Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
A Tale of Two
This morning, two new cafes in Melksham opened. The Cricketers (In the King George V) park was serving for the first time, and will be open from May to September, 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. And the MelkshamHub at the station, which has been softly open since March, was formally opened by Michelle Donelan MP. It will be open from 07:30 until early afternoon, Monday through Saturday. Here's wishing both cafes every success.
Both bring welcome facilities to Melksham - very different facilities. In the park, the Splash Pad has opened for the summer (and I managed to get pictures without children, as is required these days) and there were lots of people out enjoying the sunshine. At the station, the British Transport Police were marking cycles to help prevent thefts, and cycles are for hire. There was a petting zoo there, and Melksham Shed crafts on display, but they're one day only. More normally, a chance to pick up a bacon butty as you head for the 07:53 or 10:02 to Chippenham and Swindon, or the 09:10 to Trowbridge and Westbury.
For me, an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones at both events. Having been involved with Melksham's train service since 2005, and being mocked at even the idea of more trains, it was a real pleasure to see. I wish TransWilts (of which I was a co-founder) well in that venture. It's three years now since they moved on and appointed a replacement for me - (link here). I will admit that my priorities would have been buses to the station and a northern access rather than a cafe and more (and paid) parking, but in the longer run, cafe, access and bus are all needed so I'm rather talking about how we reach what remains the same target. I remain an officer of the Melksham Rail User Group, which is the official (Community Rail Network) Station Friends group. I was down there yesterday when no-one was around; covid rules require that timing to do litter picking and light gardening.
Published Saturday, 1st May 2021
On reaching everyone with my messageA big "Thank You" to the Melksham Independent News for publishing details of all candidates standing for election in Melksham next week - to Town Council and to the Unitary Council. Online digital version ((here)) and go to pages 20 and 21.
Engagement with voters (and other who are part of the community but have no vote) is a key part of the role, and I chose to include my contact details within my allotted 100 words. As well as publishing my contact details there (I didn't include my address, but if you want to know, it's 48 Spa Road which is within the South Ward where I am standing - I am one of you), I have been posting regularly on social media, daily on a blog ((index here)) and make myself available on Zoom every few days - find the link on that Blog page. No need to submit questions ahead of time, either.
Not everyone is online / comfortable with using the internet to communicate in the elections, and I have also distributed leaflets around the ward. A big THANK YOU to the people who have helped me with this. I have taken care to distribute at least once to each street, giving me the opportunity to see where every one of you lives, including those quiet cul-de-sacs where I hadn't been before.
We live in an age where people value their privacy and time, and perhaps are fearful of others. "No door to door salesmen". "I will require ID that I can check". "No charity bags". "No cold callers". "No leaflets". "No religious groups". "No canvassers". "No free newspapers". "No circulars". "We do not buy or sell at the door". "No Hawkers". "No Home Improvements". "No junk mail". "Do not ask, because 'NO' may offend". In going around with leaflets, I have read and respected requests. If you have NOT had a copy of my leaflet in the South Ward, it's likely to be because you have asked for no leaflets.
I am not canvassing; "Canvassing is the systematic initiation of direct contact with individuals, commonly used during political campaigns" which would mean knocking on your door to talk without invitation. I am told by another candidate that it is now legal again (it wasn't during the Coronavirus lockdown) but never the less I have not been knocking, uninvited, on doors. Two candidates have knocked on my door; I appreciate it might be a way to win votes, but I do not feel it's right to bring stress to anyone by so doing.
But having written that, you are welcome to call on me. No promise I'll be in and not in a meeting - better to arrange a time ahead, or use social media, but the invite is there. Occasional questions may have me say "I don't know", but I will either follow up or direct you to a source that would know. And the occasional "I don't know" can give you confidence that my other answers are thought out and not guesses.
