Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Blue Badge - taxpayer to buy spaces?
The only public car parking that Melksham Town Council looks after - as I understand it - is the one behind The Cricketers at the top of KGV park that's used by people going to Rivermead School. It's somewhat ironic that car parking in Melksham's other public car parks - Union Street, Lowbourne, Central, Bath Road and King Street, which are under the sole ownership and operation, occupies a lot of time at Town Council meetings.
Wiltshire Council have decided to charge for parking in disabled spaces. They have offered (asked for a price by the Town Council) to rent these spaces to the Town Council for £669 each space per annum so they can stay free of charge to the disabled user. And this came up at Town Council on Monday evening.
1. There is a very dangerous precedent in Wiltshire Council ceasing to provide a service (free parking with blue badges) and the Town Council looking to pick up the pieces at cost to the local voters. If we pick up this one now, what next?
2. Much of the concern is not actually about "pay or not" for disabled - it's about the practicality of paying for those less able at meters that may not be close to the disabled spaces and pedestrian access to the car park, may be at a higher level, may not be easy for the colourblind to use ... and who cannot easily use online payment.
3. The big question is should everyone be paying or not ... should we be making a special case of blue badge holders?
Quite remarkable for this to be a Town Council discussion looking at the (perhaps) shortcomings or unpopular decision of Wiltshire Council with a view to us and our local taxpayers who are within walking distance of to town asked to pay to bail them out.
There is logic in having people pay for their parking somehow - indeed, someone needs to pay the cost of parking. At the supermarkets, you pay without being conscious in the cost of your goods (and if you park and walk in to town, others are paying in their goods). At the airport or railway station, you pay.
For the Town Center, it has come from business rates, and retail and service businesses should discuss the level with their Unitary Councillor. However, the Town council has an interest in keeping the town vibrant and part of that is having people park here so it is something we should look at, balancing providing financial support with significant extra taxation on local residents.
The Town Council's Car Park Redemption Scheme allows motorists to reclaim the cost of parking from participating retailers - and that's for all motorists and not just the blue badge holders. In many ways it's far better tuned than a scheme for just the disabled, as it's used by those who really need the help through what is (we admit) a clunky system for all involved. We do need to publicise it better. And the proposal for us to pay up to £15,000 a year to buy free parking for blue badge holders in Wiltshire Council Car Parks in Melksham (or to buy some spaces only at a lower cost) was withdrawn without the support of 2 councillors required to take it to a vote.
From feedback on the Facebook feed, town council, on Monday:
Yes definitely shops need to be involved in the parking. I have not come across any and never seen any information that they partake. But perhaps I have just missed it. By the way I walk to town so do not need parking.
On Facebook, maybe...a month ago?...there was a post listing the shops that participate. It *may* be on the town council site as well. But, you are right, they are hard to discover.
And comment that it's not so much the principle of having blue badge holders pay, but rather the awkwardness of the systems for doing so.
Great idea re art house computer skills and helping to download parking app
Exactly the inaccessibility of parking meters ! The height is also an issue for wheelchair users ... not everyone has a mobile phone to use an app.
And think about parking meters at wheelchair height please
Wiltshire Council IS in process of updating (some or all?) parking machines; modern technology with number plate recognition could transform car park payment, but it's expensive technology and I would be surprised if Melksham Town Council implemented it. Barrier / ANPR systems at the exits of the Central and King Street Car Parks would have a complication because there are properties and private parking reach through both car parks.
Published Tuesday, 4th October 2022
Democracy in Melksham - watching us live278 views, 24 comments, 4 reactions - the Facebook live feed of the Melksham Town Council on 3rd October 2022.
I am delighted that we are live online during the meetings, and people can come back and see what was said ( at https://www.facebook.com/melksham.town/videos ) at a later point too. However, comments on the feed are not monitored and fed back during the meeting - it's a broadcast and not a public debate. Think of it like the boardcast of our local parliament - you would not expect to be able to add a point to what your MP is saying on the BBC in the House of Commons, and so please don't expect your councillor to react as he/she is concentrating on a meeting in Melksham.
