Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Help ME to help THEM help YOU
Bus Service Improvement - SURVEY
Please complete the Wiltshire Council survey that's running until 23rd August to help inform them as they formulate BUS SERVICE IMPROVEMENTS. The survey can be found via a short link at http://option247.uk/council_survey(*)
Please complete the survey even if you are NOT a bus user at present - Wiltshire Council want to know why you don't use the bus.
Please complete the survey if you are a BUSINESS - there's a business section as well as an individual section
And please complete the survey if you are a regular user - your pattern of use and experience, and suggestions, will form a valuable input.
This Survey is not just a box-ticking exercise; certain information being sought is very hard to gather, and the inputs can and will make a difference. As buses move from being predominantly a "no choice" purchase back towards a natural choice for many of us, the shape and nature of the service needs to be modelled to fit not only our needs but also our desires.
From last night's Economic Development and Planning Committee at Melksham Town Council - I have circulated this to all at the council at the request of the Chair of that committee / the mayor. Please help me circulate further too.
BACKGROUND - from Wiltshire Council
In March 2021 the Government published its National Bus Strategy - Bus Back Better (BBB) - which aims to improve bus services across England but recognises that these schemes are best designed and implemented at a local level.
Wiltshire Council are in the process of developing a Bus Service improvement Plan (BSIP) and this survey will help us shape that, by finding out where the current bus service offering is working, where it could be better and where it simply doesn’t provide what you need.
THOUGHTS - from myself and the Option 24/7 team
Bus Back Better is a whole new direction. We are moving from government policy that squeezes bus support to a minimum, which outside cities and big towns has lead to a leaching of services down to bare bones towards a new policy which encourages (and financially supports, somewhat) service growth - looking to provide services when people want them, where people want them, with information easily available and at fares that are affordable and understandable. It's not a short term thing - it's initially a five year program. And it's not done on a whim - it's done to help towards zero carbon, and to help combat congestion that throttles our economy and drives roadbuilding harmful to our environment.
For many, many years our local passenger transport authority (Wiltshire Council) and the plethora of bus operators in the area have done their very best to provide services that are required, and to earn a living by so doing. They know their stuff. It's really good they're having the opportunity to move on in a far more positive environment, though they (and we all) are having to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that it's no longer about getting more out of less, and of serving predominantly those who have no alternative but to use the bus for their daily life journeys.
Operators and transport authorities are key to a good bus service, and they know the whole wider picture. So are passengers - indeed, if there were no passengers there would be no need for any buses. But passengers, unlike officials and operators, are not transport professionals; passengers are bright and amazing and wonderful people but they don't know about Driver's rest breaks, the relative costs of double deckers versus more frequent minibuses, or how to organise public transport connections, fares and information systems. Typically, passengers know about THEIR bus. Wannabe passenger probably don't even know what's available - the stop outside my (personal) house has a 'flag' telling us that the 271 and 272 call there. But there's no timetable, no notice telling us that the 14 also calls there (and more often than either the 271 or 272), and certainly nothing about what it costs or confirming that the buses are on time today!
This deep and thorough knowledge with the authorities and operators, not reflected in the passengers (the third pillar in a bus system) has meant that the passenger community really hasn't been much consulted in the past - overlooked in planning, even though they are the ones with the bums to put onto seats.
I am - delighted - to report that our Option 24/7 team is liaising well with Wiltshire Council who are charged with putting together their "Bus Service Improvement Plan", and following on from that "Enhanced Partnerships" (EP) where they work far more closely in conjunction with the operators, and with community input, to have something that works. To the old objectives / designations of "Commercial" and "Socially necessary" services, add "Economically necessary" and "Climate Friendly" services - bringing business to towns by bus, taking people into the countryside, allowing for congestion to be reduced and improving air quality ...
Other liaison routes have been explored; Bus Users UK is a useful umbrella group for some, but is too thinly spread. There are some well informed Town and Parish councillors in Wiltshire, but many councillors and some complete councils lack knowledge. The Campaign for Better Transport does some good marketing and central work, but isn't hear at a local level. Option 24/7 does work with all of these where appropriate; we often find ourselves being the technical advisors and teachers ...
SOME OF THE POSSIBLE AND PROBABLE OUTCOMES from BBB, BSIP and EP
This is not intended to be a full list ... some elements will apply in Melksham, others may not. And I may have missed things.
* Buses that go to and from the Railway Station, new housing areas, Bowerhill business area, housing areas not currently served by buses
* Buses running early enough to get people to work, and later into the evening to get them home again, and indeed enjoy an evening out.
* Sunday buses - on more routes, into the evening, and up to a frequency level they're useful and not just a last resort buy.
