Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Town Precept Unchanged
A Mammoth meeting at Melksham Town Council last night. Our budget for the 2023/24 has been set such that the precept (our town call on the local Council Tax payer) remains unchanged from the 2022/23 year. That's a zero increase - quite an achievement at a time of rising costs. How have we managed to achieve this, which was voted through unanimously by the 12 of 15 councillors present at the meeting?
Firstly, we have "cut expenditure to the bone". Second, we have taken the monies paid to the town by the solar farm and community infrastructure levy from developers and applied those to projects which are in the pipeline. Third, we have reserves which have grown for things like building maintenance and we will be allowing those reserves to drop back a little over the year. Fourth, we have reduced the amount of money set aside for council tax payers claimimg relief / unable to pay. Fifthly, new housing in the town means that our tax base has risen - more homes paying Council Tax.
I understand most of this. It means that at a time when many people are struggling, and inflation is around 10%, your local town council won't be asking for any more money. You'll still be asked for an increase payment by Wiltshire Council (up by 4.99%), by the police, and by the fire and rescue service, but no more requested by the town.
What does it mean for the town? Some relativey modest plans WILL go ahead - we'll be catching up on desparately overdue repairs to our buildings in the Market Place cluster, and for the repair and replacement of play facilities. Lighting of paths in the East Ward was also passed last night (without the controversy that has been generated by lighting in the park). Staff costs (which account for over a half of our budget) are covered and indeed significantly increased.
There was concern that we might be cutting back so much on things this year - spending from reserves such that we struggle in future years to meet ongoing costs (staff, buildings, park maintenance, insurance, utilities will always continue) but the general feeling was that zero this year made sense - a real drop when looked at against the background of inflation. We have not tried to go an extra step of cutting the precept.
Parish councils such as ours are not limited as to the rise or fall we can set; comparing to other town parishes, I would be surprise if too many others can come through without a rise. And our achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider we're already cheaper than most towns. But, yes, it comes at a cost of us not buying some of the services you would like, such as toilets on Church Street, and free parking in Wiltshire Council car parks.
Published Tuesday, 31st January 2023
Civic Awards - by 31.1.2023There are lots of marvellous people and groups in Melksham - making the town better for us all. And they rarely get much ofa "Thank you". I have just submitted a raft of nominations for civic awards for inviduals aan organisations doing great things for the town. This is not a competition - the Mayor can give multiple awards and there are so many worthy people in our town - so please put yours in too by the end of tomorrow (FORM HERE) and we can have the best, fullest, awards ever to celebrate Melksham Town.
Because these are awards made by Melksham Town, Melksham Town Staff and Melksham Town Councillors are not eligable. Sad we can't say "thank you" to them at the mayor's reception so I'm going to say it here ...
THANK YOU to those staff members and my fellow Town Councillors who selflessly go "beyond" for the town.
Published Monday, 30th January 2023
Town Budget - proposed highs and lowsMonday evening, the Town Council considers its budget, and with is sets the precept - the amount of money we will look to ask each Council Tax payer to pay to us.
Statement planned (but how much I get a chance to say, I don't know) ...
* I am delighted with much, including but not limited to:
1. Postponed, reduced, relief - Virtual Hub, which has got out of hand
2. Funding for work on buildings which is overdue, and maintain a reserve for further work
3. Running Assembly Hall - promoting use at a sensible support price to the community
4. Funding and plans within our means rather than taking out substantial loans
5. Dropping plans to build a new maintenace shed in favour of hiring space
* I am concerned about:
1. plans to spend up to £80,000 on a Sensory Garden
2. cut of over a third in grants to small community organisations (big grants unchanged)
3. HR consultant budget where we have overspent dramatically this year (3 to 4 times?) and are budgeting for a halved spend; I don't see how we're going to do that.
4. An Assets and Amenities budget that assumes a shift from employees to contractors. Can we trust natural wastage by April to achieve this, or are we reducing our team through redundancy if necessary and without full council discussion?