There is indeed a policy on its way through to limit the use of mobile phones by councillors during meetings - it was on the agenda last night, but got lost after the fillibuster that timed out item 11 (the Assemby Hall Working Group terms of reference) - and with it items 12 to 20 - of the agenda. That policy is to reduce interactions from outside the meeting - targetting keeping us from wandering off topic with friends, but also reducing your ability to get important messages to us such as:
"Please speak up"
Comments are not monitored by anyone in the council chamber during the meeting either. Here are some further comments which I read AFTERWARDS on this topic:
"Good point, Xxxxx. But I am not sure that comments here are monitored.
"Shame but hopefully they are read later, otherwise is there a point in commenting? I do hope so."
"I've noticed the camera moves around, is it possible to Zoom in on person speaking or get closer. Sorry but it would help me follow the discussion."
"The movement of the camera is automatic, and is supposed to follow voice. Unfortunately, it's not "perfect"."
"Thank you Xxxx. I thought someone was controlling it."
Here is my follow up, posted on the thread after I got home, so probably not seen by very many - worth a share here:
"To all folks here on the feed ... council meetings give the public a chance to make inputs at the start and then they're in "watch only" mode - if you come along wanting to comment and have that reach your councillors straight away, please do so on Zoom. Our clerk can alert the chair if you wish to interact and typically we do so. But we're having a meeting and not an open public debate on evenings like this one.
"Once home, sure, I and other councillors can take a look at what is said and answer if we choose, as I'm doing - better informed for the next time the topic comes up, and things rarely go thought on a single visit.
"If you want to let your councillor know ahead of the meeting, PLEASE let us know ahead of time - the agenda and backup documents are published a week ahead. Mind you a lot of reading - we had about 200 pages this week. Who would want to be a councillor, eh?"
There is a calendar of upcoming meetings at https://moderngov.microshadeapplications.co.uk/MelkshamTC/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1. Not a short URL - reminds me of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where an important notice is hidden on the underside of a filing cabinet in a disused toilet; we could really do with a short URL and some promotion.
More will follow on what is (now) last night's meeting
Published Monday, 3rd October 2022
Transport and the Assembly Hall coming to ClimateFestCome Along to ClimateFest - 2nd October 2022 - Melksham. Lots of stalls and talks, including mine on public transport in the Melksham area - 30 minutes from 12:15. Also a public transport stall where our team can tell you what you can use NOW and look into the future, and I can also talk all about what's going on at the Assembly Hall and more generally in the Melksham Area. Slide set for my talk at http://grahamellis.uk/cfesttalk.pdf.
ClimateFest opens at 10:30 and runs until late afternoon, looking at insulation, heating and energy, rewilding, electric vehicles, green food, recycling and many more topics too. How YOU can benefit yourself and your planet by going greener. In the Town Centre and Assembly Hall.
Published Saturday, 1st October 2022
Melksham Town Council - GrantsMelksham Town Council appreciates the power of community groups, the enthusiasm and expertise of volunteers, and the "reach" they can have for the good of the community beyond staff and councillors on the Town Team. And so "we" (the Town Council) make grants to people with specific funding needs who can reach the parts that we can't.
Miriam Zaccarelli, our Community Development Officer, writes:
"The next round of grants is currently open with a deadline of 7 November to be considered on 21 November and if you would like to apply for a regular grant (less than £1000) please see the attached application form.
"If you were planning to apply for a major grant (over £1000 to be awarded next year) the deadline is 30th September. Please see the attached grants policy that explains the process."
The policy is mirrored (here)
"Below are examples of types of organisations to which grants may be given:
* Charitable Organisations
* Youth/Senior Citizen Groups
* Sports Clubs and Arts Groups
* Advice Organisations
* Organisations assisting the disabled
* Minority Groups
* Community buildings
* Community events
* Health/transport/safety groups"
There are a plethora or rules, and the hurdles are high for new groups that are setting up; it feels like it's great for those who already there, but for those striving to be there it's almost "come back when you don't need us as much". I have personally been there.