If you have not had at least one election leaflet from me, please get in touch and I can pop one round. Or read online at ((here)) or ((here)). I have tried to get total coverage to those who welcome such things, but a few of you have hidden from doors, live in sheltered housing where you don't have a front door, or where I and my team felt (from the various notices above) that you asked we not even leave you a leaflet (but if you're reading this, please vote for me ;-) )
My record for engagement? The lead image on this post shows my "stats" at the Great Western Coffee Shop forum where I was a cofounder in 2007 and remain a key facilitator / moderator. Questions and comments thrown at any time of the day or night. Doing the arithmetic, I have been online an there an average of 3 hours every day for 14 years, though at times that will be in a background window available if required but working on something else. Note that for every topic I start, I reply on four - talking with you, not at you. Note too that I have instigated over 100 polls to "ask the audience" - nothing like being informed on members views!
Published Friday, 30th April 2021
Recap - why I am standing for Town Council in 2021I have been asked before and declined to stand after careful thought. So what has changed this time? From my launch page
So - the analysis* I have the reasons to stand
* I qualify under the rules
* I have a great deal of useful knowledge and experience
* I am a fresh voice, a love of the town and an enthusiasm for the role
* I actually live in the South Ward (did you realise that some candidates don't)
I have ruled out standing for one of the Unitary (Wiltshire) council seats. Each of the wards is represented by a single member and significant holes in my recent knowledge and experience means I'm not enough of a generalist to feel comfortable helping people on some topics. That is not to say that other candidates necessarily have that knowledge; some who are already Unitary councillors very clearly, by their utterances, do not. But that's not where I would like to be.
The Town Council ward in which I live will elect four councillors. I am much happier with that idea - it means I can be deeply helpful on topics where I have a strength, and know enough to put people who ask about topics where I lack knowledge in touch with another of their councillors who would be more appropriate.
Why I have I not stood before?* Because I've not had much time, and the time I have had has been best used on specialist things
But now I am retired and have a little more time
* Because I don't have the knowledge
But in a multi-member ward, I can refer people on to others in areas outside my ken
* Because I don't have the thick skin needed
Now this is a tough one. I do not mind arguing the logical point, but the way a few people treat councillors - verging on personal attacks - puts off anyone without a thick skin. Ironically, it means we don't get the best and perhaps we sometimes get the wrong people - we get the people who bluster and bully and not the quiet and effective thinkers and do-ers
Published Thursday, 29th April 2021
Writing to inform residents and othersMy career has had a theme - learning and informing people.
Pictured - manuals which I wrote on various computer programming topics and presented as training courses for over 20 years. Other companies came and went - we just carried on; no real marketing - just the linking on to new customers thought personal recommendation.
I have really enjoyed writing daily pieces, including some in depth explanations this month as I campaign for a seat on the Town Council. In terms of raw votes, it may not have been the most efficient way (and at times even counterproductive), but I have enjoyed doing it, generated discussion, and feel total, open and honest in my approach.
"Useful explanation of how it works thank you. Shame they don't include this information on the postal voting packs ..." - comment on my piece on Wiltshire - how each vote works (PCC, Unitary and Town/Parish) written two days ago.
"Really interesting and a useful insight- a few questions though ..." - comment on my piece entitled Why is a big double decker running up my street? that started a conversation on Facebook's Pewsey Notice Board. It was written yesterday
My piece ((here)) entitled "Chamber of Commerce - my record there" posted last weekend, and a follow up one the Historic Melksham Facebook Page - showing 2009 and 2019 businesses on our High Street lead to lots of discussions - brought dozens of reactions.
If elected, I will continue to write and publish explanations. Not an unfounded promise - you can look back at over 4,500 blog articles written daily over 12 years at http://www.wellho.net/mouth/ and around 30,000 posts at http://www.passenger.chat - a forum I assisted in setting up 14 years and where I am webmaster.
A very great deal of excellent work is done by the Town Council, but communication back to the residents isn't always complete. Much is already done, but as we learned on the SCOB, even with 10 ways of communicating an eleventh is still helpful in reaching yet more people!
Clear communication is also useful from the Town Council to those to whom it canvasses for the town; I have some experience there having canvassed for many things in the past - based on the technical strength and clarity of the arguments, and the clear validity of what's being suggested.
Published Wednesday, 28th April 2021
Why is a big double decker running up my street?"Why is a double decker running around my town / village with very few people on it? Isn't that wasteful? Wouldn't it be better to use minibuses or taxis?" Good questions - asked of me in multiple community areas, including my 'home' area of Melksham. So here's an answer - feedback of the sort of thing I've been doing for years via www.passenger.chat and would do on local matters if elected to Town Council.
