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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Dog Bark - KGV Park
Upcoming Bus Improvements
on Personal Electric Vehicles
Climate Strategy Consultation
First three months - interview
FoMAH (Assembly Hall) Meeting - this evening
Evening without a car
Hollybobs and Cafes
Welcoming to Melksham
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Home page
Graham Ellis - background and • views
Graham Ellis - diary and • diary index
Philosophies of working as a town councillor
The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
How YOU can help and • Contact me
Links to other web sites and • pictures
Through April 2021, I posted most days. Thereafter (elected) you hear from me here at least once a week.

Staff and role changes at MTC


The roles of Economic Development Manager and Hospitality and Facilites Manager have been declared "redundant" and the officers in those roles left the Town Council at the end of last month. Huge "thank you" to David and Tim for all the work you have done for the town - it's appreciated far more than may have been apparent at a time like this.

Which leads to the question "what now"? I'm not the only one to be wondering - a letter from a resident asked some questions of one of his councillors (different ward) who has circulated all councillors. I'm copying the answers here, with prior permission of the resident, I will add my comments in footnotes.

Q: Who will now take responsibility for economic development in and around Melksham, and how are they qualified to do so?

A: The Town Clerk, who has a proven track record in economic development and therefore will take responsibility for economic development. (1)

Q: Equally, who will now take responsibility for managing the Assembly Hall, and how are they qualified to do so?

A: The Amenities Manager who has a track record of working in this field. (1)

Q: Given that both the posts were full time, how is it proposed that council officers will be able to assume the responsibilities of two full time roles into their current jobs?

A: The Head of Paid Service (Town Clerk) has assessed the work and has shared some aspects amongst the rest of the team. (1)

Q: Also, would you explain how the council will ensure that the management of the Assembly Hall will continue at the same standard, given that it was previously considered to be a full time position?

A: The council has been assured by the Town Clerk that the Assembly Hall will be managed properly, council has the utmost confidence in the operation line management of the officer team in all aspects of running the Assembly Hall. Council also welcomes the opportunity to work with the community (FOMAH) to secure the long term future of the Assembly Hall and how it can be better utilised. (2),(4)

Q: Would you also explain the council's rationale in making redundancies before the future of the Assembly Hall was decided?

A: The roles were made redundant post covid. An ongoing review of all services is currently taking place. (3)

Q: Finally, would you let me know which councillor(s) proposed the closure of the Assembly Hall, and who proposed mothballing?

A: This has never been proposed by a councillor. The report before council on the Assembly Hall was authored by officers who presented all possible options. This demonstrates the neutrality of the officer team and that council were given the option to consider dismiss these options. (5)




Footnotes - these are my comments in addition to the other's above

(1) As well as existing staff with appropriate qualifications taking on some of the work, some of the things that previously happened will no longer be done. I already have examples where previous staff help / input is not available in the same way. This may be right; there is no obligation on a Town or Parish council to do anything very much, and the balance if what is done from 2021 to 2024 is up to the new councillors you have elected - 8 on a "Together for Melksham" ticket, 5 on a Conservative ticket, one as a LibDem and one as an independent. Much of the answer to the direction of what will be done should come, therefore, from what you were presented with as policies before the election.

(2) There is no promise that things "will continue at the same standard", nor really should there be. It should be to an appropriate (in my view "high") standard. I have every confidence in the team we now have (right across the staff) but it would be unrealistic to expect all the same things to be done to the same standard and level that they were.

(3) My fellow councillor has provided an excellent answer to, I'm afraid, a different question to the one that has been asked (at least as I read it). On the original question, I'm not sure that this was fully worked out ahead of time - I certainly did not feel informed one way or the other when it was voted on. I only had 5 minutes notice of what we were to vote on, and felt I had no honourable option but to abstain once my request for time to go away and think abut it was denied, and some of the answers being given were less than immediatley convincing.

