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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
How hard can hybrid be?
Save the Train rolls again
Through trains, London to Trowbridge
Bus and train working together
What is climate change?
Climate Strategy (Consultation)
Consultations
Council help for The Hub?
Car Share - the future
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Some other pages on this site:
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.

Zoom council meetings


17. Confidential Session
Members are requested to make the following resolution in accordance with the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960.

In view of the sensitive nature of the business to be transacted, it is advisable in the public interest that the public and press be excluded, and they are instructed to withdraw.

17.1 Hybrid Council Session
To agree next steps and actions.


Now - "Hybrid council sessions" are where we meet in the Council Chamber but can also be seen, and take inputs as appropriate, online. They're what was done when we were in the Assembly Hall shortly after the election, and attempted with the new system that fell over so spectacularly on 9th August and has not been functional there since.

In my view, these sessions are important. They give members of the public the chance to see the council at work and were popular when we ran them. They are a help in open and transparent democracy, and should be encouraged, especially during Coronavirus and with the rapid spread of a new varient.

So I spoke against the resolution to discuss in private the future of our meetings being open to the public remotely. For sure, there are some "commercial in confidence" aspects, but the general way forward - next steps - should not be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.

In a vote (recorded how each of us voted at my request), 9 councillors voted to go into secret session, 2 including myself votes against. The other 4 councillors were not present.

And so, after that vote we went secret. I can't tell you what happened ...

We're talking about the sort of meetings that I ran in Didcot on 16th October, and Trowbridge on 20th October, that latter with about 40 people in the room several screenfuls (50?) online. Rather surprising the council hasn't found a way to make them work


Published Tuesday, 26th October 2021

How hard can hybrid be?


From the public agenda for Monday (25.10.2021) full Melksham Town Council meeting

17. Confidential Session
Members are requested to make the following resolution in accordance with the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960.

In view of the sensitive nature of the business to be transacted, it is advisable in the public interest that the public and press be excluded, and they are instructed to withdraw.

17.1 Hybrid Council Session
To agree next steps and actions.


The new "Hybrid Council System" - for meetings to be held in the Council Chamber, broadcast and with inputs on Zoom, and relayed on YouTube was used (or at attempt was made to use it) on 9th August. A full public gallery in person concerned at Assembly Hall future options, with screenfulls of people on Zoom able to see but not hear. Which is pretty useless when people are there to watch (and perhaps contribute) to a discussion. Since then, there have been various council meetings - one or two a week - but "The AV system" has not been in use to allow external access at any of them.

I am disappointed at the lack of progress in providing a practical system to allow hybrid council meetings. It should not be beyond the wit of the Assets and Amenities Committee (who I thing are the ones who oversee it) and the Town Staff, and I have been asked whether there are parties who might prefer public interaction to be limited - to those in the room. I have no answer on that.

I don't understand what the Town Council's problem is.

I have run hybrid meetings in my own home meeting room for a while, and then last Saturday (16th October) the Great Western Coffee Shop AGM in the All Saints Church Hall in Didcot, and last Wednesday (20th October) a public meeting in the Bethesda Baptist Church Hall in Trowbridge with perhaps 40 in the room and more than than online.

It's not technically perfect, but all I have purchased in addition to my regular laptop computer is a meeting microphone at under £30, and USB-c and HDMI extender cables to that the microphone and screen connection can be at a distance from the computer. My previous (retired) laptop's camera relays the room to the remote audience, and the screen on it shows the home audience to the room when the main screen is being shared when I am speaking too.

Illustration - Mark Hopwood of First Great Western addresses question from meeting attendees both in the room and online from across the Thames Valley and South West last Saturday.

Like I say, my solution works and has been practical for groups far larger than we would expect, in person or online at the council. I await Monday's session with interest.



Published Saturday, 23rd October 2021

Save the Train rolls again

I have been quiet on my Melksham blog for the last 10 days. I have much to say and do, some of it important, but I have been pulled away by a wider West Wiltshire issue which is both important and urgent. Through trains are to be withdrawn from London to Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon and Oldfield Park (in Bath), with just one train a day in the early morning remaining to Warminster and to Keynsham. Bristol and Bath passengers to London travelling to the South Bank, Kent and Surrey will no longer have an easy route via Clapham Junction and Waterloo, and Westbury passengers will only have one early train a day from Waterloo.