Answer / explanations
1. Could buses be switched around?
Buses run on "diagrams" - back and forth all day, some on the same repeated journey and some on different routes through the day. There will be busier times (travel to work, travel to education, just after 09:30 when senior cards become valid) and quieter times when these don't apply. There will also be busier and quieter sections of routes too; a really good example quoted to me is the X5 Swindon to Salisbury bus which loads well at the route ends for a double decker, but is quieter in the middle.
The bus used on a diagram needs to have enough capacity for its busiest time, and for the busiest part of its route. Observers not around at that time, or on the busiest part of the route, will never see a full bus and will ask the "do we need such a big bus" question; the answer is really "yes, for what else it is doing on the diagram".
Another suggestion made has been to have big buses for the peaks, and smaller vehicles off peak. The cost of extra vehicles is very high, and the time taken to get back to depot and switch a significant overhead. Switching vehicles between routes can sometimes provide a little help, but peaks loadings tend to happen at the same time of day on all routes. There are times where switching a vehicle that's run during the day on one route to another route in the evening helps, but even there a quiet mid-evening can be followed by a crammed late service. Even before CoVID social distancing, the 23:20 Bath to Melksham and Devizes really needed (but did not get) a double decker.
The question has also been asked about splitting routes. Running (say) a double decker from Bath to Melksham on the 272, then a single decker onward to Devizes. To some extend that has already been done - the 272 used to run from Bath to Easterton, but now the section furthest from Bath is the 270, sometimes but not always a vehicle change in Devizes for through passengers. But - people don't like changing bus too often, time is taken to change, and any delay to one incoming bus at the swap point leads to a delay to two ongoing services, or very annoyed passengers who have missed their connection.
So - splitting routes and switching vehicles have some application, but much (or most) of that has been done already for commercial reasons.
2. Can any bus go anywhere?
No ... some of the routes through residential areas require a smaller vehicle to get around all the parked cars that were not expected when the areas were built, or are areas that were built more recently without allowing for full sized buses.
No ... only buses that are up to "Euro 6" standards can run into Bath unless the operator of none-compliant vehicles is prepared to pay £100 per vehicle per day. Local fleets are mixed ... in one case, a bus route has been temporarily changed because its operator is awaiting delivery of smaller (village compatible) Euro 6 (Bath compatible) vehicles.
No ... low bridges and low hanging trees restrict double deckers
3. Do double decker buses double the fuel consumption?
No. They do consume more - but only around 25% more. Here's a diagram showing some typical figures. Where buses are running at reasonable load levels, the fuel consumption per seat is the figure to look at, so you take a bus seat 3 times the distance you take a taxi seat on the same fuel consumption.
But bear in mind that this comparison should be short term in detail as we move towards alternative (electric) vehicles. I would anticipate that a larger vehicle will still use more energy, but less energy per seat.
4. How sure can we be of what loading will be from day to day?
On a very frequent bus service, "we're full - wait for the next one" is reasonable, but on a service that only runs every half hour or less, it is not. Here in Wiltshire, we don't have the massive fluctuations based on weather that you'll find in seaside towns. And actually the bus operator can make pretty good educated guesses. But, still, they need a fleet of vehicle that copes with most peaks, and that will sometimes mean sending out a bigger vehicle than necessary.
I was ... amazed ... to hear of a double decker on last Saturday's Rail Replacement service from Westbury to Chippenham. It's in the photo at the head of this piece at Melksham Station. Typically, most train regulars avoid travelling on "trains replaced by buses" days, and furthermore we are still under some restrictions, people not moving around as they did a couple of years ago. However, from my personal observation, the bus was busy and under social distancing rules, the use of a double decker was necessary and correct. Top marks to whoever figured this out ahead of time!
5. Are double deck buses slower / less attractive?
From loading and unloading times, they can be - especially with modern health and safety which waits for everyone to be seated at each stop before they move off. Time issuing tickets / checking passes is also extended.
On 'thinner' routes, traffic may be significantly higher if 3 smaller vehicles (such as Optare Solos) run in an hour, rather that one double decker. It's a more attractive service, but it does mean up to 3 times the number of drivers, more bus bays needed at hubs and bus stations, and more road congestion.