(4) I am delighted with FoMAH (Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall), the initial objectives of the group, and the door being very much open for it to partner with the Town Council. Also very encouraged indeed to see support from our MP. However, I feel that it would be useful here for me to make very clear:

a) The group wasn't formed - nor even thought about - until after the redundancies had been decides upon and made public. It is / was a reaction to the Town Council's report and meeting to discuss and "decide" future options for the hall in early August, and the strong adverse public reaction to the option of closing or mothballing the hall that was listed in the possibilities. I would be very worried indeed if FoMAH was about helping to put existing staff out of work.

b) We don't know what FoMAH will be doing yet ... a superb initial meeting, and two more set up for this week - the objective of working "with" is superb, agreed, common sense. "How" is being explored during the day, then in the evening, on Thursday

(5) According to the Melksham News in mid-February, one of the councillors at that time (who is still a councillor) suggested that one of the options for the hall would be to close it. He did not (from what I have read) propose that as the way forward - rather more alerting people to the possibility, and perhaps getting a feel for views in watching reactions. The officer's report in early August listed closure / mothballing as a practical option, and discounted carrying on as we were because we would no longer have the same staff level, but it did not recommend any option that councillors should adopt - it left it to us.




Having answered these questions, let's move on in various partnerships with the hands elected and dealt. 95% of the time we are all in agreement, and on the other 5% we can discuss, work out real objectives, and come up with good outcomes.


Published Saturday, 11th September 2021

Dog Bark - KGV Park

The "dog bark" in King George V park has opened, with an article published by the Melksham News ((here)) to announce it, and lots of comment on social media.

I welcome provision for pets. The PDSA tell us that 51% of UK adults own a pet. 26% of UK adults have a dog with an estimated population of 9.6 million pet dogs. For many of us our dogs are family - very much loved, going with us whenever they can, changing our choices when they can't. There are so many places where they cannot go - some obvious, others by the choice of a business which has placed other matters (extra cleaning, customers who don't like dogs perhaps) ahead of the dog owner. So in many ways, the more provisions the better, provided that there are still enough areas where dogs are not allowed, or are required to be on a leash.

Two questions have arisen about the "Dog Bark" - the rules (*), which are far from suiting everyone, and the amount of work (and money) put into the provision.
* Original rules at the base of this post
* Amended within a day [due to public reponse to some elements?]

The voters elected 13 out of 15 councillors in May on platforms of tight financial control - we are in the process of loosing four members of the staff team with only one of them being replaced. And in this environment, something quick and cheap is in-line. It doesn't suit everyone, but of the 10 councillors present at the committee that made the decision to go ahead this way last month, at least three (probably more) have mid-sized dogs of the Labrador / Retriever type in their families for whom the facilities and rules will work. Looking at the stats for "the most popular dog breeds in the UK", the area will probably work for most of these types"
1. Retriever (Labrador) - 39,905
2. French Bulldog - 39,266
3. Spaniel (Cocker) - 25,565
4. Bulldog - 11,594
5. Dachshund (Miniature Smooth Haired) - 10,369
6. Spaniel (English Springer) - 9,123
7. Retriever (Golden) - 8,653
8. German Shepherd Dog - 7,067
9. Pug - 6,033
10. Staffordshire Bull Terrier - 5,010

For those of us with other dogs such as longdogs (e.g. greyhound), lurchers, or miniature (e.g. chihuahua), the boundary fence may be inadequate (I need to take a look) and with any dog (just with any child) there are some who will mix well and others for whom the whole idea of free mixing is fraught with concerns. I don't think the Town Council Committee that put this together ever intended (nor, perhaps, should they) to provide a secure field for use including that by dogs that don't mix, and they have (rightly in my view) placed ultimate responsibility on the dog owner or guardian.

* We have three dogs. The "dog bark" is probably suitable (right away) for Billy. Until I know more, I don't think it will be suitable for Lulu and Lightning (Lulu would be fine on-lead).

* As ever, some initial issues and tuning will no doubt help bed the system in, and I'm sure the Town Council will welcome feedback via your councillor (choose yours on the Assets and Amenities Committee)

* Although I'm a Town Councillor, I am not on that particular committee - I could pass messages on, explain as I understand things, but I'm not a direct contact on this one.