Published Monday, 26th September 2022
Area Board ReportLast night, the Melksham Area Board of Wiltshire Council met in the library at the Campus. Around 25 people present - all six Wiltshire Councillors on the board, another half dozen or so Wiltshire Council staff, around half a dozen Melksham Without Parish reps (councillors plus clerk), around half a dozen community reps speaking in support of grant requests, the police inspector to give us the update on crime in our area and myself - apart from Jon, Jack and Phil who are Wiltshire Councillors and were there in that capacity, I was the only Town Councillor there, and I did not see any reps from other parishes or members of the public.
For a small meeting (and this was the smallest area board I have attended) the library with a few of the books pushed aside worked well enough. The usual complementary service of tea and coffee in the chatting ahead of time was missing - ironic with there being a purpose-fitted cafe. Where I was seated, it was hard to hear - the audio system was fine, but the sound of phone calls and discussions from the reception desk provided a noisy background. Lights directly over the projection screen weren't a problem for the simple text slides used for the most part, but had there been pictures or videos it would have been an issue.
With the departure of 18 Community Engagement Managers across Wiltshire (ours was Peter Dunford who took voluntary redundancy) and their roles being taken up by 6 Strategic Engagement and Partnerships Managers, it seems inevitable that the support for the community will be less. Richard Rogers introduced himself in his new role and I was re-assured that he has been around a long time, worked for the Melksham Area a long time ago, and lives in Potterne which isn't too far away. However, he has to service Devizes and Pewsey as well as Melksham, so that's big territory to cover.
An update from Jonathon Seed on "Addressing Environemntal Issue" usefully promoted the ClimateFest event on 2nd October - thank you, Jonathon.
I really attended the meeting to hear Phil Alford's update on Melksham House, having been involved with the project since 2011. Because of the very fact I've been involved, most of it I knew anyway but it's good to have confirmed:
* Completion "Winter '23" at a build cost of £4.2 million, but a higher total cost when you add in associated demolition. But slide said "15 to 18 months" which puts the opening into early 2024.
* To be completed as office space, meeting rooms and a hall available for public hire; a main hall with two side rooms. Part of the planning consent is that it must be public accesible / useable.
* To be done to the latest Carbon Zero profile - Phil mentioned LED lighting air source heating, insulation, photovoltaics and electric car charging points
* Councillor Seed asked what the business case was for this work. Phil Alford explained that it has been offered around, but none of the other Wiltshire Council services wanted it. It was being done to satisfy planning requirements on The Campus, and he did not expect Wiltshire Council to recoup its investment any time soon.
Published Thursday, 22nd September 2022
Regional Issues - bypassing Melksham?From Facebook Post / Bowerhill but worth a wider share and interprettation. An overview of the wider picture of the M4 to South Coast study, with objectives overall and a current cost and timeline for a potential Melksham Bypass.
* Whether to proceed with a super-douper bypass largely rests on central governemnt funding that will (only) be available if the A350 becomes a strategic road from the M4 southwards. We are told to expect a report on whether the A350 goes strategic early next year
* IF the A350 goes strategic, and IF a bypass is then built, it would not open until late 2028
* If the A350 becomes strategic, I would anticipate further proposals along the route; West Ashton to Yarnbrook is already somewhere in the pipeline, and something would (surely) be proposed to avoid Westbury Town Centre.
Freedom of Information (FOI) - from Department of Transport official. "National Highways’ M4-Dorset Coast study is considering strategic road connectivity from the M4 (between the M5 and the A34) and the Dorset Coast. It is assessing whether an alternative corridor would provide a better solution to connectivity than the A36/ A46 corridor which is the current Strategic Road Network route. There are a number of potential alternative corridors that are being assessed, including the A350. If shown to perform better than the existing A36/ A46 corridor, the study may recommend the possible adoption of one or more alternative strategic corridors and where future investment may be needed on them". The study is ongoing and is now expected to report in early 2023.