* "Whippet" (a Wiltshire Council name) buses that provide faster end to end journeys with connections from byroads and residential mazes
* Demand responsive services to reach those parts not easily served by a frequent service
* Fares / tickets interchangeable between operators - Faresaver and FromeBus in the Town, Swindonbus and Faresaver to Bath, and even (!) tickets that let you use the train out and bus back (or vice versa)
* Marketing, promotion, information improvement including real time information
* Smoother and cleaner (electric?) buses with better facilities on board
* Bus gates, bus priority schemes
* Cycling hubs where you can leave your cycle safely when catching the bus
It won't all come at once - the whole is a multi-year plan with revisions as we go along. Increasing bus service calls for an increase in the number of bus drivers and there's a shortage there that's not going to be overcome overnight.
* - long URL is https://surveys.wiltshire.gov.uk/snapwebhost/s.asp?k=162679536235 .
Published Tuesday, 17th August 2021
friends of Melksham Assembly HallEnthusiasm, Experience, and Expertise. We have these by the bucket load, all ready, willing and able to make the Melksham Assembly Hall a thriving and loved venue for the next decade. But we need to temper the energy for just a while - think about our strategy. We're not running a hundred yard sprint - we have started a Marathon, or rather we're warming up for one. And we need to be sure not only of how we pace ourselves, but what course we and others take, and that those who own and maintain the course are happy with us using it - that we can help them meet their objectives too.
"Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall" is a co-ordinating name to help answer the question "what now?" for the Assembly Hall. It's improbable it will be the final operating or management vehicle, but it may help to define those, and by a partner along the way.
Personally (and at present as a Melksham Town Councillor) I'm looking to help the Assembly Hall finding a positive future - not (just) as a building but as - well - a point of assembly. Assembly for anything from a Cheese and produce market to a show with a big-name comic, from a historic talk through to a roller disco, from a local "am-dram" production through to a convention of electricity pylon experts, from "overspill" council meetings to Christmas Dinner, from bands through wedding receptions, and from charity fund raisers through to being the local polling station.
It's many years since I appeared on stage (and there's reasons it's so long!), or ran a theatre bar. More recently, some publicity, marketing, sales, and volunteer organisation and management and campaigning in partnership may be helpful. My IT background and daily online presence and familiarity with moderating social media feeds has made me one of the early active 'fronts' on Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall - see the web page at http://www.fomah.org.uk and the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fomah/.
If you are ready, willing and able (i.e. have the time) to help at a planning, negotiation and management level - back room as well as front of house stuff - please get in touch via the Facebook page or email@example.com. If you're looking to help as a supporter / volunteer along the way, please encourage us via the Facebook page and local press. Please help publicise and come along to events in the hall. Please share your memories and aspirations.
I have been heartened to see over 140 people actively interact to join our private, hidden (until now, while we seeded it) Facebook Group just over the weekend. Thank you. Now that there is sufficient content there to make the group a worthwhile read for the newcomer, we're no longer hidden. Let's look forward to a future of assembling in Melksham for all sorts of shows and events, supported by all of our friends - individuals, businesses and authorities - in the town and in the region.
Published Monday, 16th August 2021
Town Hall meeting summaryLast night was one of those very rare Town Council meetings where the public gallery was full. All the more remarkable as there were dozens more trying to attend virtually on Zoom. And, yes, I write "trying" because something went wrong with the online stuff and, like children, the mayor, his council and the public could be seen and not heard. With the council new(ish) to running such sessions, the issues weren't resolved ... and it was (to put it mildly) frustrating.
The audience was there because of their love of the Assembly Hall and the key part it plays in so many lives. The Town Council has declared their hall manager, and also their economic development manager, as part of a reduction package and a report published within the meeting agenda at the statutory minimum of three working days looking at options including closure (mothballing) and two reduced operations. Folks who have used the hall for 18 years, for 30 years, who have met and married there and who love the place spoke in its favour. The come and came from miles around - gravitating to the only hall anywhere around fit for their hobby or use.
Three working days from publication of the report to a major decision was always going to be silly-short. With the public who had been invited to Zoom in to hear or contribute it would have been a travesty for a major decision to be made - but then it would have been pretty disrespectful on that audience to send them away, leaving them in six weeks of limbo to the next meeting.
Early on in the meeting, the chair and the leader of the Conservative group proposed and seconded that we rule out, this evening, the closure or mothballing of the hall, reassuring existing users of it continuing. And that's where we ended up. I did look forward and point to ways of a new beginning but - probably right in the circumstances - no decision on how that's to be done, not even much thought, given. And in the circumstances it was probably the best we could do when let down by the technology. On a recorded vote, 15 out of 15 councillors voted in favour of ruling out closure or mothballing - a truly remarkable outcome considering some of the smoke and noise heard about the hall ...