Illustration – not every dog can run offlead in the Dog Bark. Our Lulu, recent picture. She can walk, but not run free.


Footnote:
The rules we are discussing are as follows:
1. All users of the dog park do so at their own risk.
2. Dog owners must be inside the fence in the vicinity of their dogs at all times.
3. YOU are responsible for your dog.
4. Your dog MUST be 'off-lead' once in the dog area
5. Dog poo MUST be scooped and binned appropriately.
6. DO NOT take young puppies (under 16 weeks) into the dog area.
7. Do NOT take young children, toddlers or babies into the dog area.
8. DO NOT physically intervene in a dog fight.


Later on 10th September - a new set of rules has been published:



Published Friday, 10th September 2021

Upcoming Bus Improvements

RESULT! Wiltshire council has announced the first stage of bus service improvements within the current financial year - see ((here)) for a listing of the services right across Wiltshire and ((here)) for the background and supporting documents.

A big "thank you" to Wiltshire Council for these improvements. We (Melksham Transport User Group and the community) were mortified when the 234 service between Chippenham and Trowbridge via Melksham were withdrawn a few years back, leaving the daytime-only x34 service - last bus from Chippenham became 17:30 instead of the (and it was well used) 22:16. (Illustration - 1st August 2015 - the final 234 from Trowbridge to Melksham)

This request is one of the two improvements requested by the Town Council in June. The other request made (extending the town bus to the station to connect with trains) has not proven possible this year due (I understand) to a lack of suitable available drivers at the service operator. It is not off the agenda, though - it's still on the list for "Bus Back Better" to be implemented if it passes muster next year.

Wiltshire Council has also announced extra services on route 69 (Trowbridge - Bradford-on-Avon - Holt - Melksham - Corsham). I have no further details yet - but there have been significant gaps in this service and having them plugged will be very welcome indeed.

The Option 247 group - set up five years ago after the loss of the 234, campaigned to save significant bus cuts in 2016, and those service cuts (partly as a result?) did not happen. We (I am a member) are now working as a community representative group with key contats in 16 (so far) of the 19 community areas. I am delighted to be working with Wiltshire Council - our local transport authority - partnering towards getting the right updates to services. I have quoted three examples (x34 evenings, x34 Sundays and 69) that include Melksham - across Wiltshire, there are no less than 34 (yes, thirty four) improvements planned in coming months and many of them will require community input (which may need to be quick and light) to check that it works for all the partners:
  * The Local Trasport Authority
  * The Bus Operators
and, critically important ...
  * The Passengers who will use the service


Published Wednesday, 8th September 2021

on Personal Electric Vehicles

E-Scooters, Segways, Hoverboards, Electrically assisted bicycles, Sinclair C5, Mobility Scooters ... three are legal on the roads, two are not, and one only if rented and not if purchased.

Now look - I KNOW puchased E-Scooters are illegal to use in public places in the UK, and I KNOW that there are concerns about safety, and I KNOW there are concerns about some of the current uses being made of them.

BUT.

E-Scooters are small, have a tiny carbon footprint even if their electic charge supply is fossil fuel based, rapid, don't take up much highway space, and don't cost a fortune or need a lot of storage. They could be comfortably folded and taken onto a bus or train.

We really - from a climate and economic viewpoint - should be looking for ways to make all these electric personal vehicles legal, safe and available - with light rules and regulations to make them widely available and used.

Clockwise from top left, current status to the best of my knowledge:
Power assisted pedal bicycle - legal, no license
Electric Scooter - legal ONLY in hire locations and driving license required
Sinclair C5 - legal, no license
Electric motor bike - some are legal with AM or 'better' license needed. Picture one is off road only.
(Mobility type) electric tricycle - legal (I think)
Mobility chair - legal; there are two classification with different rules
Hover Board - not legal to use off private land
Segway - not legal to use off private land


Published Tuesday, 7th September 2021

Climate Strategy Consultation

I have started to look at the Wiltshire Climate Strategy Consultation that opened on 1st September and runs until 17th October at href=https://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/ ... ... "people can comment on the draft strategy, which covers seven delivery themes: transport; built environment; waste; green economy; energy generation, storage and distribution; natural environment, food and farming; and carbon neutral council".