I am also disappointed at the lack of a long term vision which would make these decisions clearer. We are bouncing along with ad-hoc decisions from year to year. We spent time in summer 2021 working on this but it seems to have gone away, as has "Priority for People"
I am prepared to support (or even propose) a precept increase of 10%. It's prudent to keep the precept in line with inflations even though many of our costs such as energy and insurance have risen by much higher factors. Many of the issues I've mentioned are impossible to accurately forecast 15 months ahead, and the full council has the ability to move funds between pots - for example to retain our maintenance team and levels versus a reduced sensory garden spend.
Notes for the reader
1. Most of the Town Council's income comes from this precept. Other income included the Community Infrastructure Levy paid by developers for building in the town, hire and bar income at the Assembly Hall and for rooms in the Town Hall, from the solar farm, and our landlord income from allotments, the Melksham News office, That Meeting Space, and (hopefully) the Cafe/Pavilion in the park.
2. The Town Council precept is collected from properties within Melksham. Melksham Without Parish Council collect a separate precept for Bowerhill, Berryfield, Beanacre, Shaw, Whitley, Redstocks, The Spa and outer properties on Woodrow Road, Scholars Way and Sandridge Road, and properties in those areas make no contribution to the general coffers of the town. But then the town makes no contribution to the general coffers of "The Parish"
3. With the exception of army towns, the Melksham precept is below that of other towns in Wiltshire, reflecting either our efficiency or our lack of provision for our town. Villages and rural parishes typically charge less, but provide fewer services as their populations tend to travel to use services in nearby towns.
4. The Town Council's precept is collected by Wiltshire Council at the same time as your Wiltshire, Police, and Fire and rescue fees, each of which will set its own rate. Although the town's rise will provably be just under £17 for the year, the overall rise will be around £120.
5. Illustrative map shows approximate boundary of Melksham Town. North to the left. This is the most recent satellite image I have - new housing off Pathfinder way and others not shown
Published Sunday, 29th January 2023
Answering social media commentsSocial Media - article and comment - are a rich vein of community feedback to councillors. I have been through a few on the Melksham News Facebook feed from the last few days - quoting from the social media feed in bold text and then commenting. This is a real opportunity for me to offer some explanations. Further inputs welcome - I am an avid reader of views on some platforms, though time preculdes me from reading everything, and writing direct will be sure to reach me.
Development of former Chinese restaurant turned down again. Plans to demolish a former local restaurant and to build nine flats it its place has been opposed by town councillors.
Why not do something good for the town with the whole site?
Come along to The Campus between 10th and 12th Feb. In the Town Center Master Plan, this whole area is "Cluster 2" and the consultation exercise on those days has nothing hard and fast in it - the team is looking to learn what YOU want, looking forward to 2036 or 2038.
What a shame it isn’t still a dentist.
The biggest problem with dentists is a lack of qualified people wanting to put their hands in your mouth in Melksham and not a lack of building for them to work in. Putting up / dedicating a building to another dental practise is no good if there's no-one wanting to work there.
Maybe think about some decent toilets!
Thanks joke, they haven’t opened the ones we’ve got “yet”
Oh yes they have - Bath Road Toilets reopened quietly on 25th January. I don't know why it was decided to do it quietly - probably to help save council tax payers the cost of a celebration at a time that we're looking to keep next year's precept to a minimum.
Whats happening to the eco toilets at the park?
probably been vandalised before they were even built lol
The eco toilets have not yet arrived; they should be installed and working before Spring.
To complete the toilet picture ... those in the Market Place remain open, operated by Melksham Town Council with a welcome financial contribution from Melksham Without Parish Council (as it's people who drive or take the bus into the town who need the loos far more than the people who live in the centre). ... the toilets near the library and central car park which were closed by Wiltshire Council remain closed, and a recent look at the cost of re-opening them by the Town Council came in with a very high cost. Priority to provide loos at the Cricket Pavillion, Bath Road and Market Place (loos also in Campus during opening hours).
Melksham Town Council is inviting expressions of interest for an operator to run a café in the park pavilion at the King George V playing field from Saturday 1st April.