What's this to do with me? I have experience in fighting crazy rail (and bus) cuts - turning protest (which is necessary to get the stupidity of culling services onto the agenda) into later partnership (which is necessary to get something in place that pays its way and works long term). And this IS about Melksham too. It's about moving towards a zero carbon West Wiltshire - reducing road traffic (reducing the need for new roads?) and moving forward with cleaner air. It's about being able to take the x34 bus from within my ward at The Bear, the Market Place and along Semington Road to Trowbridge Station for a direct London train.

Please support my petition (yes, I am the creator) at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/598397 to call for the route to be retained pending proper consultation - a Freedom of Information disclosure has revealed what is basically a stitch-up based on guessed data (I kid you not!). We have our MP calling for a review of the Department for Transport's decision to remove these trains. Other MPs all along the line are onto it too. As are the local transport authorities - Wiltshire Council and WECA, and even Transport Focus - the Department's own passenger watchdog.

There is much more online on the topic if you wish to read in further - start at http://waterloo.savethetrain.org.uk . And if you want to help further, please do so - you can share this post and web addresses. You can tell your friends. And you can write to your MP. I have spoken with Michelle in person on this topic, and both she and Andrew Murrison write that they welcome hearing from you on this. Thank you.

Illustration - public meeting, last Wednesday, Trowbridge.

Published Friday, 22nd October 2021

Through trains, London to Trowbridge



Please sign the petition (it's in my name and you can ask me questions!) at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/598397 asking for through train services from London to Trowbrdge and Bradford-on-Avon to continue for 2022.


Transport changes - e-Scooters are legally available for hire in Bath. Next month, the railway line to Okehampton re-opens for regular passenger trains for the first time since 1972. And in December, Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon look set to LOSE their through train service from London.

Time passes, positive and planned changes are welcome, but withdrawing the though London trains to our county town, at a time when people are returning from Covid onto the trains, and at a time we want to encourage more use, without providing an adequate alternative and without public consultation is just - well - it just defies belief! These trains have always been popular and have become full and standing at times, again, on Covid return. Logic is to leave them in place for a further year, at which point extra "MetroWest" trains are running and the can be end-to-end joined to continue a regular, clock-face, strategic, attractive service.

The question comes "why are they being withdrawn". Different people give different stories. A Freedom of Information request has been stalled by the Department for transport while they do a "complex public interest" test, and that has me wondering what they want to hide. My personal view is that the Department for Transport wants to save money and thought removal of this service would be a soft target - not realising how busy it is, how popular it is. They also appear to be setting a precedent of not consulting - even their own watchdog says they should.

Over the last week, I have been helping co-ordinate the West Wilts Rail User Group, Two Tunnels, Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways, Railfuture (Severnside Branch) TravelWatch Southwest, and the Coffee Shop forum to raise the profile of these services. Melksham retains all its train services in December - we are lucky - but we should support others as they have supported us in the past. And in any case, the trains being withdrawn are ones we connect into.

YOU can help:

1. Please sign the petition (it's in my name and you can ask me questions!) at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/598397

2. Please share the Facebook post at https://www.facebook.com/CoffeeShopCRP/posts/3072237909689974 to friends, colleagues, family, other groups, etc

3. Please attend the meeting (by Zoom or in person in Trowbridge) on 20th October at 19:00. Poster at http://www.passenger.chat/bri-wat_20211020.pdf and the Zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87440868321?pwd=bDcyd3R3Q0E0elVySlNreHBvcm1jQT09


WE can then and in parallel talk to all parties involved and see if we can get a positive and more appropriate way forward. We don't know if we can prevail - but we can try. And we can increase our chances by making a constructive suggestion rather than simply looking to retain a really useful service which could benefit from an update/upgrade.

I am writing this on my Melksham Town Councillor web page. It has nothing to do with Melksham, but it has everything to do with Melksham. "There, but for the Grace of God, go we". We do not want a no-consultation precedent set.



Published Wednesday, 13th October 2021

Bus and train working together

Classic example of where buses and trains provide a good service together. I have a meeting in Trowbridge from 17:30 to 19:30 this evening.

Down on the bus, back on the train ...

16:40 bus from the King's Arms, Melksham, 17:02 at Trowbridge Town Hall

20:12 train from Trowbridge Station, 20:22 at Melksham Station

* If I went by train, I would have to set out at 15:40
* Can't come back by bus - last one is at 18:01

What a pity that there are no return tickets available for you to swap between buses and trains, and buying two singles almost doubles the cost. What a pity there are no easy integrated timetables around that offer combined journey and fare information.





Published Tuesday, 5th October 2021

What is climate change?

Someone asked me to explain climate change to them - as if I knew all about it!