Until the end of August, I would have seen it as part of the job of the Economic Development Manager to advise councillors on much of the content, but that role is no longer needed (council decision, 28th June) with the encumbant leaving the role through redundancy. The consultation is on the agenda of the Economic Planning and Development Committee this evening - so clearly someone feel's it's of interest to us, but how we'll be informed, I honestly don't know. Looks like public participiation limited to those who come along in person. I am also unsure when we'll have online attendance running [again/properly]

On the transport side, personal background has helped me take a look and formulate early comments. The text of the strategy (from Wilts Council) on this element is at http://www.passenger.chat/25413 (that's on the transport forum I help run) and my thoughts are as follows:

Here are my "early days" thoughts. You are very welcome to comment / share / form your own views.

* Lots of really good stuff there including buses - embracing the government's Bus Back Better strategy, Bus Service Improvement Plan, etc. The Option 24/7 group looks forward to working further with Wiltshire Council on this - publication of the draft BSIP is imminent and we (speaking for that group) expect an ambitious and positive document; the devil will be in the detail of implementation.

* An understanding - even though we are public transport campaigners - that's it's not always the answer - "Is your journey really necessary" and "do you have to go that far" stuff. Pleasure / quality of life journeys by all means, but let's access local services better, arrange our towns and cities to have such local services, and embrace the online economy and working from home, even where that lessens demand for buses or trains and may break their business case

* Disappointment that there is no mention of rail. At present, every single rail journey starting at a Wiltshire station does so under diesel power. Network Rail's decarbonising strategy suggests the electrification of all current passenger rail routes in Wiltshire (mostly in their "core" set too) and it would be appropriate for strategic support for this strategy to be included in Wiltshire's strategy; partnership is mentioned though the WC document - just not this partnership as far as I can see.

* Transport section is also very light on talking about road building, even though WC has major ambitions relating to Melksham Bypass, Chippenham relief road, Yarnbrook, Stonehenge, and Westbury that I can think of.

* Good so see talk of last mile and combined journey elements. Looks good for a network to meet wide needs rather than a series of isolated routes which only join in a haphazard way. This "Good to see" extends to the cycle and walking comments. I note e-bykes (I have one and very useful!) mentioned as the future. Somewhat controversial, I would like to see e-scooters in there; there are short term issues with their current use and regulation, but they offer a potentially fast and efficient way of getting around which should not be discounted based on early version issues.

* There is a section in the document - "How National Policy Supports our Strategy" and includes "national policy and legislation are a crucial enablers of action at a local level ..." excellent; we are to be team players and partnerships all headed (or at least planned!) to be headed in the same direction, working together.

Adding early feeback from a correspondent:
"Routes should coincide with the Rights of Way network, canals, green open spaces and wildlife corridors where appropriate" suggests to me that they don't intend to spend much on new routes.


Wiltshire Council also say:

"At the same time, we will also be consulting on 'Our Natural Environment Plan' - A Green and Blue Infrastructure (GBI) strategy for Wiltshire, which looks at the future for Wiltshire's natural environmental assets and how the council can help protect and enhance them for the benefit of people and biodiversity.

"Find out more ...

"Online webinars:
To join these events, people must sign up online in advance.
9 September, 6pm, online launch event with Claire Perry O'Neill.
15 September, 10.30am - 11.30am, first engagement webinar.
30 September, 7pm - 8pm, second engagement webinar.

"Library drop-in sessions:
14 September, 10am - 12 noon, Salisbury Library
23 September, 10am - 12 noon, Devizes Library
27 September, 10am - 12 noon, Chippenham Library
7 October, 10am - 12 noon, Trowbridge Library"

Comment:
Nothing in Melksham, of course, even though it's bigger than Devizes.

Published Monday, 6th September 2021

First three months - interview


"What's it been like - your first three months as a new councillor"? Well - not as much of a shock to the system as some have predicted.

