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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Branding, dogs and cycles
Zoom council meetings
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
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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.

Train service cuts push people back to driving


Climate change effects us all. We can all help - cutting carbon emissions by two thirds by taking the train. But trains are under threat.

Do you travel from any of the places named in green to any of the places name in brown? If so, you have through trains (and they are well used). But the Department for Transport has decided to CULL them next month(*) - 7 trains each way withdrawn between Salisbury and Warminster - and you'll have to change at Salisbury to make the through journey. That is hardly going to encourage train use, especially when it will usually involve a wait of around 50 minutes at Salisbury or a second change at Basingstoke. Please sign my petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/598397

* - Just one through train per day will remain from London (Waterloo) to Warminster and Westbury, at 07:50. It will not continue towards Bristol from Westbury. See http://www.passenger.chat/index.html for links to further data.

I am posting this "original" thread on my Melksham Town Councillor page (I'm an independent here). As we look ahead, we are looking at moving to Carbon Zero, helped by a public transport network that links buses and trains and offers an encouragement to make their total journeys using shared transport - buses and trains. In Melksham (South) - my ward - you can take the x34 bus from The Bear, the Market Place, King Street (near the Conigre / West End)and Semington Road (near Hazelwood Road and Longford Road) to Trinity Church in Trowbridge, which is just across the road from Trowbridge Station, to catch these direct trains to London. This story is replicated all across Wiltshire and from Somerset too - into Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge, Westbury and Warminster stations (with, perhaps, the exception that not all buses go quite so close to the stations).

Even if you have NOT been a user of this rail service, many have. And its removal at the current time - without consultation or adequate alternative - is perverse, anti-green, and bad for the economy of the towns and areas that lose their through train service from London. So - please sign my petition. I am NOT a regular petitioner - this is my first for over fifteen years - but this one is important not only for the individual case, but also for the principle and precedent that it sets.


Published Thursday, 4th November 2021

Branding, dogs and cycles

And in other news from the Town Council on Monday (25.10.2021)

... the old (smaller) dog exercise area in King George V Park will remain open and available while nothing else planned for the area. For nervous dogs, etc, a good idea that makes sense just like a learner pool in a swimming centre makes sense, especially if it's already there.

... cycle pumps / tool stations will be installed beside the Town Hall and in KTV Park; bicycle stands (something to lock your cycle to) will be provided near the spalsh pad in the park. Target date - well in place by next spring.

... new branding and a logo will start to appear on Town Council outputs and be available to organisations supported by The Council to use. The Town Crest remains for official papers, etc, and there is not to be a rebranding execise, with the new look arriving as and when new outputs are generated. I have asked that guidance protocols (when and where bodies can use the new look) are produced, and that high quality images be made clearly available ("original artwork") for thos who will be using them. My illustration accompanying this posting may well be updated to conform once guidance is in place.



Published Wednesday, 27th October 2021

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
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Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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