Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Lovely to meet and listen
I have had a fantastic three days at The Campus meeting the public interested in the future of Melksham, as we're working on in the Town Centre Masterplan, which will support the next version of the Neighbourhood Plan.
Thank you to so many people coming along and keeping the team of facilitators busy. I am delighted to have had a chance to listen to so many views and ideas, to explore them informally in fascinating discussion. And also to have met quite a number of people who comment and otherwise react to my social media posts. I (and we as councillors and a council) thrive on inputs. You who make the inputs do not always realise how you have influenced or triggered something.
Thank you also to Melksham Without Councillors David Pafford and Alan Baines, and the clerks of Melksham Without (Teresa Strange) and Melksham Town (Linda Roberts), all of whom were there most of the time at the three general public days, and to other officers and town and parish councillors who also popped in.
A recurring theme I heard over the three days was people telling me just how useful my blog and Facebook feed is in keeping them informed. I appreciate that, and I am flattered; I know that early on in this council (nearly two years ago) a number of my new colleagues were concerned about getting embroiled in public argument and suggested that social media and other internet feeds should be avoided for the most part. They suggested that the public can interact by coming along to our meetings, and by contacting them in other ways.
I can understand where my colleagues, and some officers, are coming from. It takes a considerable amount of time to write things up, to answer questions, and to put the case for what's been done (or not done) or is proposed. And my colleagues feel that the best use of their time (and emotional energy) is in doing, rather than informing. And perhaps it's a really good solution that some of us take each approach.
On the (general) informing side, I will point you to my feeds:
I will also point you to the Melksham Town Facebook feed which, as this council enhances its provision, is being far more used now to give Town information. (Thank you, Gloria)
Finally, the Virtual Hub project that should be telling you what's open every day and who to contact in all the various community groups, public transport, news, etc, has been defunded in the budget. So the Town Council will not be providing a single source to tell you each day whether the splashpad is open, what sessions are available at the Swimming Pool, the hours of the Town Hall, TIC, Friends Garden and Church all in one place - together with the weather and local road news, council meetings and events at the Assembly Hall. Sorry, folks - this has been delayed for at least a year to help keep the town's element of your council tax bill to the same as it was last year.
Published Saturday, 11th February 2023
Cafe in the ParkI am delighted to hear that the Town Council has received quite a few expressions of interest in running a cafe in The Pavillion in the park open from 1st April 2023. A number of folks have been shown around, and full bids are due in by or on next Monday (13th Feb). There will then be a two stage process - planned as shortlisting then choosing in depth between a handful, but of course that assumes there are enough to merit the shortlisting. In any case there's a first stage of checking that the bids are practical. Final decision very quickly - by the end of February.
The invite for bids is intentionally written to provide maximum flexibility to potential operators - the Town Council did not want to stifle any ideas by laying down limitations on bidders. So the evaluations later this month should be really interesting and will hopefully offer a good variety. The group of councillors to make the choice was widened last Monday evening to include councillors with catering experience through both stages of the process, as well as members of the finance committee. Good.
Also on Monday evening, drainage from the Cafe and Splashpad, and required maintenance, was discussed and given the go-ahead. There will need to be co-ordination between the new cafe operator as these works are done and completed - some are necessary even before the place opens, others cannot really be done until the operator is appointed as it would be wasteful for us (for example) to put in heaters in the wrong place and have to move them a few weeks later.
I don't know what's in the various bids, and am not on the evaluating and deciding group - so I will just say I look forward to some sort of catering operation including servicing customers in the park from this Spring. And I will post updates here as and when I get them; Lisa and I are away for March, but these days eectronic feeds mean that I should still hear some updates and will be able to signpost readers to revelant published data and sources.
Published Friday, 10th February 2023
Assembly Hall / Melksham HouseWhat future, Melksham Town Centre? What future, the Assembly Hall, the Blue Pool, Melksham House? In discussion, today (9th Feb 2023), tomorrow and Saturday at the Town Centre Masterplan consultation at the campus.