Really, it's like our garden with greyhounds in it. While we had just one or two, it looked a bit rough in places at times, but it usually recovered during the growing season and looked tidier again. This year, with two youngsters doing their "zoomies" (pictured) it's looking pretty much a shambles even in the autumn after it's had a change to recover, and come the winter it's likely to turn into a mud-bath.

Think bigger. The population of our earth is growing, and the wear and tear on it has become greater than the rate at which it can recover. Not only are there more of us, but each of us has been putting a heavier load on it, and we're making messes too. But it's worse than that - we're turning the grass and other things around into waste products which take ages to go away, and prevent recovery. You need a certain amount of grass to absorb all the dog waste and turn it back to nature - recycle it - but there simply isn't enough grass left any longer to cope.

The parallel (simile?) is reasonable as far as it goes, but there's other forces at work too. As we burn fossil fuel, we create carbon dioxide as a waste gas in the air, and that makes the air denser, heavier, and more easily retaining the heat of the sun's rays, so that the whole atmosphere warms up. Carbon dioxide is produced by living animals too, and in historic balance has been cleaned out of the air by grass and trees and other plans which usefully convert it back. Problem is - there is much less greenery at the same time that there's more carbon being burned in various ways, and that means more CO2 in the atmosphere, even more warming and the plants that could grow in a certain place find it's too hot for them and they die and what was a lush temperate forest dies back into a hot desert. The changes in temperature change the winds and the weather - places become wetter or drier, windier or calmer - you get extreme weather events very different to what used to be the norm at any one place. Or to summarise, the earth has changed - it's not what it was, equilibrium is broken and goodness only knows what sort of stable state we'll end up in, or if indeed it will even end up stable, or what we can do to get the best outcome.



Published Monday, 4th October 2021

Climate Strategy (Consultation)


"Climate change is perhaps the most important thing on our agenda"
For 4th October 2021, Melksham Town Hall - Economic Development and Planning, special meeting

Personal Briefing - Wiltshire Council's Climate Strategy Consultation / for Melksham Town Council session. Consultation briefing Mirror ((here))

Astonishingly, "The Town Council" still hasn't sorted out the issues with making meetings available via Zoom (it's months now!) and, once again, an important meeting is to be held only in person.


General Notes

1. Climate emergency was declared in early 2019. This consultation has been characterised as being a set of aspirations and is long, long overdue - we should be on to how we will deliver, and actually well into the process, by now. Let's welcome the aspiations - congratulate the council on coming out with them, but also chivvy them to do better / go faster.

2. I am only informed on some elements, and will comment. I remain disappointed at the Town Council's decision to no longer employ a planning and development specialist, meaning that I (and many of my volunteer councillor colleagues) are looking at this important subject for Melksham while less than best-briefed. There is no statutory requirement for councillor briefings, but the lack of them is regrettable and will reduce the quality of our input.

3. The consultation as presented to the public lacks depth - few places to actually write in, and it feels rather like a box-ticking exercise. We should write in and make substantive inputs where we have detailed knowledge, and not answer only the questions chosen for us.

4. Melksham Town Council's input to Wiltshire Council will be just one of many, and our inputs just one drop in a huge bucket. Important (to a dominant degree) though climate change is, there are more direct and better ways we should use our time to promote its local adoption and implementation of new methods to reduce it than ticking Unitary survey boxes?

On the elements of the consultation:

Transport which accounts for more greenhouse gas that just about any other sector

Transport

Achieving zero emissions surface transport in Wiltshire is a challenge which will require zero emissions vehicles and other measures. This is a necessary priority, since transport produces the largest proportion of emissions in the county.


* 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 electification 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; parnership is mentioned though the WC document - just not this partnership as far as I can see.

* 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 contraversial, 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.

Homes and the Built Environment

New buildings need to be net zero carbon as soon as possible, using less energy and running on low carbon sources of electricity and heat. Existing buildings need to be retrofitted along the same principles. All buildings also need to be able to cope with the impacts of climate change.


I am leaving comment on this element prior to 4th October to other councillors who may be better informed.

Natural Environment, food and farming

A healthy natural environment is crucial to achieving net zero, and providing ways for people and wildlife to adapt to the stresses of climate change. Central to our challenge is the efficient and sensitive use of land for all our needs – absorbing carbon dioxide, local food production, preserving habitats, generating energy and providing homes.


I am leaving comment on this element prior to 4th October to other councillors who may be better informed.

Energy

We need to reduce the energy we use, as well using low carbon forms of energy. There are also opportunities to explore in terms of ‘smart’ and digital solutions that help to smooth demand, and ensure fair distribution of energy and new technologies.