We are not out of the woods. But, for this morning, "carry on as you were". Over coming weeks and months, the continuing (expect it's not, for staff are leaving) status quo is where we are. And we need to get our heads together. Or where I say "our", I'm going to say "you, the users of the hall"; I personally and as a councillor help oil the wheels - I believe I have done so over the last week and had the agenda item not been publicised as much as we did, we may not have had such an outcome last night - we could have had far worse.
I look forward to a vibrant hall in the future, managed and run excellently within a sensible structure for the future. No criticism what so ever of the team that's brought it so far - indeed the love and anger at the possibility of it going last night, in spite of technology favour, is testament to their very success.
Very long and excellent BYPASS discussion followed - report
Melksham Town Council's input to Wiltshire Council on the Melksham Bypass consultation that has just closed may be found at http://grahamellis.uk/mtc2wc_20210810.pdf. The response was been written up from notes taken during last night's meeting by the meeting's council staff member, with additional information from correspondence received by the council:
"The Town Council wishes it to be noted that the results of a straw poll carried out amongst councillors at the meeting of Full Council on 9 August indicated that of 15 councillors, eight are in favour of route 10c being the right route for the bypass at this point in time and seven are against. This suggests that at this early stage in the developmental timescale for the bypass, opinions are still mixed and open to reconsideration."
Hmmm ... we did take that straw poll, but as I recall the voting was on route 10c being taken further for much more detailed work and looking at it with updated and more complete data and methods. I would be surprised if the majority were certain that 10c is the right route - it was just that more work should be done on it!
We considered two tranches of answers. Firstly, we looked at whether or not we supported the bypass and its route in principle. Secondly, we went on to look at mitigating and additional measures we request should the bypass 10c go ahead.
There was a great deal of excellent input from a group of very thoughtful councillors on this issue - a real pleasure to take part. Having said which, ours is just one input of many and in the grand scheme of things may just be akin to a drop in the ocean. But then, some drops stick.
Addendum - the lead up to last night's meeting:
Good to see so many people at the Town Hall last night, and I'm so sorry that everyone else who wanted to hear what was being said, lured by a promise of being able to listen on Zoom, was denied the opportunity. For all the reasons given and excuses, it really should be properly in use by now.
I'm going to post here some background to help answer "how did we get here". I'll write separately to look ahead, as I don't want what should be a positive future to be damaged by any of this, some of which is less than brilliant.
For the confidential mystery item on 28th June Town Council meeting from which the press and public were excluded, the 12 councillors present were sworn to secrecy; 10 of those present voted for certain staff redundancies, and I agree that until those staff were aware and properly informed, it was correct to keep the session confidential. Clearly, one of the committees had previously been working on this, but as a full councillor not on that committee, I was handed papers (3 or 4 pages?) of data at the start of the agenda item, and invited to read, question as much as a I liked, and then a vote was taken. Papers were then collected. It is up to others to tell you, if they wish, whether they were present and how they voted.
I WILL tell you that I abstained on this vote. I have only limited knowledge as a new councillor of how these things work, and of the roles that we were voting to scrap and the consequences of so doing. And I was denied the opportunity to really think about it, or to learn and absorb. My view was that it may have been right, it may have been wrong, but my vote was certainly being indecently rushed on a matter that would effect livelihoods and future direction - yes - of the Assembly Hall, which was not the lead topic of the discussion but was certainly mentioned in dispatches. I was grateful (thank you, if you are reading this) for the support of a second councillor in an almost identical position. So ... the five days to consider the report on the Assembly Hall feels like luxury in comparison to five minutes on staffing and future staff structure.
The posts going are redundancies - lack of continuation of a role, or such a massive reduction that the remaining work fits in within that of another person. That change of required roles has been described as being brought about by a combination of covid changes, council policy changes including a desire to reduce costs to the taxpayer, and a need to structure and retain what's needed for the future. The staff in these posts have done excellent work, often over and above; huge thanks to them and wishing them really well for the future. I have personally been declared redundant twice in my career - in both case a huge upheaval and no little worry, but taking a longer view both times brought moves into new roles with other organisations where I was able to enjoy working and grow with expanding opportunities.
So - what now? Ah - a following post. Although the "Close it" and "Mothball it" issues on the Assembly Hall were unanimously rejected by the Town Council last night, it isn't possible to carry on as we were. We have declared staff redundant and need to be in some sort of new way - not yet fully defined - perhaps via some sort of holding pattern while we define that new way. For the sake of all those wonderful uses of the hall and the livelihood and business it can bring to Melksham, we need that holding pattern to really be that, and not just a quiet decaying of our assets.