"Cluster 1" looks at the Market Place, Town Hall and the buildings behind - the Assembly Hall, the Blue Pool, Melksham House, The Community Campus and also Lloyds Bank. There is an ongoing discussion of what will become of these buildings in coming years. The Assembly Hall is very busy at times, but operating with public subsidy. The Blue Pool is lying out of use. Melksham House is undergoing refurbishment. Melksham Community Campus is brand new. The Town Hall is 180 years old, and has been in use as the Town Hall for over 100. Is the status quo the way forward - surely not completely, but there are various options.
One option suggested is that the activities of the Assembly Hall move to the refurbished Melksham House. This is NOT an opinion piece today - inputs are sought. To help you form an opinion, I have pictured the ground floor plans of the Assembly Hall and Melksham House as it will be when completed for the main hall alongside this post, with the size of the Assembly Hall (main hall) superimposed at the same scale on the main hall of Melksham House.
Please come along to The Campus (it's happening in The Campus, not in the Assembly Hall, nor the Town Hall) today (9th Feb 2023) 4 to 7 p.m., tomorrow (Friday) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m.to midday. Display boards will remain available to view and leave comments until early March.
The Town Council (who operate the Assembly Hall) are also reviewing the consultation on the Assembly / Hall requirements / needs which ran until the very end of last year. With over 600 responses, this is no trivial task, and it's also a huge help as we work forward.
Published Thursday, 9th February 2023
Town Centre Masterplan - ConsultationPlease come along
* Thursday (9.2.2023) - 4 p.m to 7 p.m.
* Friday - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Saturdays - 10 a.m.to 12 noon
In the Cafe area and "Party Room" at The Campus
How do YOU want your town to develop and change, or stay the same, over the next 15 years? The Neighbourhood Plan II is in production, with the steering group and various task groups putting a very great deal of time in. It'll give us some continuing degree of legal influence over future developments, though our policies need to fit within national and county (Unitary) policies and it will replace Neighbourhood Plan I which came in a while back, but now has a short shelf-life.
The Town Centre Masterplan will be an integral part of our new neighbourhood plan, and we are seeking your views. We are not asking "what do you think of the plans we have made" but rather "what would you like to see" - a real consultation before we right things up, and not a rubber stamping exercise after we have decided. Please come along to The Campus over the next 3 days and tell us!
We are looking at the whole town centre (and while we are at it, heritage assets and green spaces right across Melksham Town and Melksham Without), with especial reference to three clusters:
Cluster 1. The Market Place, Town Hall, Assembly Hall, Blue Pool, Melksham House and Melksham Community Campus.
Cluster 2. The Old Library, Lowbourne, the Labour Club, frontage to Bank Street
Cluster 3. The whole riverside, including but not limited to Cooper Tires - from the bypass bridge through to Scotland Road bridge and right back in north Melksham as far as the railway station.
There are display boards to look at, maps, response forms (also available online), and informed Neighbourhood Plan group members to facilitate your visit - answer questions and talk about some of the possibilities and what could be done. Personally, I will be there on Thursday (though perhaps not at the start as I rush from another meeting) and most of the Friday and Saturday time. If we are quiet, I will be working in the Cafe on my laptop but somehow I hope not to have that chance. Come along and see us.
Illustration - Tuesday evening, meeting with businesses and landlords in the town to discuss their views, aspirations and concerns
Published Wednesday, 8th February 2023
Splash pad - open or closed on long hot evenings?
Some Town Council News from Monday night: Splash Pad opening 2023 ... proposal to open from 7th April to 3rd Septemeber EXTENDED back to 31st March (for start of Easter holidays) and may be extended to cover some further weekends in September.
Opening Hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.(?), subject to weather. The report to council the agenda was not included in the proposal (a surprising omission in my opinion) but then suggested by the author of the report during the meeting.