I am leaving most comment on this element prior to 4th October to other councillors who may be better informed.

I note that "Every electric train on the Dutch railways NS network [where 70% of lines are electified] now gets 100 per cent of its energy from wind energy" - whereas in Wiltshire every single train starts from a station still under diesel power - UK as a whole 38% of lines are electrified. How ironic when we have a durt great electricity distribution substation in Melksham!

Are "we" still against Wind Turbines in Wiltshire - with such draconian specification that we haven't even got any on Salisbury Plain?

Green Economy

We want to grow a carbon neutral and climate resilient economy in Wiltshire. This includes opportunities for training and more jobs in green sectors, as well as building up supply chains to enable objectives in our other delivery themes.


I am leaving comment on this element prior to 4th October to other councillors who may be better informed.

Waste

Reducing waste and using our resources efficiently helps reduce the energy and emissions associated with extracting, manufacturing, transporting and storing all the products we use.


I am leaving comment on this element prior to 4th October to other councillors who may be better informed.

Carbon Neutral Council

This section sets out the areas of work that will help Wiltshire Council become a carbon neutral organisation. The council’s role also extends to providing leadership and opportunities to share knowledge and learn from one another.


The setting of a good example cannot be emphasised enough. There is the opportunity for our council to be active in being climate friendly and sustainable, and to request its suppliers and services to be so too, without generatimg so much red tape that only larger organisations can bid for contracts.

In particular "food miles" and "waste miles" should be considered - the reduction of footprints for the arrival of materials and the departure of waste.

Published Sunday, 3rd October 2021

Consultations

- are they worth it?
- do they let you way what you want?
- is any notice taken of what you say anyway!

From a survey on a forum I ran about people responding to surveys ...

I usually find out about them in good time to respond - 29%
I often find out about them very late and have to rush a response - 29%
I miss them far too often - only find out after closed - 35%

I find it difficult to answer many of them in the way I want - 76%
I rarely make any inputs as there doesn't seem much point - 18%
I rarely make any inputs as I have nothing useful to add - 18%

They are worthwhile responding to because they make me think - 24%
They are worthwhile responding to because my inputs have an effect 18%

I just scroll past them - I don't have the time or interest - 6%

Personal view - some of them seem designed to get a particular answer, some are just because there's a requirement to be seen consulting and the answers get ignored, and some are run by groups or organisations which only dilute them down in the "piggy backed" inputs. It's good to separate out (if you can) those which are a waste of time, complete those which have a sporting change of making an effective input, and get a bonus of giving yourself the opportunity to learn and think about a topic.

I could write a whole book about being effective with consulations - not only about answering them, but also about inlfuencing and helping so set the questions, and getting the most from the results - whether or not you're the setter.

Example above - the Priority for People consultation output - on the question of "what would encourage you to use the bus more". So valuable as we (as a community) look to ask for something we want, will use - and so will offer best benefit and best value. And the beauty is that we are getting the opportunity to learn even if that's really just a corollary from the main course.

Published Saturday, 2nd October 2021

Council help for The Hub?

At the Town Council meeting on Monday night, a number of substantial grants were considered, including some for up to £10,000 each - one of which was for TransWilts. Concerns were raised on each of these, which is probably what one might expect from an almost completely new set of councillors in their first year, elected largely on a platform of keeping the precept down. Some budgets (such as the Assembly Hall advertising budget) have been cut by 75%, and several staff members have been declared redundant. In that environment, the TransWilts concerns are modest - TransWilts will be asked for some clarifications on a couple of things, and the request will come back to the next meeting.

Councillor views

Councillor S Crundell questioned who actually benefits from the Cafe - the paperwork supplied says it's "rail users", but he'd spoken with a number of his friends who commute and told him that it's "never open" when they're there. Councillor Aves pointed out that it's used for a number of community events and draws people in. Councillor Mortimer was concerned at the council funding a salary at a cafe which essentially has been running as a commercial outfit and not serving the core business of rail passengers, though accepting that numbers have been depressed. Passenger numbers were questioned, and I confirmed the history and forecasts, though I did comment that the report was probably written a while ago and passenger numbers are recoveing well. Councillor Oatley asked about the busiest trains, morning and evening, and I confirmed they have been the 07:20 and 07:50 in the morning and the 18:02 in the evening; he mused that the cafe should be open for each of these, but I suggested that at 18:00, people will be dashing home and won't want to stop by.

