UPDATE - 9.11.2023 - I understand our staff team is taking a look at the current condition of this panel to review the decision, and has promised to get back to the original enquirer.
9. Removal of traffic bollards in Market Place
Over a year since The Campus opened, and there are still big red and white "temporary" traffic bollards in The Market Place. I don't know why they are still there, nor how much longer they will be. I would guess they may be remaining until the need for HGVs to access Melksham House wok site continues.
10. Repair of Assembly Hall Roof
A contractor has been selected and works are scheduled to commence on 2nd January 2024.
11. Melksham Station Cafe
The Cafe closed in May though there are still signs pointing to it, the pagoda has gone, the weeds are growing and I see adverts looking for any reasonable offer for their storage container, noting it must be gone by Christmas. I hear rumours that the lease by TransWilts is to be released at the end of the year, and the activities I see would tend to confirm that. I have a meeting on 21st with multiple people, one of whom is a director of TransWilts and I will take it up with him. I am looking to confirm whether car parking will still be provided at the station, and whether there is a community opportunity. The railway station has done well over the 10 years since services were improved, and forms a key part of future Melksham plans in both the local plan and neighbourhood plan.
12. Cycle Maintenance Station in the park
The first station was installed beside the Town Hall several years ago and has been a huge success. The second one - to be installed in the park is long awaited but was promised "within the next two weeks", one week ago. So just days now?
Park Sign Audit
1. Lowborne - Bylaws, September 2021, low on gate
2. From dog park - clear sign that your dog must now be on lead
3. From Union Street - flooded but looks to be old bylaw sign
4. Beside the poplars from Bath Road - "Please keep your dog on a lead whilst in this area"
5. Beside the skate park - no signage
6. Along the river - no signage
7. From upriver walk - "Please keep your dog on a lead whilst in this area"
8. From back walkway past play area - no unobscured signage
9. Past the pavilion - no signage
10. Walkway requiring step over knee rail - no signage
11. Gate for vehicle entry - no signage (but locked shut)
12. Behind maintenance shed - no signage; frame where sign used to be.
Published Monday, 6th November 2023
Open Consultations - YOUR inputs requestedSo often, we (you and me) miss consulatation requests because we don't hear about them until too late. There are a lot of consultations around at the moment - here are the important local ones, sorted by shortest dated first
Consultation until 10th November - Wiltshire Bus Review
Consultation until 22nd November - Wiltshire Local Plan
Open until 23rd November - request for byelection in South Ward
Consultation until 3rd December - Melksham Neighbourhood Plan
Published Sunday, 5th November 2023
Councillor Vacancy in South WardTen days ago, we lost yet another committed Town Councillor - the third hard working volunteer to step down in the last six months, and once again the reasons given were not purely personal.
And now we have an official notice, letting people they may call for an election for the vacant seat; if 10 people or more ask, we have an election. Failing that, the Town Council can co-opt someone into the seat. A few months back, I wrote in support of holding an election for the first vacant seat. At the time, we were less than half way through this council's term and it made sense to democratically ask the electorate, with the new councillor having a substantial opportunity to make a difference. But I am now sitting on the fence - speaking neither for nor against an election. And come next year, should another councillor resign - likely, on current pattern - I would be speaking for a co-option for our final months before we all (or those of us who are left) start campaigning for the May 2025 elections.
The previous by-elections were in the East Ward - a very different mixture to the South Ward where I'm a councillor, and where the vacancy has arisen. I know several people who live in the ward and would make excellent councillors; should one of them stand or be willingly put up for co-option, I will offer support. I have actually spoke with people, however I have not sugar-coated the role (which could lead to a continued high drop-out rate) and respect "Thank you, but no thank you" responses from those excellent people. How sad that we have got ourselves into such a situation.
Parish works are not national politics. I am concerned when I see national politics quoted as part of a local manifesto, or hear my fellow councillors talk about how they are using the by-elections as practise runs for the upcoming general election. I acknowledge that if it's your priority to get elected, then you'll stand for a party - but then if you're elected, does your loyalty lie with the town or with your party?
Published Saturday, 4th November 2023