I asked for the Splash Pad to be open later hours in high summer in fine weather. Sunset is after 9 p.m. in June and on those long summer evenings, when Mum and Dad are home from work, it seems crazy to have the Splash Pad, in which we have invested for the town, closed. "We will look at it and see what we can do" was the answer I got, and on that basis I abstained from supporting the proposed hours ... I had gotten the same answer when asking for an evening opening of the Town Hall when we reduced public days from 5 to 4 days, and that evening opening has never happened.
For what my view is worth (very little!), I will wholeheartedly support the opening of the Splash Pad as proposed if in fine weather in high summer (June to August) it extends to 7 or 7:30 ... a decision made, perhaps, for each week on the previous Friday with a look at the weather forecast ahead.
In my view, it would be crazy for the Town Council to have spent all that money on the SplashPad then have it closed on long hot summer evenings when it should be of maximum value and use.
Illustrative picture - Splashpad empty. It's lovely when full of children enjoying themselves, but these days people don't want pictures of the kids taken and published
Published Tuesday, 7th February 2023
Proposed updated train serviceDraft train times Swindon - Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge - Westbury
Draft train times for services from 21st May 2023 are online from the industry's open data feeds, and generally accessible via web sites such as Real Time Trains. At this stage, some of the times are still under negotiation between GWR, Network Rail and the Department for Transport. There is also a very brief opportunity for us to highlight issues which we can see could be improved from our local community viewpoint.
Attached picture is my reading of the timetable - may not be perfect as I have had a lot of correlation to do. Please click on the image to see it larger and in a new window.
* Train times will apply unless otherwise stated from 21st May to December 2023. Trains marked "s" are only shown as running until 9th September 2023, the implication being that they will change at that point but there is no data as to how.
* Times shown are public timetable departure times, except for Swindon northbound and Westbury southbound, which are arrival time. Trains usually stop at stations for 1 or 2 minutes.
* Connections are very important but I have not shown them yet. Trains are likely to be adjusted across the network by a few minutes and that will make a big difference to how well this will work; see some comments below
QUESTIONS to the readers of this article
* How does this timetable look for YOU?
* What do you like?
* What do you not like?
* Do you have any suggestions for change?
Please email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (07974 925928), message or let me know anyhow
NOTES and personal comments / thoughts
Monday to Friday
1. The 05:17 Westbury to Swindon is WITHDRAWN. This service was added in December 2019; not one we had requested and we understand it was a train coming off depot it Westbury to start a service in Swindon. Although I have found it useful personally on a number of occasions, it has never been busy, and as there may not be a depot transfer any longer, sad to see it go but I understand why.
2. The train I show at 07:05 from Westbury to Swindon is NOT in the online data - but I think it will appear. It's a key commuter trains to Swindon and then a key schools train on the Stroud Valley. Furthermore, in the current online data a train disappears from the platform at Salisbury at around 06:30, and I suspect it's this train. If this train does not run (or nothing within a few minutes) from May, many of our commuters would not be able to get to work in Swindon or at connections beyond.
3. The 07:45 Westbury to Swindon is about 10 minutes later than the current train. This will probably be welcomed by school traffic to Chippenham. If, however, neither the 05:17 nor the 07:05 run, this would be desperately late for the first train of the day. If the 07:05 runs, on balance this is a good change.
4. The 20:45 Swindon to Westbury becomes the 20:13, and an extra round trip at 21:16 from Westbury and 22:26 from Swindon is added. The extra train is brilliant - opens a whole market that has not been addressed. There may be some concern at the 20:45 moving earlier.
10. Loss of the second morning train to and from Swindon. Probably not a big issue as people are not all that time dependent on a Saturday and will prefer an early start for day trips
11. The extra mid afternoon trains (which swapped trains between Westbury the Stroud Valley) are no more. Leaves a 3 hour gap each way. Not really a problem, as this is the quietest time of the afternoon.