Published Tuesday, 10th August 2021
Speeches! Assembly Hall and BypassThere has been a lot here and online in recent days on the topic of the Melksham Bypass and the Melksham Assembly Hall, both of which come up at the Town Council meeting in a few hours. Here's what I have prepared to say. Our bypass input is but one step of many, and our influence tiny. The input in all probability will be swept along in a flood of others and be of minuscule importance in the great play of things. Our decisions and actions on the Assembly Hall could turn out to be key to what happens in the future, reverberating through the years.
1. Circulated to all councillors at 01:40 this morning:
Without a recommended response in the agenda pack, I will be proposing that the Town Council submit the following response to Wiltshire Council with regard to the Bypass Consultation as a way to get the ball rolling. Cc Patsy and David who I suspect would want this text in electronic form if it’s the basis of the way we go.
1. Thank you informing us and our residents, for the opportunity for us to comment, and providing an opportunity for our residents to comment too. We have encouraged residents to attend the sessions and to respond directly. We commend their various inputs to you in addition to the following.
The proposed bypass route "10c" does not pass through the Melksham Town parish, but is mostly in Melksham Without, and we commend that parish on their hard work and thorough consultation and input. The proposed bypass route - or any changes to road structure or designation along the North-South corridor WILL have a major impact on Melksham Town, as would going further without changing the current setup.
2. We acknowledge and would welcome direct outcomes from your proposals:
a) A reduction in traffic and noise along the current route of the A350 through north Melksham and past housing in the closes off Hazelwood Road and Longford Road.
b) Shorter journeys from the A350 north of Melksham to and from the east of Melksham, moving traffic away from both the A3102 traffic centre and Woodrow Road (to Lacock) onto new routes.
3. We must also be concerned at the loss of passing trade at businesses along the current A350, and any loss of Town Centre trade from A3102 passing through.
4. We would welcome the various mitigations proposed in the document and additionally ask:
a) A footpath from the rear of the station car park directly east to the current A350 almost opposite Scotland road, and a pedestrian crossing there. This would reduce the walking and cycling distance from the station to Melksham Forest and provide a route purely on paths and cycleways with a single no through road.
b) Pedestrian and cycle provision along the current A350 south from Farmers Roundabout to the entrance to Melksham Cemetery, providing safe a walking route from the Hazelwood Road area, rear of the Campus and potential new canal-side build to the stores and station area.
5. Concern has been expressed that bypass route 10c provides a balloon of land that would be a natural building area. Although you re-assure us that housing is outside the scope of this consultation, your graphics show projected housing growth in Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster as part of their justification for the bypass.
6. We note that models and data used in your reports are pre-covid, and pre-zero-carbon and request that you recalculate with updated models and numbers, considering alternatives with those new figures and models. With reduced commuting and reduced peaks, with cleaner and quieter vehicles, with a move to more mass transit and perhaps with measures to increase seat occupancy in private vehicle and to transfer long distance and Westbury waste and stone traffic to rail, and south port to south Wales traffic to a more direct route, we wonder if vehicle numbers and nuisance on the A350 have peaked and a bypass might be a solution to a problem that's going away or could be overcome in other and perhaps better ways. With the old model and data, this is unclear to us. There is further data on this in the independent input from Councillor Graham Ellis at http://grahamellis.uk/ge_mbc_20210808.pdf .
This is intended as a discussion starter ... not expecting it to be the final text.
2. Being Circulated as I publish this blog to all Councillors on the Assembly Hall
Thanks to Jeff Mills for the report [included in the Agenda Pack]
"Can't go on as it is” it states. Agreed - for in closed session in late June, the council voted in a redundancy package taking out key council staff and roles. It was stated that an annual loss / subsidy of £50,000 in a typical year was unsustainable for the taxpayers of Melksham Town.
The Assembly Hall has origins back to 1846 as the Cheese Hall, and the first public (none-military) performance there was in 1888. It remains much loved and - away from pandemic times - is vibrantly active. It brings people into the town and boosts the local economy, a real addition to life here. However, it's not been profitable and has been supported by between £10 and £15 per band D council tax property annually, with those who live within a mile paying out for those who come from 10, 20 or even 50 miles away.
So - what should we do? Last Tuesday afternoon, the report was released as part of this evening's agenda and we've had just 3 working days to consider it. We should be very careful not to take a vote tonight that will do damage to the future prospects of this asset and its place in the life and love of so many.
Since the agenda was published, I've spoken with many people and there is a real enthusiasm to take the Assembly Hall forward for the wider community - not only to speak in support (hundreds have done so), but to act in support too. Here [waves paper] is a skeleton Melksham Hall Community Interest Company proposal - objective, structure, financial plan and budget, issues and some similar models.
I am asking this evening that the Town Council moves forward with an option which leaves the way open to harness this enthusiasm whilst reducing costs and risks to themselves. I propose that we adopt an option which keeps the hall open and actively used, with a view to having a detailed CIC or equivalent structure in place by the New Year, looking to the launch of a new era at the start of the next financial year.