Further information is provided in the newsletter from earlier in 2022 which includes a map; newlsletter mirrored (here). Quoting from that newsletter: Key study objectives
* Provide a quick, direct route linking the M4 with the Dorset Coast.
* Reduce delays and improve journey time variability caused by congestion.
* Help ensure convenient access from ports on the Dorset Coast to the M4 for freight traffic.
* Provide opportunities for travel by sustainable and low carbon modes.
* Identify opportunities to improve the natural environment and green infrastructure.
* Be a good neighbour and improve access and environments for communities.
* Provide opportunities for walking, cycling and horse riding to enable healthier lifestyles.
* Provide a route that appropriately separates strategic and local traffic.
* Provide a route that supports tourism, economic growth and jobs.
* Provide a safe route linking the M4 to the Dorset Coast.
Also from the same FOI request - costings and timescale for the Melksham bypass (here) - I understand this document covers purely the Melksham Bypass part of any grand scheme, and is costed around what is called "option 10C" which is for a road from just south of Lacock on the existing A350, passing over the River Avon and to the west or Melksham, rejoining the existing A350 to the south of Bowerhill but to the north of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
At this stage, the total cost estimate is £238,019,996 of which the DfT would look to contribute £201,360,500. Remaining monies would come from Wiltshire Community Charge payers and potentially other third party sources. These are current estimates; with a project currently projected for completion in late 2028 final figures will almost certainly be higher, even if just allowig for inflation.
"The Whole" is very much above the paygrade (zero - we're volunteers!) of myself as a Town Councillor(%), and indeed above the paygrade of Wiltshire Council too in that at some point a decision will be made on which route(s) are strategic from the M4 corridor to the South Coast, and Department for Trasport and Highways England investment will go into them; at the same time, traffic will be encouragd to use those strategic routes so:
* If the A350 becomes strategic, expect more traffic and a strong(er) bypass case
* If the A350 does NOT become strategic, long distance traffic will not be funnelled past Melksham
(%) - A Melksham bypass would not even pass through the town, though clearly it would have major consequences for it.
Published Tuesday, 20th September 2022
ClimateFest - 2nd October 2022In answer to "I was pleased to see a couple of good letters in the Melksham news this morning. I hope public opinion can stop this destruction of the town. I would like to see some local protests on top of the letters being sent to politicians etc. It's deeply worrying that WC and some in MTC want to destroy the town and the beautiful countryside. It makes a mockery of MTC having a climate fest in a few weeks. Because the environmental impact this would have on the town, should it go ahead will be horrendous and I would want to move out." which got 28 likes, so is not without support.
My personal view on the potential construction of a Melksham Bypass may be found at (here) which mentions my position as a Melksham Town Councillor. Wider reading via (here) . I do not believe that anyone "in Melksham Town Council" want to "destroy the town" as you put it.
Melksham ClimateFest brings Councils, groups and businesses together to inspire, inform and involve the whole Melksham community in reducing Melksham's carbon footprint and enhancing its biodiversity. And I would encourage readers of this to come along and be involved, informed and inspired. The transport "ticket" is an important one indeed, and the complexity of how best to get people and goods around (if indeed we need to do so) in as environmentally friendly a way as practical, balanced against aspects such as quality of length of life, will be on the day's agenda.
Published Monday, 19th September 2022
Hire charges - Assembly Hall and Town Hall Hire rates for rooms in Melksham Town Hall and the Assembly Hall have been updated in recent months - and by "updated", yes, in most cases I mean "increased". But an update has been long overdue, with rates unchanged for years, and with complexities and quirks for reasons lost in the fog of history.
So it's now simplified - for Autumn 2022:
* The Assembly Hall is £90 an hour for commercial hires.