For the most part, the bus operators are being efficient, and the routine appearance of lightly loaded double decker buses on your street is worthy of asking about, but you can be re-assured it's not far off the best arrangement possible at the moment.
And, remember, that just at present England is slowly re-opening. Public transport use has been really depressed and that's what you may have observed. But already growing back in places; 9 got off and 6 on a lunchtime single decker on 272 (Bath to Devizes) I saw the other day - add in the through passengers, and it can't have been far short of social distanced capacity!
Published Tuesday, 27th April 2021
Wiltshire - how each vote works (PCC, Unitary and Town/Parish)On 6th of May 2021, or earlier if you have applied for a POSTAL vote, you'll have the opportunity to vote in THREE separate election in Melksham.
The POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER election takes place across the whole of Wiltshire and Swindon, and is to select a single person for that role. Take a look at the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners website for a description of the role. There are six candidates - see the BBC for a brief introduction to them all.
You have two votes in this poll - a first and second preference. All first preference votes are counted first, and the lowest four candidates on that count eliminated, leaving a "head to head" between the two remaining candidates. If one of them already had over half the total votes cast, he or she is declared the winner. If not, the second preferences from those who voted for the candidates eliminated are taken into account, where those votes are for one of the two remaining candidates. The candidate with the highest total of first preference and transferred second preference votes is then declared the winner.
Let's take an example. From the first round ...
A gets 25% of the vote (of valid voting papers)
B gets 4% of the vote
C gets 38% of the vote
D gets 9% of the vote
E gets 22% of the vote
F gets 12% of the vote
So candidates B, D, E and F are eliminated, leaving just candidates A and C going forward to the second round of counting. Together, B, D, E and F accounted for 47% of the votes cast. For our example, lets say that of those 47%
10% did not give a second preference (so they are not added to either second round candidate)
15% gave a second preference to another of B, D, E and F (so they are not added on either)
18% gave a second preference to Candidate A who now has the votes of 43% of those who voted
4% gave a second preference to Candidate C who now has the votes of 42% of those who voted
So Candidate A is our new Police and Crime Commissioner. That's even though (s)he was behind after the first round.
The WILTSHIRE UNITARY COUNCILLOR election takes place. 98 councillors are elected for 98 geographic divisions across the Unitary Authority, with the election taking place on a first past the post system. In the ward in which I live, we have four candidates and I can vote for one of them. The number of candidates may vary in other divisions.
Let's take an example.
Candidate A polls 30%
Candidate B polls 9%
Candidate C polls 38%
Candidate D polls 23%
So Candidate C is elected as the Unitary Councillor for the division
The TOWN AND PARISH election takes place (where there are more candidates than seats). In the ward in which I live, there are seven candidates for four seats. Each voter can select up to four candidates to vote for, and the four candidates with the highest number of votes on valid papers will be elected to the Town or Parish Council.
Let's take an example (actual numbers from a Melksham ward last time)
A polls 409 votes
B polls 420 votes
C polls 423 votes
D polls 308 votes
E polls 614 votes
F polls 559 votes
G polls 479 voles
So Candidates E, F, G and C are elected as Town Councillors with A B and D not getting enough votes.
Declaration of interest - I am standing for election as a Town Councillor in my home ward of Melksham South - and you can learn about me here. I am standing as an INDEPENDENT candidate, though very much looking to work in partnership with everyone else if elected. One of my strengths is understanding, and feeding back that understanding to the community, as I hope this article has done.
Published Monday, 26th April 2021
Melksham MarketsMelksham's Town Council has taken on the role of supporting businesses in the Town Centre, and markets and activities of various type whether organised by themselves or other groups.
Pictured here, Saturday 24th April 2021 - the monthly Melksham Maker's Market in the Market Place, and Sunday 25th April 2021 the Atirsan's Market at Avonside, privately organised but blessed by the Town Council. These are in addition to the weekly produce market on a Tuesday, and special events such as the funfair and Christmas lights in the lead up the festive season.