Of the hundreds of supporters who have signed up in the past few days, there is a core who are ready, willing and able - not just able but enthusiastic - to take this on. Let's support that opportunity not only for them, but also for the hall's users current and future, and for the wider benefits the hall brings to the town.
Published Monday, 9th August 2021
Bypass (my response)I have just uploaded my response to the Melksham Bypass consultation - it's ((here)) and it reflects previous views and thoughts from 13th June and 25th July which are ((here)).
Individual submissions close tonight (8th August), but there is an opportunity for the Town Council to put in its own official response in the next few days - tomorrow evening's meeting includes that on the agenda, and as a councillor I may well speak. See http://melksh.am for my quick links to the zoom code for the meeting and for thr agenda link.
Here is my summary - the final few paragraphs of an 8 page document!
6.1 I would prefer that new road building be limited, and have suggested an alternative to the 9.3 km of option 10c which I ask you to look at.
6.2 I am unconvinced that calculations use best current methods and current data, and feel they are based on an old world though we are now in a new world. So I ask you to visit your calculations based on current scientific knowledge, not on past practise and convention. It would be helpful to those of us who feel that asking a road builder to come up with a balance case for or against a road if you could get your outcomes ratified (or assisted by) a neutral organisation whom we both can trust.
6.3 Should, notwithstanding the concerns, this road build go ahead, I ask you to tune it for the future and provide ancillary infrastructure to help us (and Wiltshire) be best placed for zero carbon and otherwise environmental friendly living with the highest practical quality of life and enjoyment
6.4 Many thanks for undertaking this none-statutory consultation. Please ask me if there is anything in there you would like me top clarify / provide additional sources, etc. I write in the hope of a pragmatic solution that answers as many concerns as possible and work for the greater good of all of us - not just this year, but through the lifetime of any changes
6.5 Written by - Graham Ellis, 48, Spa Road, Melksham - in a private capacity, though I am a Town Councillor, Member of the Melksham Transport User Group, and board member of TravelWatch SouthWest; my input has been (to a very great extent) informed by electors and other members of those organisations.
Published Sunday, 8th August 2021
Bypass (again)With just today and tomorrow to make any inputs you wish to Wiltshire Council on their current bypass, I'm sharing a couple of answers I have written to correspondents in recent days. Assumptions are made:
1. That I have a vote in deciding if and how a bypass goes ahead (I don't, I just have an ability to input as an individual, and 1/15 of the decision of what the Town Council says which is also a single input.
2. That I represent the whole of the greater Melksham area. I don't, and whilst I will share my personal views I must refer you to other councils and councillors if you don't live in the town itself.
3. That it's OK to write to me in demanding terms that you would take offence to if I wrote that way to you, and that I have a limitless supply of time to answer you.
4. When I write back personally to you that there's no need to even confirm receipt of the answer, or you can have your email system set so that I get an automated response saying my answer has been spam trapped.
Having written that - yes, I am happy to engage, explain, discuss and I do have some time, now that I am retired, to do so. And, partly with the "Town Councillor" tag, partly because I have learned where to go, and partly because I have some established contacts, I can sometimes get things done or taken forward. Just, please, be polite, don't attack in emails; happy with a difference of views - refreshing to hear all sorts of ideas.
Many thanks for your email.
I would really prefer that a bypass is not built. I feel there are so many important reasons why not, many of which you have covered in your letter and I won't repeat them all here. However, there is also (unless things get changed) a desire (or need??) to move people and goods along the north - south corridor in our region. Bottlenecks on current roads lead to dirty air as people queue in traffic jams, frustrations to both motorists and people who live close to, walk or cycle along or cross them, noise, and the economic issues of longer journey times on and around roads that are taking more traffic than they were designed for, and are projected to increase further.
There can be reasons to support road building - I was in support of Portal Road from the Milk Churn onto Bowerhill Industrial Area, for example, and I support a northern entrance road from Melksham Station to Foundry Close, allowing buses to call at Melksham Station. I would be interested in a coupl of hundred metres linking the A36 to the A46 in Bathampton and a couple of improvement just along that road at The Viaduct. But a new Melksham Bypass, a Yarnbrook improvement and a Westbury Bypass seem like a 20th Century solution in the 21st Century, using pre-covid and pre-zero-climate data to mae the case for a post-covid, post-zero-climate world.
Saying "no" alone just raises barriers. Saying no, giving reasons (as you have done, and I have added to) and suggesting alternatives can be much more effective - done that with Melksham Trains, done that with the Campus, watch us with the Assembly Hall ;-) and buses.