There's a 50% discount for private bookings for Melksham Town residents
There's a 30% discount for private bookings from elsewhere
There's a 75% discount for Melksham Town not-for-profit organisations
There's a 30% discount for not-for-profit organisations from elsewhere
The Asssmbley Hall is let as a single entity
* The main Council Chamber and kitchen is £40 an hour for commercial hires
* The ante room is £20 an hour for commercial hires
Thers's a 60% discount for Melksham Town not-for-profit organisations
Thers's a 30% discount for not-for-profit organisations from elsewhere
The main council chamber and ante room are available for meetings only
Whilst the base prices and scales were set based on councillors's judgement, I noted that only two councillors were carrying on from before Covid, which has hit the use of the hall sigbnificantly, and no-one was able to advise with any certaintly as to the elasticity of bookings on price changes. And for that reason I proposed and it was accepted to set up the Assembly Hall Working Group to allow for things to be monitored and tuned.
The Assembly Hall Working Group, and the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (see (here) and Facebook Group which has over 200 members) are ... another story in other posts. A lot going on - my intent of this post is simply to pull the various rates from diffent Town Council publications so you have them all, as at September 2022, in one place
Published Thursday, 15th September 2022
Electric Bus Demonstration, 17.9.2022
We will have an electric bus (from The Big Lemon of Brighton) in Melksham on Saturday, 17th September, 2022, for route testing. I am inviting you to take a ride on the bus and see what the future may bring to the town.
On 17th, the bus will leave Melksham Station shortly after the arrival of trains at 10:00 and 11:30 (from Swindon and Chippenham) and at 14:30 (from Trowbridge and Westbury). It will also leave from the Market Place at 10:15, 11:45, 13:45, 14:45 and 15:45. Pictures and map at http://option247.uk/mkm16.html
RSVP - Please email to let me know:
1. Which service (from the Market Place or Station) you would prefer to ride on.
2. Whether you will be bringing a guest or coming along alone.
Our proposal for the near future (what we are testing) is for a scheduled public bus service to run hourly from the Railway Station via the Town Centre, Sandridge Road, East Melksham, Pathfinder Way and the Bowerhill and Hampton Park Industrial Areas to the Police Station, with the bus to arrive at the railway station to connect to and from trains, and to serve the industrial areas just before and after work (shift) times. There will be extensions to Asda and to Berryfield.
* Journeys on 17th will only pick up passengers at the Market Place and Railway Station
* Pre-booking necessary and capacity limited.
* There will be more space available on afternoon journeys.
* We will endeavour to run on time, but please bear in mind these are test journeys
* Test journeys include extra stops and will be slower than routine service.
ClimateFest (on 17th September) which this demonstration and route testing was scheduled to coincide with has been postponed to 2nd October, and the Melksham Transport User Group and Option 24/7 will be there too, to promote and answer your questions on public transport. We understand and agree the reason for postponing ClimateFest; our route testing proceeds, in muted form.
Published Tuesday, 13th September 2022
Passing of Queen Elizabeth IIRecording the passing of Queen Elizabeth II yesterday afternoon.
A very great deal will be written and spoken over coming hours, days and weeks and I will not presume to write of her in detail as others are more qualified to do so. I will see, though, add an admiration for the dedication and commitment of the lady herself, carrying on far beyond normal retirement age. And that admiration transcends our view of monarchy and the position on the role.
Rest in Peace, Your Majesty.
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, we enter a period of mourning. There and many protocols to follow in her honour - to express grief at her passing, to share her memory, and to remember and celebrate her life. As I write this, I don't know what will happen locally over the next few days and fortnight - today and perhaps into the weekend it will become clearer.
I understand that flags on the Town Hall will be flown at half mast, and the church bell will toll one time for each year of her reign. Meetings already called - such as Economic Development next Monday - will be opened and closed (I suspect business will be suspended). What happens with other working groups I know not, nor other meetings that are in diaries for the following week but have not yet been called. According to protocol, Her Majesty's funeral will take place on 18th September, but being a Sunday I question that date. I am awairing guidance from the organisers of ClimateFest on 17th.
Wiltshire residents are invited to share their thoughts and memories of Her Majesty The Queen in a special online book of condolence. The book is available until the day after the funeral. There will also be books of condolence set up in all Wiltshire Council libraries.
Published Friday, 9th September 2022