Good idea, but they need to keep the rent realistic
How long will this last though cause the moment they get get someone in the council will then go we can't afford to keep it open
Expressions of Interst in running it still sought over the next few days, with a couple of weeks then to put in more detailed propoals. There is no straightjacket on bids. The council is looking for ideas and will balance social (filling a public need) and financial (looking after the tax payer's interests) issues - in other words put in a thumping good bid for the community and that will do your bid the world of good. Bidder are invited to suggest the length of the lease / agreement and works needed, and that can include committments if the bid is accepted by both parties. In other words, a business plan that takes us robustly forward for a number of years would be very, very welcome.
In this week's letters to the editor ...
Wow some people need a hobby
Yeah - yet community input is so valuable to those of us who are local councillors - we are volunteer, so that is, I suppose, our hobby. We do need to be careful not to put all the oil we have onto the squeakiest of wheeels on the letters page or on socil media - but keep the inputs coming!
No more please ! Let’s keep our rural land , why ruin it, enough said !
Because people need somewhere to live. There is a priority to build re-use sites ("brown fields" in planning terms) and to place higher density housing there, but it's not enough. And individual families seek space around their homes, space to park cars, an outside area, a separation if they're on a busy road. There's a lot of agricultural and army land ("rural") in Wiltshire and even with buiding carrying on as it has been for the next 50 years, less than 2% of the land will be taken for more housing. There are many places of great rural, historic, green interest around and those are valued - in fact I'm currently helping with the Neighbourhood plan which will help provide the next generation of guidance for the planner to help development take place in the best places for the futures of our communities rather the most profitable for the house buiders.
Looking for a job? Here are the vacancies from our latest issue.
This market town is very quickly becoming merely a dormitory town, and this is so very sad.
Hmm ... I'm seeing new businessees that have sprung up all the way from the south end of Bowerhill through Hampton Park to Semington Road, as well as all the new housing we have. And if you go down to that park of town at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. or times between, you'll find working people arriving and leaving their employment. The hedline loss of 350 jobs on the Cooper Tires riverside site this year is a real blow, yet where one industry / employment fades away another employs people. For those effected (yes, I HAVE been made redundant) it's a shck and can really be a short term or life changing problem - in the big picture it's about moving on to something that's right for the 2020s rather that steeped in the history of perhaps the 1950s.
Councils unite in opposition to more houses and care home plans. A planning application has received objections by parish and town councillors, for 210 residential dwellings and a care home to be built on land south of Western Way in Melksham. At the Melksham Without Parish Council (MWPC) meeting held last month, councillors raised concerns that building on the site would mean the loss of the green buffer between the separate communities of Bowerhill and Melksham.
See earlier comments that there IS a need for housing - but carefully placed. Logic has to be re-use of sites that have previously been used for industry or housing; after that, logic suggests sympathetic extension of the urban area but green buffers need preserving as deos the best of nature. It's human nature that the owner of a house that looks out over fields prefers them to more houses there - welcoming town development, but "Not in my Back Yard". Problem is - just about everywhere is someone's back yard.
Published Saturday, 28th January 2023
Quiz Night - Melksham - 26.1.20231. Quiz Night at the Melksham Assembly Hall. Thursday 26th January 2023, Bar opens at 18:30, quiz starts at 19:30. £5 entry for each team of up to 5. If you are not in a team, please come along anyway and we'll buddy you up. (Team booking link), or call 01225 704187 or pop in to the Town Hall
2. Melksham Assembly Hall Community Survey - report received by the Town Clerk in the last few days and will be brought to full council on 30th January. That means it will be published beforehand in or beside the agenda pack. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who completed the survey - so many of you that the data has taken a while to correlate. More to follow on this story!
Melksham Assembly Hall is situated just behind the Town Hall on the Market Place and has an audience capacity of up to 450. It is owned and operated by the Town Council and available for hire for private and public functions. Facilities available include a staffed bar (where appropriate) and lounge, a stage and dressing rooms, a kitchen, full blackout, dance floor, projection and sound system. Hall layout is flexible for large meetings, concerns and shows, catered events, pubic fairs and much more. Parking is available nearby at Kings Street, Central Car Park and at the Melksham Campus, and the main town bus stop for services from Chippenham, Trowbridge, Devizes, Bath and intermediate villages is on the Market Place.