So - alternative - complete that A36/A46 link, perhaps. Redouble rail through Melksham. One train passing through the other day carried the equivalent of 40 lorry loads. Look at models like "Connected Cities" and the "Transport for New Homes" which reduce the need to travel, make it more efficient, and deliver a higher quality of life by not having to travel so much. Bypass figures / calculations are based on a 60 year financial model - to these things and others like Bus Back Better really need to be factored in.
Now, pragmatically, I don't know what the decision on the bypass will be. But I want to make it clear that, should it be built, it should be done in a maximally advantageous way for everyone - not just the people using it to get from Lacock to Semington.
My personal reply - to be submitted over the weekend - will reflect the above.
REPLY AS A MELKSHAM TOWN COUNCILLOR
I'm a Melksham Town Councillor, and I represent residents in the South Ward and to a lesser extent the town as a whole. Our input will me made during next week - we have a stakeholder dispensation to be a few days after the individual deadline. I am just one of 15 on that council, and the only one elected independently. For Melksham Town, the benefits from traffic reduction along the current A350 onto a new road away from the town could be signiicant, and the disadvantages not as great as is felt in parts of Melksham Without (Bowerhill) though not other parts (Beanacre). I don't know what the outcome of our meeting on Monday will be.
As a Town Councillor, I have a vote / say on what goes into our submission, but it's a layer of indirection away from the decision maker who vote at Wiltshire Unitary Council. Your contact there - your councillor - is Nick Holder, who you residents voted in to the role in May. At Melksham Without Parish Council, your councillors for Bowerhill are Alan Baines, John Glover, Mark Harris, Rob Hoyle, David Pafford, Andy Russell and Robert Shea-Simonds. You didn't vote for them in May - not enough people stood; a missed opportunity for you to have a greater say, perhaps - you could have been there just by volunteering. I don't know all of them, but those I do know are excellent, as is the Melksham Without input to the consultation, already published.
"It is your duty and responsibility to leave our wonderful environment as intact as possible for future generations. "
Hmmm ... it's all of our moral duties, perhaps. My reponsibilities and duties as a councillor are:
* To respond to electorate queries and investigate their concerns (casework) communicate council decisions that affect them.
* know your patch and be aware of any problems.
* know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses.
* represent their views at council meetings
and, yes, at times such as the current one that can be intersting to deliver.
Thank you for your email to “undisclosed recipients”
I’m a Melksham Town councillor and am guessing that’s why I have a copy. Can you let me know your full home (Melksham) postcode so that I can let you know which councillors are “yours” to represent you, and which unitary councillor is the one to vote for you when it comes to that at County.
Personally, I very much agree with a lot - but not all - of what you write … see http://grahamellis.uk/blog164.html
MTC and MWPC councillors have a purely advisory role in the bypass project - each council is putting together its own responses (the MWPC one is already published). Yes, we are speaking for the people who elected us in May, but out input is just one among many and I encourage you to lobby your Wiilshire Councillor and make your own input by Sunday evening too. When I have your full address, I’ll be able to let you know who your councillors are, if you’re not in my ward. I do take a personal wider look too so I am informed by your writing, even if out of my area.
Readers will note that an emails to "Undisclosed recipients" gets a much shorted answer!!
Published Saturday, 7th August 2021
Footpath blockage - Alder Way to Conigre MeadUPDATE - 12th August - path re-opened. Thanks to everyone who's helped with this!
Original - Earlier this week, I heard from a resident that the footpath from the top of Alder Way to the front (bypass) entry of the cemetry was blocked by Campus works. We already knew that the path along the south of the Campus sight was to be closed for six months - but the closure of the next path to the south came as a surprise - unannounced, and not even on the Campus site. It's also a very well used path, giving both access to the cemetry and access to the Conigre Mead Nature Reserve from the residential areas of south ward.
Good news - access should be available again from the Hazelwood Road / Alder way area to Conigre Mead and the Cemetry by the end of next week - we do NOT need to wait for six months, which is the closure duration for the less used path along the south side of the campus site.
From the map:
* MELK21 closed for 6 months
* Red line (my sketching on the map) is the paths in question
* Blue circle is the unannounced blockage that should be clear by 13 August
My thanks to Will, Vicky, and also to Councillor Gary Cooke who lives just up the way for their help. Gary and I will keep an eye on this and I'll confirm here when the path is open again.
One of the interesting aspects of this blockage is that the path in question - although very well used for many years - isn't on the official public footpath maps, so it's not on Wiltshire Council's radar. Here's some text I wtote yesterday - my understanding the business of "official" and unofficial rights of way:
|Official rights of way are designated as such in various categories (footpath, bridle way, road used a s public path, byway) - most have been there for a very long time indeed and I’m not sure how they were originally mapped. Where things change (for example, new build housing) public footpaths may be added, and after a consultation process they can also be closed or diverted.|
If a path has been in use for 20 years without being shut off, it also becomes a right of way, though not an “official” one that’s mapped. Such paths can be submitted to be made official and go on the official maps. From reading the letter, it looks like Wilts Council acknowledge the path we’re talking about as a public footpath and are offering a muted apology for not doing the official notice thing because it’s not on their maps. I was careful to refer back to my used in the late 1990s in my “thank you” to clearly establish that it IS a public footpath, after 20 years.