"You won't be able to quickly nip round to the corner shop for a pint of milk - people will want to talk to you" they said ... ah, but since Lisa and I appeared on Four in a Bed, we've been pretty well known, and my public transport campaigning hasn't exactly been low-key. The changes is just that people want to talk about a few wider issues.

"You'll have lots of meetings to attend, some pretty formal" they said ... ah, yes, but what's new. I've attended a lot of meetings at the peak of transport campaigning, and indeed I had sat through enough council meetings to know what to expect.

"You'll have party / group meetings to plan strategy too" they said ... except that I'm your only independently elected councillor, and whilst I work well with other councillors (for we share 90% of objectives, and you have elected some excellent people) I'm rather on my own in sharing my thoughts and setting my direction.

"You won't want to be as involved in social media because that can draw you into arguments" said a fellow newly elected councillor advising all his new colleagues. Except - I WANT to inform and engage the residents in Melksham, and as an independent it's more important for me to do that than for the others who have the protection of an organisation with advice, experience and policy around them. And I've moderated social media sites for many years - happy to engage and inform, though I'm not a great one for empty sound bites or headlines - so you'll find lots of pointers to meaty articles.

"You'll find it takes a lot of your time" they said ... yes I know. I expected that - not only the meetings, but the preparations and follow ups. February was something of a turning point for me as it became increasingly obvious that the two or three days a week volunteering role I had been promised was no longer available to me. So I had, and I have, the time. For the next four or eight years.

"What motivates you?" asked a good friend the other day. It's a love of Melksham, a wanting to help it move positively forward, and for it to embrace, help and gain from challenges such as Covid recovery to a new world order, diversity and climate changes.

“So has anything surprised you?” Yes – the sheer speed with which major decisions were driven through at early meetings. At times they felt uncomfortably fast and clearly pre-planned – 100 pages of supporting documentation for a meeting of under 2 hours. But then these were things advocated and supported by the party and the group who you (the electorate) voted into 13 of the 15 seats, and the natural thing is to take any course-changing action early – “the first 100 days”, the “honeymoon period”. The cynic might suggest it’s done to get things through before the newcomers realise the significance. The pragmatist sees the logic of these things being done quickly and early so they have fours years to take full effect.

Same question (2) - “So has anything surprised you?” Yes - the desire of people to be informed - to listen to views in answer to questions they have. To be supportive and understanding of the needs of the future - big issues such as climate change, though nervous as to how it will effect them personally

Same question (3) - “So has anything surprised you?” - Not so much a surprised - more a delight that the forthcoming visioning document for the council will be requiring us to look at each decision we make for its equality / diversity and climate change implications.


As submitted to and published in the Melksham Independent News


Published Friday, 3rd September 2021

FoMAH (Assembly Hall) Meeting - this evening



Agenda
* Welcome
* Objectives overview
* Who's who
* Where each person can help
* Initial Committee
* Overview of some of the options
* Next steps

Time and date
19:00 on 2nd September 2021

Venue
Zoom via https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84161451070?pwd=SmZXSVFPMDZJZTVNNElIbWtRejNyZz09
Or in person (get in touch for details - limited spaces in person)

About (See also http://www.fomah.org.uk/)
Melksham Assembly Hall - to provide live and recorded entertainment for public audiences of up to 400, and hire for events and groups commensurate with that space, for a customer base primarily in the West Wilts area.

This is our new (Summer 2021) friends group to look forward to how we gan help take The Hall forward in coming months and years

Published Thursday, 2nd September 2021

Evening without a car

I have an invite as a councillor for Tuesday, 28th September. Late afternoon out of town, moving to 7 p.m. in town. Invite says "there is plenty of free parking at both [venues]". How lovely for those who have their own transport, but how exclusive for them is this event. And an organisation who should know better.

I take the bus and / or train, and / or I cycle or walk where I can, reserving car use for necessary trips where there is no viable alternative. Not only am I helping do my "bit" for the enviroment and congestion, but I'm also looking and learning the practical experience of travel by public transport. For longer journeys, the ability to relax or work along the way, relax, sleep when I'm tired makes this a preferable way to travel, even where it might involve a taxi ride at the far end.