12. The evening 21.17 from Westbury and 22.12 from Swindon are welcome and make for full days out. At last there's a train that lets people get home after a day out on a Saturday and I would ask that these trains and the morning 08:45 from Swindon are not just summer only. They extensions to / from Weymouth might be seasonal.
20. The service as a whole looks good and sensible for all year operation
21. We note a wait of 1 hour in the evening for passengers returning from Weymouth, even though there is a good connection to Weymouth in the morning.
22. We appreciate that on some Sundays there will be engineering works which replace trains by buses and on those days if there is not a through (bus) at Chippenham to and from Swindon, please ensure a good connection both ways for passengers between West Wilts and Swindon
DRAFT TUNING AND CLARIFICATION REQUESTS to GWR in order of importance
a) Please confirm the 07:05 (Monday to Friday) from Westbury. Without it, you will have taken the heart out of the service and cause a serious loss of traffic with all the hardship that brings to regular users.
b) Please check and tune the timetables for reliability of service, including connections, and not for speed of service.
c) We applaud the extra later Monday to Friday train. Please adjust it to connect properly (not just 1 minute) with the 22:25 arrival from London - so leaving Swindon after that train has left for Gloucester / Cheltenham. We understand this will place it about 5 minutes later into Westbury - also an improvement as it will be very clearly NOT a connection onward to Frome, rather than having people take their chance late at night.
d) We applaud the through train to Weymouth and from Weymouth on a Saturday. Please confirm that this train will operate year round between Westbury and Swindon, where it provides vital early and late services on the line
e) A major traffic flow from Melksham is to / from Bristol. Please consider connections at Trowbridge and at Chippenham, with a couple of minutes adjustment to the trains through Melksham if need be, to make for short but reliable connections. Of most importance here - connections to Bristol in the morning, and from Bristol in the afternoon and evening.
e) If you could reduce the wait at Westbury on Sunday for connecting passenger from Weymouth, that would be good, but we appreciate that you're extending the Swindon services to / from Frome to give them an hourly train, so this may not be easy.
This article / question does NOT address issues away from the trains. Having buses that run to the station and connect with the trains is subject to other ongoing work, as is improvements to the underpass between the station and the town.
Neither does this article address questions beyond 2023; services are currently limited by capacity of the line, and the available train. Service has moved from an unusable service a decade ago (with 18,000 journeys a year) to a thin but useable service today (with around 190,000 journeys a year - 10 times more). With an hourly service, analysis suggests that passenger numbers using Melksham station - served only by this line - would be 3 to 5 times higher with just twice the number of trains.
Feedback on the above article would be welcome by 10th February as we have a very limited timeframe in which to make fine tuning inputs for May.
Published Friday, 3rd February 2023
Consultation and other informationThere was been a very strong negative reaction to posts in the last couple of days from readers who have only found out about Town Council plans and consultations after decisions have been made, and feel they have not been listened to with their views and needs considered.
So three things today:
1. What is coming up next Monday (6th) as an example of where you may wish to speak to something. And note the major consultation from 9th on the Town Centre - the "Master Plan" through 2036.
2. Information from the Town Council
3. A reminder that so much is about compromise - the council cannot meet all requests / demands on it. Money has to be spent (or not) wisely, and difficult decisions made which will thrill some and disappoint others.
1. On the agenda for next Monday.
19:30 on 6th February 2023. On the agenda - come along at 19:00 for public participation, join in on Zoom or watch on Facebook.
Tree Planting at Riverside Drive, the KGV Dog Bark, Sandridge Road, Hampshire Place, Williams Drive, Clackers Brook East, Foresters Park and Hornbeam Crescent. How many and what the trees will be.
KGV Park - slide repairs. Splash Pad opening dates and times for 2023; 7th April to 3rd September suggested. Repairs to the waste water pipes from the pavilion. Recommendations of Fencing. Cafe operation - how and when we evaluate bids.