This is the first of three winter quiz nights to run on the last Thursday of each month. It's an opportunity for residents (and you are also welcome if you do not live in Melksham Town) to enjoy using their hall, have a fun evening, meet up with others on nights which are cold and dark outside. Even if you have not been to the hall before and don't know anyone, you'll find a warm welcome and a chance to meet people and try out your knowledge in a quiz with them.
Published Saturday, 21st January 2023
Lighting in KGV Park£60,000 is to be spent by Melksham Town Council on 16 lights on 6 metre tall posts in King George V Park. The proposal has been rumbling on for years, and the final decision was made at the full council meeting on 19th December 2022. With 9 councillors out of 15 voting in favour, the purchase and installation WILL be going ahead.
It was explained / discussed at full council that the lights had been requested for the safety of people walking through the park in the early evenings and early mornings in winter. It was also explained that the lights won't be on all the time, rather they'll only come on as necessary. And light standards will be to the same / nice look and feel as in use elsewhere in Melksham. I understand that they should be in place before the long dark nights return next autumn.
I am in the minority on this one - I am one of the six councillor who did not vote in favour. Why?
* First, I question the extra safety it will bring to light the inner circle when people who walk through the park tend to pass around the outside.
* Second, I am not convince it will reduce (rather than increase) antisocial behaviour; evidence is inconclusive both ways.
* Third, I have concerns about potential disturbance to wild life; again evidence is inconclusive.
* Fourth, I wonder if this is a good use of £60,000 - that's a cost of about £12 on each council tax bill in the town and could instead pay (for example) to run a connecting town bus from station and centre to the east and south parts of the town for a "seeding" year, or simply be reduced from your bill which was £2128 this year and looks likely to be around £2245 next year.
* Fifth, I have not seen or heard (m)any calls from residents on this lighting - though as I don't represent the part of the town that includes the park as a thoroughfare / through path, why would I?
* Sixth my understanding from a very small sample is that views on lighting are varied, and the true "top priority" is a cafe / refreshments during the day, not lights at night.
--- Also noting comments / input from previous councillors on 20th October 2020 (Councillors Watts, Illman and Westbrook in the minutes) at the start of this project, which address lighting and the need for it, but concentrate on the area / path from the Pavillion to the Adventure Centre.
Having given you six reasons I am with the minority on your council on this, I accept the majority decision and understand it's their decision for you the voters. I will support that, doing my best to make sure the scheme is implemented optimally. Should others change their minds and a majority of councillors ask for this to be pulled back, I will then put my points again in a new discussion, hopefully better informed and that just could result in my voting different.
Update - 20:00 I have been to take a look this evening to be better informed should something more decisive be needed from me, and from a standing start I would say I can see merit in having a single extra light between the skate park (already well lit) and the adventure centre (also lit already), and several lights along the roadway from the Adventure Centre behind the playground and muga which was very dark tonight. Whether the lights on the circuit will spill some light onto the path and roadway, I don’t know! Neither do I know what the wildlife effect would be of my suggestion, which is academic anyway.
Now - on Wednesday this week, a month after the decision was made, the topic came up at the Environment and Climate Working Group of the council. That group includes a number of none-councillor experts and from within those experts, there was fury that this lighting matter had not been passed through the group. "What's this group for if our expertise is not called on by the council?" A good question, somewhat dumbed down by the fact that the matter has been on full council agendas multiple times over the past 3 years so everyone has (technically) had a chance to put their view. But there's so much on the council agenda, and there are elements amongst us who would much rather get on with things that have public input that makes "silly" comments or makes "impractical" suggestions ... too often, things come to public attention too late in the day to make effective points and suggestions.