Passenger performance

I checked the station this morning and counted passengers:
07:20 train to Swindon - 8 joined and 1 left
07:50 train to Swindon - 21 joined and 3 left
10:02 train to Swindon - 3 joined and 1 left.

Total - 37 passengers over 3 trains. Scaling those numbers - around 68,000 journeys per annum

To compare - around 75,000 pre-covid so we're back up to around 90%, having been down to around 15% (around 10,000 per annum). Personal use (on leisure time trains) in recent week has confirmed they're pretty much back to normal loadings, perhaps even heavier on some services. And this is in spite of the reliability issues, and before the Melksham Transport User Group starts marketing to new potential customers.

Cafe - tuning to meet rail passenger flows

Cafe hours - from https://melkshamhub.co.uk/hub-cafe/
WE ARE OPEN MONDAY, TUESDAY, THURSDAY AND FRIDAY 8.30 AM – 4.30 PM.
WEDNESDAY AND SATURDAY 7.30 AM – 4.30 PM. SUNDAY – CLOSED

As I'm no longer a member of TransWilts, I'm not aware of their business plan; it does strike me that whilst they may be doing good none-rail business, in order to match their core objective and stated customer base in their application, they should have take out service available soon after 07:00 on Monday to Friday (for the 07:20 train - forget the 05:33 and 06:36), 07:30 Saturday (first train 07:53) and 08:30 Sunday (first train 09:00). Saturdays and Sundays are almost as busy (average passenger per train) as weekdays, though more evenly spread.

Money is undoubtedly harder from this council than the previous one, and using it to pay staff salaries worries some members. However, with a demonstration that TransWilts is moving to serve it stated core customer base (hours, marketing, etc) it may satisfy the councillors.

Picture Commentary - from 27th September 2021 / Melksham Station area

07:20 - Train picks up 8 passengers
07:25 - Hub gates closed
07:50 - Train picks up 21 passengers
07:55 - Hub gates still closed
08:10 - Around the corner for breakfast
09:55 - We're open!
10:02 - For the off peak trains


Published Wednesday, 29th September 2021

Car Share - the future

At this time of queues for fuel at the pumps, people are taking a look at ride sharing. I remember, many years ago, walking around Cambridge and counting people in a queue - 20 private cars, 24 people in them in total, 1.2 passengers per vehicle when they were pretty wall all 5 seaters! 24% seat occupancy. What a lot of carrying fresh air around.

Ride sharing has been a "holy grail" that's not been particularly successful in the past - tried and spluttered. But perhaps the current (even if short lived and panic induced) shortage, the extra green awareness, and ever increasing prices cab between them provide an enviroment where it could take off.

From Facebook - a Frome Group I'm a member of: "I am driving to Bath city centre tomorrow to be there at 8.30am (leaving at about 7.30). I am happy to fill my car with other people who also need to go to Bath and save some petrol. I live near [Frome Location]. I will be leaving Bath at about 5pm.

Spot on! I posted encouragement and got a whole lotta likes.

If we could get average car occupancy up from 1.2 passengers per vehicle even to 1.8, we would save a third of the journeys on our roads, reduce congestion, and be over 30% greener. Might even make some new friends too. And (perish the thought!) might mean we didn't need more road building either.

So where are the barriers?

With a setup in which a very few people are involved, there's the issue of matching source, destination locations and times for outward and return trips. Then which days, what about holiday arrangements, sick days, needing to travel differently - earlier of later, perhaps at short notice.

Insurance, payment arrangements, tax and legal setups all need to be looked and really don't seem to be designed to help. At times, it's almost as if it's to the government's benefit to have lots of gaz-guzzling, revenue-raising vehicles running around, using road space and keeping the road building econmomy bouyant. And wouldn't it be unfortuante if people who pay their fares on public transport are no longer helping to sustain that thansport. Surely I am just being cynical - or am I? If it was "in the national interest", I suspect it could be done!

As the coverage grows - the network of people willing to give, and to accept lifts, metrics change. 'Casual' - not pre-arranged pickups start to make logical sense. If I want to travel from Melksham to Andover, I can split my journey - change of driver in Devizes perhaps; there's always traffic on the road, even at unlikely hours and I'm never going to have too long to wait.

But - as the network and immediacy grows, so to the "driver on passenger" and "passenger on driver" safety concerns. 90 people in 100 are fine. A small minority may not be and could have light fingers. And a small minority of that minority, could be seriously worrying ... but not insoluble. Where there's a will ... I could suggest a way!

Published Tuesday, 28th September 2021
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Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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