Proposed building works / repairs at KGV Cricket Pavillion, Melksham News Office, Town Hall rear office and garage, Arts Cafe, Assembly Hall, Town Hall.
The Big Spring Clean. This year the dates of the Big Spring Clean are 17 March to 2 April which coincides with a regular Melksham Bloomers Tidy Town Day on Sunday 2 April.
2. Information from the Town Council
Dear Resident of Melksham,
You rightly have an interest in what your Town Council is doing. As a Town Council we want to hear from you in good time so that we can do what you want, learning from your views and expertise. Problem is ... you are limited in the time you have available to read about our plans and inform us, and we have so much information available that it's difficult to make it all available in a way you can find what you need. How should we address this?
We should have at least one "go-to" source of information with easy navigation to help you find what you need, when you need it - with an assurance that the information is there in good time and passed / archived information is clearly dated.
We have no such source, and reaching people is a fragmented nightmare with partial information all over the place, and data turning up far too late for people. It's not simple - not everyone is on-line, fewer are on Facebook, local newspapers (especially here in Melksham) are marvellous but the print technology through people's doors has of necessity to be selective. And within these data sources (even the electronic ones), the way they are set up and maintained is labour intensive.
So - what do we have available as of today
* Town Council Web Site
* Town Council and related Facebook Feeds
* Various independent pages such as community page, shout out and discussions
* Attend meetings (in person or some online)
* Melksham News and other press
* Posters and notice boards
* Councillor blogs such as this one
* Melksham TIC
* Ask your councillor or the Town Council staff
* There are some council (e)mailing lists
Through most of 2022, Town Council staff time has only made very limited data feeds as a shortage of available staff and other issue have taken priority. It's really good to see - at https://www.facebook.com/melksham.town - a refreshed, active, current feed.
By its nature, a Facebook feed (and the same for Twitter, etc) is immediate and transient and not well suited for looking up information. You may look to the Town Council's web site for such data, but you try finding whether the zip wire has been repaired, what's on next weekend at the Assembly Hall, or when you can give your views as to how our riverside should be redeveloped over coming years with the departure of Cooper Tires and the arrival of canal boats ... good luck finding that data. It's probably there - for example Copper Tires was mentioned on pages 149 and 237 of the 542 pages of last Monday's council agenda. So - how to help find the data?
The Virtual Hub Working Group was set up over a year ago, with a timeline of 2 months to come up with a specification, and to be implemented and go live last Autumn. The idea is a single "signposting" site where just about anything about the town can be found, and with a print / format option so news can be easily tailored and provided to those not online, and mailing list / alert options so that people can sign up to be emailed when something of interest to them comes along.
To demonstrate what could be done, I put together a demonstration for the Environment and Climate Working Group last March, but that group decided to defer to the Virtual Hub group, citing the risk of publishing opinions and data on a council site that had not been validated by an officer as a major concern. And for the summer, while awaiting the Virtual Hub, I put together a What's happening today demonstration I ran through the summer.
So where is that signposting? The project like a number of others has inflated from a relatively quick and short term development into something much more complex. The two month spec took six months and when sent out for expressions of interest to web developers generated a load of requests for clarification, which to my knowledge did not happen. And the budget just set for 2023/24 has deferred the project by defunding it. We've saving each precept payer about £3 this year by postponing a system which, realistically can't go live and provide you with better information until winter 2024/25.
I am personally committed to providing information via this blog ( via http://grahamellis.uk/blog.html ) and you can search all my past writings ( via http://grahamellis.uk/search.html ). It's not an answer to all your questions, and it's not the single signposting headline that we need. What we need could be provided if the will was there - and done quite cheaply and quickly (my day job involved such systems and I still look after one that's been running for 16 years on another topic). But it is not a the priority of the team you elected in 2021.
Melksham Town, South Ward
Published Wednesday, 1st February 2023
Town Precept UnchangedA 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