As the weather gets warmer, King George Park, Splashpad, Skate Park, River activities all get busier and bring out the people who have been stut inside for all too long - so good to see this. There is a balance between the Town Council keeping a very low precept and spending money on oiling the wheels of this sort of activity. And it's a fine balance that not everyone will agree on. However, having run a customer based business in the Melksham Area for 20 years where we balanced the books, paid our way and got top-notch reviews, I feel qualified to be elected as one of your town councillors to pilot the balance forward - the very best for the town and its residents, in a very cost effective way.
South Ward, 6th May 2021, vote for GRAHAM ELLIS as one of your Town Councillors for the South Ward.
Published Sunday, 25th April 2021
It IS possible to slash private car mileage and still get around!
By 2018, I was driving 3,000 miles a year.
And that is from Melksham
I was travelling just as much, just as far, but I had switched to covering most of my mileage by traion, with some by bus, coach or, occasionally for "the final miles" a taxi or lift. Some trips remained by car; it was not a public transport zealot approach. Very, very occasional flights - even international, there most visits to Switzerland, Denmark, Spain, Canada and Ireland were made in latter years by rail and ferry.
Image - Canada without flying or driving (just a taxi to Melksham Station. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island - about the same population as Chippenham or Trowbridge.
Why the change?
Because, if I travel by rail, I can relax, work, eat and drink, read along the way. My time and concentration is not occupied by piloting my vehicle, and my energy not drained by doing so. And after a long day's work across the country from home, I could still travel home in safety rather than being tempted to drive when something of a risk, through fatigue, at the wheel.
Travel by rail can be expensive, though it need not be. There is a very wide range of fares available and (with knowledge and skill) it's often possible to travel at a fraction of the cost of an anytime ticket bought as you set off. Sadly, the system is overcomplex and not really fit for purpose (if that purpose is to offer the encouragang good fares to people). As an IT person, I will admit to enjoying the challenge of travelling at bargain prices. But, yet, even with the more expensive tickets it may be less expensive than driving if it saves a night away in a hotel.
I will admit - my slashing of driving in favour of rail was not done initially with a view to reducing my carbon footprint, nor with a review to reducing the dirty air, particulates and noise I was putting out. But as those have come to the forefront, I'm delighted to be able to do my bit, and where a journey is otherwise balanced for me otherwise, I will as a matter of course choose train, bus, cycling or walking over driving myself.
Additionally, other changes over time have allowed public transport to be practical where it wasn't 10 years ago. An increase from 2 to 8 trains each way at my local station (something I campaigned for and now partner to promote to others) now provides a train within an hour or two of when I need it for the most part. And technology / computers getting physically smaller meant that I could hand (or backpack) carry my tools of trade for many more journeys.
What has been a fortunate change over the years is becoming much more a mandated one for the medium and long term as environmntal and climate issues come centre stage. Ironically, Coronavirus has in the short term pushed public transport onto the back foot, and in the medium term it's likely that aftereffects such as far more people working from home will change the whole look of the peak hours, with significant (some positive) on public transport costs.
Take a look at this BBC article to get an idea of just how much better using public transport is than a typical private car. For sure, electric cars somewhat better than fossil fuelled ones - but the same applies to buses and trains as you compare
Is this an example others could follow?
Looking to your street in [insert town name], there's only a 50% chance that you'll be able pull your car right up to your house / onto your property to recharge. Current recharge periods make it impractical to stop at a "service station" and get recharged anything like as quickly as fossil fuel - at present it's around 50 times slower. Then you have the question of whether we have the infrastucture in place to generate (in a sustainable way) all that electicity to charge the cars, to distribute it, and to cope with the traffic jams of electric cars that will replace traffic jams of fossil fuel cars
Electric car 100 miles in 35 minutes (source of data)
Fossil fuel car 700 miles in less than 5 minutes (source of data)
Other technoligies may come along too ... I wonder (for example) about battery changing stations where you can unplug and empty, plug in a full and carry on. Hydrogen has been mentioned too.
I changed over from my own transport to public transport for longer journeys when it became viable a few years ago. And we are now running one car not two. Melksham's train service has moved from useless a decade ago to thin but usable today - there's a long way to go yet. From 3,000 journeys per annum, outside Covid train use has risen to 75,000 journeys per annum already - and to catch up with other Wiltshire towns that have stations, it should rise to 250,000. But then in a changing world, Melksham and the other towns will carry on far beyond that quarter of a million.