By the close of business next TUESDAY (24th January 2023), the agenda for the full council budget meeting the following Monday will have been published. YOU have an opportunity on 30th (if you are a resident in Melksham Town) to express your views on income and spending plans. I know what's in the plans - I was one of eight councillors who attended last week's budget working group, but I am not at liberty to reveal outcomes or the views of others until next week. I will blog on Tuesday evening and welcome inputs over the following few days. Or make a diary note and come along to tell us all on 30th!
Published Friday, 20th January 2023
Wiltshire Town Populations - 2021 CensusFor my public transport in Wiltshire interests, the various residential populations are a key measure, and indeed for Town Council work comparisons are useful "what are THEY doing" and "how big are they". The 2021 census data at a Town / Parish level is now available, and this has allowed me to update my database. I am using https://www.ons.gov.uk. It's good to be updated - some communities have remained static, but most have grown by varying amounts.
I have almost consistently used the "Urban Area" population offered by the census web site; there's a handful of exceptions where several urban areas run into each area and they have a common name so for example Staverton in included with Trowbridge and Bowerhill with Melksham even though the relationships are different in the census.
Melksham remains the fourth largest urban are, after Salisbury, Trowbridge and Chippenham (the three towns which historically have had special / different treatment because of their size.
You will oft hear "Wiltshire is a rural county" used to explain why things are different here. But whilst it's true that we have lots of countryside, it's also worth noting that more than two third of our residents (350,000 of 510,000) live in urban areas with populations of over 2,000 - in other words, whilst we have lots of open spaces, most of us live in towns or large villages and not rurally.
|Urban Area||Population 2021|
|Royal Wootton Bassett||13000|
|Some smaller Settlements|
|Not in Wiltshire - nearby|
Published Wednesday, 18th January 2023
Melksham Town Council Tax 2023/24 planningHow much will your council tax bill be from March (2023)? All fifteen of your Town Councillors were invited to a working group meeting last night. Five made it for the whole meeting of over 4 hours. 3 more arrived late and/or left early; I personally was a few minutes late, having failed to note that the meeting started at 6pm rather than the 7pm that's pretty standard for council meetings.
At the Town Council we were discussing the £169 element of the £2127 bill (this year's figures) and what it should be for the April 2023 to March 2024 year. We have no control over the other elements. None of the three town councillors who is also a Wiltshire councillor was at the meeting to give us their thoughts on what the Unitary change (on the Lion's share - £1638 for this year's figure).
Average inflation would mean a 10% increase. However, that's just an average and some things (such as employment, building maintenance, utilities and insurance) which together make up most of our costs have risen "dramatically". And some of these expenses could only be reduced with serious consequences. On the other hand, many of us are finding it very difficult to make ends meet and that's unlikely to change this year, and the councillors (with one exception - and I will admit that was me) felt that the increase this year should not exceed that 10%, and we set about looking for efficiencies and cuts we can make. We also looked at deferring a number of projects. A tough call, and full credit to my 7 colleagues who were present last night for making brave proposals. With lots of changes suggested, sums need to be checked and the proposals should come up at the full (open to the public) council meeting on 30th January, published on the council's web site the previous week. I will at that point try to highlight key changes.
Earmarked reserves have been set aside for the Sensory Garden (estimated up to £80,000) and for lighting of the circuit in KGV Park (£50,000). "Saved up" money if you like - and so not part of the immediate budgetting for 2023/24, whichever year the money is actually spent. There is also around £800,000 of money from the developers of the residential areas to the East of Melksham which we are mandated to spend on a Village Hall for those new developements.
* Your Council Tax bill in Melksham Town this year has been between (1092 + 52 + 160 + 113) for a low value property up to (3276 + 158 + 482 + 438) if you live in a really, really nice place. The media-quoted "Band D" - middle of the road (above average in a town like Melksham) is (1638 + 79 + 241 + 169). How much will you pay next year?
First figure in each sum - Wiltshire Council
Second figure - Fire and Rescue service
Third figure - Police
Fourth figure - Town (your parish) Council
* The increase from 2021/2 to 2022/3 was from £165 to £169 - also at around the rate of inflation as it was at that time, though inflation has rocketed sice then and our costs have gone up way more than budgetted. We have general and earmarked reserves to "buffer" such circumstances and there is no short term foreseen risk of your council going bust.