The event on 28th is not a necessary trip. I could get there by public transport. I would need to leave to get back on the final bus less that halfway through the out of town element to be back for 7 p.m. - and as it's an invite I can turn down, I've chosen to do so.

On the wider picture, over this summer I've had a series of meetups that I've been invited to on Thursday evenings out and about - purely for leisure, and an informal groups of friends. By bus and bicycle, and on foot, really interesting to see which I could make. Brown's Folly and Box were possible, Bradford-on-Avon was easy to get to but I would have been home after midnight. Steeple Ashton would have been a very long walk or cycle, or back the next morning. Semington worked well on the bike. Sadly, other engagements meant I had to miss Devizes, Chippenham (back by train) and Bath which I could have made. And I just laughed when Malmesbury and Avebury were the venue. A really good illustration of how bus services currently serve limited markets (seniors, school traffic and some work runs) but need enhancing to provide a decent service all day, every day.

It won't be here overnight, but "Bus Back Better" and the Bus Service Improvement Plan being written by Wiltshire Council, with Enhance Partnerships to follow - does play well for modernising and extending our network of services. I look forward to the day when I can make a trip out and have a bus back afterwards too. 7 days a week, please. http://option247.uk - as I write, the public website needs an update; awaiting papers on or shortly after 7th September - watch that space!


Published Wednesday, 1st September 2021

Hollybobs and Cafes

On holiday, but still online. Away from Melksham, but still thinking "Melksham" and "Wiltshire". I am limited (where I am) on what I can read and send online - a "full" internet package is far from full in reallity, but I can get a flavour.

I read that both The Cricketers in the KGV park and the Melksham Hub Cafe at The Station have struggled since they opened a few months ago. And it saddens me that in both cases, criticism is being levelled at the people who have been there, serving you and helping to make your visit a better one. For sure, they haven't been open at all the times they had planned, and some of what they have provided may not have suited you, but they have worked darned hard and deserved a big THANK YOU for their effort, for their hard work, and hopefully too for providing an understanding of the current local market so that a new team can do better. It is so tempting, but so wrong, to slag off the operatives on the ground either from the customers, or from the people who set up the arrangements in the first place. A wise friend of mine says "If you employ someone and they don't do as well as you hoped in the planned role, that's somewhat your fault for choosing them ..."





Published Tuesday, 24th August 2021

Welcoming to Melksham

An old lady lived a few doors up from us. Her son lived and lives nearby. Now retired too, he is a very well known and respected member of our society, a former parish councillor who has thought, worked, done so much for our community.

One day - I think when Lisa was researching history, the old lady invited us in and started to talk. She described running from a burning city (picture - aftermath thereof). She spoke of loosing family and being the only one left. Honoured to have met her, glad that she found a new life here in Wiltshire, where she became truly a member of our society. She passed a couple of years later, in old age, and in peace, here.




I used to give niche training courses - people from all over the UK. Typically, delegates were the brightest of the bright. Wonderful people to be around - including analysts and research scientists, some of whom had made a very real difference.

I remember, over lunch as Lee's Chinese, a delegate opening up and telling us of his early childhood in Biafra. He described how they ran from their home and hid in the bush while the Nigerian army flew over and strafed their village on a regular basis. This gentleman was a medical scientist, his work and the outcome of his research saving lives of people here in the UK and indeed worldwide.




So we're taking 5,000 now, and 20,000 over a longer term, from Afghanistan?

A good step. Not sure it's enough - I make it just 3 families in our town of Melksham if the numbers are spread evenly. People fleeing from horrendous situations like this - it's not the first time - become valued members of our community and are "net positive". I look forward to welcoming them in our community. Yes, that will involve some trials and tribulations along the way, but I'm 110% behind people coming from persecution and danger to Melksham - to live in our streets, work in our town, relax in our parks and open spaces and to come into my home as friends. Honoured to have them; remember - these are people just like you and I.


Published Thursday, 19th August 2021
-

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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