For Buses - the government is taking an overdue look with a new strategy announced in March - see where I wrote about this. And this time it involves the community's requirements as well as local government and operator inputs. Some operators may be uncomfortable with this brave new world, but there are excellent prospects here with everyone working together for our mutual benefit.
With more trains, better buses tuned to modern customer needs, cycle way and footpath improvements, flexible working and working from home, others too will be able to reduce their fleet of vehicles, and their miles driven in them, in the years ahead. It's a nationwide thing - not just Melksham, but the Town Council will be able to influence local arrangements to work for the town, as they have for Charlottetown where we started.
Published Saturday, 24th April 2021
Chamber of Commerce - my record there"Graham - don't forget to emphasise your work with the Chamber of Commerce" said one of my railway friends.
I'm asking you, if you live in the South Ward of Melksham Town, to vote for me as one of your Town Councillors in the 6th May election. You may know me from helping bring a usable train service back to Melksham - where we now have four times the trains and twenty five times the journeys made. But did you know I was President of the Chamber of Commerce - usually a one year term - for 8 years up to 2017?
My final President's report, looking back over that period, is ((here)). The Chamber did a lot of good and difficult work during that period (and it was a difficult time for all Chambers too). Subjects I saw on the future agenda were:
* Neighbourhood Plan
* Road and public transport - e.g. new bypass and bridge
* Campus and Skate Park
* Brexit (with international companies HQ'd in Melksham)
* Healthcare Provision
* Housing and hotels
* Looking after an ageing population
In my report, I wrote "Modern businesses operators have little time for trade association meetings. They join (if it's made cheap or free, and easy) so that they have the backup of the association if they have problems, but rarely attend meetings. And indeed with local government having moved from being lightweight to employing tens of thousands of staff in the county, all of whom interact in some form or another with local residents and businesses, the Chambers have moved very much more towards concerns between local businesses and the infrastructure and service providers. " I note that, in Melksham, we have a town council that has taken much of the interacting and co-ordinating role and my comments of four years ago suggest this as being the sensible route to bring about such business support for their mutual (and mutual with the town and resident too) benefit.
Not only will I support businesses through the town council and other routes - I have a proven track record for so doing. Dozens more articles on the subject on my old blog ((here)). I'm still very much in the same page. Consistent too. Still partnering right across the spectrum
Published Friday, 23rd April 2021
Postal votes are arriving - please vote wiselyIf you have registered for a postal vote in Wiltshire, you should receive it soon - first batch going out around now, second batch next week.
Please vote GRAHAM ELLIS (Independent) for Town Council if you live in the South Ward of Melksham Town. You can vote for up to 4 candidates of the seven standing, and I would encourage you to read the material from the other candidates, decide who else you believe will do a good job, and vote for them too - irrespective of their political labels.
Every day for the last three weeks, I have posted my views / thoughts on key topics at http://grahamellis.uk/perm.html and invite you to read, share, and get back to me to ask questions too. Perhaps this isn't the best way to get the most votes, but I am being complete with what I say and am looking for your informed vote. It means you'll actually know what you're voting for. And if you read the detail, you'll learn that I live in the ward, have a track record and time to do the job (for that's what it is), and can be truly independent looking out in particular for Melksham voters rather than having split loyalties to political parties or groupings.
It is likely that the Melksham South Ward elections for Town Council will be close. So - please - if you have a postal vote, use it. And if you don't have a postal vote, please visit your polling station on 6th May and vote in person.
Amongst the 21 topics I have addresses (link above) so far:
* Promoting Melksham to visitors
* Rubbish bins and if we need more
* On the Melksham bypass
* Traffic congestion around schools
* How Melksham Town Council spends your money
* Litter Picking and Town Tidy
* How will we move to zero carbon
* Improving walking and cycling
* Campaigning and Partnering for Melksham
I am NOT standing for Wiltshire Unitary Councillor (nor Police and Crime Commissioner!!) as I believe that one job is enough for me, and that is plenty enough for me to do well.
Published Thursday, 22nd April 2021