* Melksham's Town Council precept is very much at the lower end for towns across Wiltshire - the graphic from last year gives you the picture. It could be that we do less or we're more efficient. For this year, news feed headlines already tell of a 44% increase in Salisbury (after 12% last year), and as an educated guess our 10% proposal will be low compared to many others. Note that Trowbridge went up 20% last year, and Westbury by 27% compared to our 3%
* In context, a 10% town increase is less than £1 per month for the smallest of homes on a bill that is currently £117 per month. It's an extra £3.50 per month for the very largest of homes in the town.
Published Saturday, 14th January 2023
Market Place - please drive safeI'm writing to ask you when driving to Melksham Campus to enter from the Market Place roundabout as show in blue on the attached map, and NOT to enter between the disabled parking spaces and taxi rank.
This is a safety concern, as traffic "popping out" between disabled cars and taxis to turn left has to swing wide into traffic coming out of The Campus. Cars making that left turn are also surprising pedestrians on the main pavement walking from the south of the town (Semington Road area) into the Town Centre.
There are already some road markings and signs to encourage drivers to use the planned (design) route via the roundabout rather than cutting through the back of the Market Place, but they are not as clear as they could be.
At last night's Economic Development and Planning Committee meeting of the Town Council, we spent half an hour discussing this topic, and the bottleneck at the entrance to The Campus, which can only get busier when Melksham House opens too. It's unfinished Wiltshire Council business but we need to flag it up with constructive suggestions. I (personally) had some immediate success with that last August just after The Campus opened, with waymarking added to show pedestrians that they should enter the site along the path by the old pool - which was not obvious - and not through the vehicle gates.
The first request to readers is - PLEASE - use the safer route via the roundabout.
The second suggestion, to Wiltshire Council, is to make it NO LEFT TURN from the disabled spaces and taxi rank into the parking for Crown House and The Campus. Also to investigate adjustments to the layout of the back road to provide more of a short stop facility (loading, disabled, taxi) and less of a rat-run, perhaps with a "sleeping policeman" to further inform drivers unfamiliar with the area that this is not a main road!
Diary Date - 9th, 10th and perhaps 11th February - consultation for stakeholder and public on the second neighbourhood plan, including the Town Centre Master Plan.
Published Tuesday, 10th January 2023
Melksham Civic Awards - please nominate
We have some wonderful people and community groups in Melksham. Who made Melksham special for you in 2022?
Nominations are invited (by 31st January 2023) for nominations for:
* Community Service Awards (improving the quality of life in Melksham)
* Enhancing Melksham (improved the physical environment of Melksham)
* Achievement Award (for a Melksham resident or team that has excelled)
This is not a competition - it's an opportunity to celebrate everything positive that so many of you have done for The Town and multiple and indeed many awards can be made.
Here are some organisation ideas ... Friend's Garden? Melksham Larder? Melksham Free Dining? Melksham Link? Campus and team? Town Bus Driver? UMeet? Ice Cream Lady in The Park? Tai Chi? Melksham in Bloom? That Meeting Space? Wilshire Climate Alliance? Wiltshire Air Ambulance? The Melksham News? The TIC? The Hub Cafe? The friendly team at your favourite takeaway or hairdresser, or the teacher at your child's school? Melksham Community Transport? Litter Pick Group? Pellikaan Construction? Your MP? Our local Bobby? The Christmas Lights team? Men's Shed? The WI? Film Club or Rock and Roll club at the Assembly Hall? The Adventure Centre? Carnival or Food and River festival ... and within those organisations you, dear reader, will know the individuals.
These are awards made by the Town Council, so awards cannot be made to Town Councillors or employees of the council, nor to companies or organisations in which a Town Councillor has a major financial interest. I have put a copy of the form for you to print out and complete at /civic_nomination_2022.pdf and then return to the Town Hall (or let me have a completed copy and I can get it there)
Published Monday, 9th January 2023