There are also things called “permissive paths” where the landowner may let people walk, but he reserves the right to close them at any time (or apply conditions on their use). There are almost inevitably notices telling you, and the path will be closed one day every year to stop it being used continually and thus become a public footpath. Famous last words, but having grumble about this one, I do NOT think that Wiltshire Council will try to tell us that it hasn’t been in continuous use, letting them close it ...
Published Friday, 6th August 2021
Looking forward - Assembly HallJump down to (here) for Town Council suggested options and (here) for another alternative of mine also (here) for an account summary.
* Assembly Hall "cannot" carry on as at present
* Town Council vote on options next Monday
* Are they the right options
* Will the community step up, offer, implement and sustain an alterative (and would such an offer even be considered?)
The rest of this blog entry and the previous one suggest a way it could be done
I note from the report to the Town Council that something has to change with regard the Assembly Hall - decision already made: "A ‘retain the status quo’ option has not been explored in this report. The acuteness of risk this would place on MTC in light of COVID-19-impacted losses and the impact this has had on the General Reserves is simply too great for taxpayers to bear."
The Assembly Hall is loved and heavily used, but only by a small proportion of Melksham Town residents. It does bring many people from outside Melksham Town in, for the benefit of businesses in the town. It's the largest hall / such space in West Wiltshire - though for some uses it's really too big. Other spaces are around too, and coming (back) on tap in due course - the campus has a large sports hall, and there's supposed to be a re-opened hall in Melksham House.
I have added a very brief summary of the Assembly Hall accounts into the end of my recent blog. A loss (expenditure over income) of £50,000 per annum equates very roughly to £10 on the council tax charge per band D property, and it has been stated that's "unsustaiable". That £50k year was the last full year before Covid (so typical income), but did not include any major capital / repair / refurbishment work as far as I can see.
OK - if someone (who? - I'm a Town Councillor and haven't seen this at one of our meetings - one of the Committees I'm not on?) has already decided that things must change. The report offers a choice between Option 1 - 'Moth ball’ the AH / Option 2 - ‘Village Hall’ format / Option 3 - Operate as a ‘Hosting Venue’. I have asked about something else ... a lease to an operator such as is done with the old Fire Station , the Cricketer's Cafe, etc. But let me qualify that.
As a commercial venture for a "for profit" company, the Assembly Hall would be a tough nut. Employment costs high, significant risks, limited business growth opportunities, concern at local sentiment and buy in to what has been a community asset, worry about competitive venues such as Melksham House. But with a structure such as a CIC (Community Interest Company), it may have potential. I could write long here but what that would need is drivers who would put their time where their mouth is. We have an incredible number of very skillled people locally who, whilst they are busy, may each have some time to give. Melksham can and has done things like this before and could again.
I am NOT going to write long on this today. I am NOT the one to lead - rather hoping perhaps to seed an idea. What I am happy to offer is to present a case on Monday for the extension of the status quo, or option 2 on a temporary basis (a few months) while you get set up. But to do that, I need someone to say "I will chair and drive the initial meeting" and a handful of others to say "I will have at least a few hours each week to help", and to come along (zoom or In Real Life) to an initial meeting in the next few days; I would be happy to invite a handful around to my home if you want to discuss in real life too, and to share further thoughts, ideas, experience of a CIC.
Huge credit is due to the team who have worked at the Assembly Hall so hard over recent years; I would hope and look to help facilitate the building of the future on their hard work in the past, and in such a way that we can continue to make best use of their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. And also to say "Thank you" to them for the incredible job they have done so far, which has built up the swell of use and love for the hall which we've seen on Facebook in recent days.
Published Thursday, 5th August 2021
Melksham Assembly HallJump down to (here) for Town Council suggested options and (here) for another alternative of mine also (here) for an account summary.
I would welcome resident's views, and pointers to the manifesto comments and promises made by grouping and parties at the May election, on the future of the Melksham Assembly Hall.
The Hall is not my speciality, but it comes up on the agenda at full council next Monday (9th August): "To receive the report of the Facilities Manager and the Head of Communications. Members are requested to make a decision based on the recommendations contained therein." The full meeting papers, including the report are on the public website at ((here))
1. I wish to be speak and vote on this matter in representation of the residents, informed of what they voted for as part of the packages in May, and also informed directly of their views.
2. I would appreciate comment as to whether the options we are asked to choose between offer a good wide range of possibilities or whether there are other significantly different alternatives which [should] have been considered.
I am aware that no decision on what happens at or with the Assembly Hall over the coming years will be to the satisfaction of everyone. As I write this, I'm looking to learn about views and objectives such that I can make my best contribution to the discussion and vote next Monday for Melksham as a whole.
If you're on Facebook, I have started a thread ((here)) where you can answer; otherwise email, phone, etc ... as per my contacts page. Or stop me in the street at tell me!
I have followed up in a couple of places on Facebook - too many people posting in many places for me to try to get to them all. It fills you in further on the text above.
I have linked to the meeting agenda from my blog at http://grahamellis.uk/blog216.html , where I have solicited views of residents, and also inputs from the parties / teams / groups elected in May as to what they said about the Assembly Hall prior to you voting their councillors in.
The agenda asks us "To receive the report of the Head of Communications. Members are requested to make a decision based on the recommendations contained therein" and I am looking at inputs to help me understand views on options 1 to 3, whether option 4 should be followed through in conjunction with 2. or 3., and I would also like to understand any other options which may not have been explored (I am concerned about pre-selection eliminating something good before it got to full council). All options are explored in more details (starting on page 33, after the bypass stuff), looking at costs and risks, though there is little if any reference to the relative community benefit the council would buy with each.
Option 1 - 'Moth ball’ the AH
Option 2 - ‘Village Hall’ format
Option 3 - Operate as a ‘Hosting Venue’
Option 4 - Greater focus on Cinema; "This is not so much a standalone option, but one that is worth greater consideration in conjunction with Option(s) 2 or 3."
Option 0 - A ‘retain the status quo’ option has not been explored in this report. The acuteness of risk this would place on MTC in light of COVID-19-impacted losses and the impact this has had on the General Reserves is simply too great for taxpayers to bear.
I'm newish to this - first time I saw the report was this afternoon - so a bit jumbled at the moment - but please follow up and help understand the community element too, at https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/posts/184617870394038
Note that there IS a published Zoom code for the meeting, and as a public meeting residents are welcome to observe. There is an opportunity to speak at the start, and the council might "suspend standing orders" during the meeting to give further input opportunities.
Edited to add ...
A new lease - a life for the Assembly Hall?
I'm noting that the cricket pavillion on KGV is being leased to the people running the Cricketer's Cafe and that the old fire station (most recently Art House Cafe) is being leased to the Good News
Would that be "Option 5" for the Assembly Hall? Has consideration been given to leasing it to an opertor or management team as their mainstream business, rather than continuing to operate it as an adjunct of the activities of the Town Council?
A correspondent writes "I think with the right management, right staffing ( it’s at least half way there ) and a few quid on updating it’s got a huge potential, personally believe that historically a lot of the ideas for what should happen to it are based on views of people who use it for their own specific needs, it’s needs to be a multi use venue that can adapt, it’s been stuck in the mud for many years... a discussion on it is really positive, it’s never going to be making a colossal profit, but it could easily deliver brilliant event space and not lose a fortune." - is he or someone he knows the right person to take it on and explore this possibility?
Would a majority of Town Councillors support this option, which would allow the town to retain and develop the benefits the building offers "This is a valuable community asset, which also a key role in the recreational activity of the town. It also attracts visitors, generating income for the night time economy" writes another. Amongst our number and in our wider community we have some people with extensive experience and wonderful vigour and drive, and great vision and contacts. Would any of them fancy taking this on? I am just sewing the seed of an idea ...
Edit - added 5.8.2021 at 06:30
Summary from Assembly Hall accounts via http://melksh.am/AH_accounts
Salaries and employment costs such as NI contributions have been around 120,000 per annum
Expenditure (2019) included 62,000 fees / percentage to live show acts
Expenditure (2019) included 17,000 on live show production costs and film hires
Expenditure (2019) included 23,000 on bar supplies
Income (2019) of around 100,000 from ticket sales and events
Income (2019) of around 60,000 from the bar
Income (2019) of around 37,000 from general lettings
Income (2019) of around 18,000 from luncheon club
Income has collapsed due (in part or whole-ly?) to Coronavirus effects
I look at the income to 31.3.2021 and suspect it does NOT include furlough income, even though the expenditure shows salaries at the 'usual' levels.
Published Wednesday, 4th August 2021
Get your Covid vaccination TODAYPlease don't leave until tomorrow what you could do today. If you are 18 or over and have not yet been vaccinated, please walk, cycle or drive up to Spencers (on the main road towards Beanacre and Chippenham) and get your vaccination. Times and details in the attached graphic.
I have several very good friends who have been very seriously ill (life changing debilitation with Covid and its after effects) and one who has passed away. Lived locally. This is not a "somewhere else, someone else" problem.
Published Tuesday, 3rd August 2021