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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Major Planning Applications
Millenium Mosiac
Park (KGV) update
How to reach me
What's Important to YOU?
Thinking forward
MADE for Melksham
Appreciating Volunteers
Vision needed - Melksham
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Some other pages on this site:

Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
Graham Ellis - background and • views
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.

High Pavements

Melksham's "High Pavements" have been a feature of the town from way back in history. In modern times, they would never be allowed to be built like that due to the perceived risk of people falling off them, but generations ago they were. In practise, there have been few accidents recorded, and I would suspect that's because people are very wary of the drop and keep well back. Never the less, the issue of providing some sort of protection has been raised from time to time, and it came up this evening at the Town Council.

A 2004 report looked at providing railings, but concluded that the pavement was too weak to support them and that a strengthening wall would be needed just into the road to provide a firm base. There's also a question as to whether there may be various services running under where a wall would be, and concerns about a narrowing of the road. Indicative costs of £44,000 would probably mean it's somewhere in the region on £100,000 at today's prices for the pavement on the section of Bath Road to the south of the river; the section to the North on the way to the station does not appear to have been considered, nor the section up Union Street.

Tactile strips on the edge of the High Pavement were discussed and whilst they would alert people with limited sight to the pavement edge, such strips normally say "YES, you can cross here" and they could actually encourage people who don't know the town to walk off the edge.

Shops have been discouraged from displaying "A" boards outside to attract customers, and mobility chair users, please, stick to the speed limit and watch out for others. Similarly, if you're pushing a pram, buggies or anything else - hey - look out for others especially here.

No easy solution was seen by your councillors - however, we admitted that none of us is experts and technology has moved on so there may be other options available that were not available two decades ago. As a next step, we have asked our Town Clerk to check around for an update and new options, and we have referred the matter to LHFIG - The local highways and footpaths group with Wiltshire Council who look after small local road schemes. And this should be picked up into the future. It's a councillor lead initiative (Tom Price) and I'm sure Tom will be keeping on top of this.

Published Monday, 17th April 2023

Major Planning Applications

There are two major planning applications that will be discussed at Melksham Without Parish Council (MWPC) and Melksham Town Council (MTC) tomorrow (17 April 2023) evening at 7 p.m. and you are welcome to attend either meeting.


* The requests for permission to built 650 homes, and 300 homes, are both outline rather than detailed requests.

* The decision on these planning applications is made by Wiltshire Council (WC) and not by MWPC or MTC, who's inputs are purely advisory - however, the parishes are heard and their views taken into account.

* Public inputs to the WC planning process are also welcomed

* The decision will be made by a planning officer of Wiltshire Council, unless the Wiltshire Councillor for the ward in which the houses would be built "calls it in" for a public hearing by Wiltshire Councillors acting in view of the advise of their officer.

* The proposed site is in Melksham Without, but close to Melksham Town. On past form, such housing if passed and built is logically a part of Melksham Town, and boundary changes would be likely to transfer it to Melksham Town. It is pure speculation to suggest this will happen in these cases, but it seems quite likely - almost probable.

* The officer or committee of councillors deciding on planning consent are required to assume the plans CAN go ahead, subject to rules and regulations and local plans all being conformed to. Those include but are not limited to Wiltshire's local plan and the Melksham area Neighbourhood plan.

* The planned developments do not fit within the current Neighbourhood Plan, but protection under parts of that expires in a few months once it's 2 years old. A new Neighbourhood Plan is under preparation but it is likely that there will be a gap between the end of the current plan and the full force (but it's not a huge force) of a new one coming in after a public vote. There is also a significant chance of a law change very soon extending the protection of current plans from 2 to 5 years - we are in the hands of the government on that

* Wiltshire Council's local plan is due for revision and there is no 5 year land supply in place at present, which again means that housing developers have a free-er rein in building where they want rather than where MWPC, MTC and WC feel is most appropriate.

The Outcome of the planning application

* If Wiltshire Council AGREES to the outline plans, that's pretty much a done deal. A further set of detailed plans and a further process will be required in de course and it is just possible that building might not go ahead

* If Wiltshire Council REFUSES permission, the developers could appeal to centra government against that decision, they could put in a fresh application, or they could walk away from the whole idea

Fitting new housing into the Melksham Community

* Consideration is needed to ... drainage and flooding ... electric, gas, water, rubbish and sewerage ... schools ... doctors, dentists and other medical service ... shops, sports facilities and other community venues ... road and footpath access ... public transport ... security and safety ... and all of those within the new housing and additionally in their effect on the wider area. For example, will there be enough places on the local schools?

* Some of these issues of fitting into the community need to be looked at and dealt with by the developers and other fall to other bodies.

* Developers may be asked to provide community benefit as part of their development. That's know as "Section 106" and "Community Infrastructure Levy" or CIL. These charges will in effect be added to the sale prices of the houses on the estate, and/or reduce the profit made by the developer.

* Section 106 and CIL need to be specified by Wiltshire Council at the time it grants outline planning permission - later on is too late.

A Strategy for tomorrow evening

* It is highly likely that both MWPC and MTC will object to planning permission being granted due to a number of factors which are documented elsewhere

* However, it is also important that we add requests to Wiltshire Council to require CIL and Section 106 funding should planning permission be granted, and that we specify what that's to be used for as much as we need to.

* If we fail to address both our objections to the scheme AND what we would wish to see if the scheme goes ahead anyway, we will be potentially be missing out for Melksham

And Also

* Melksham is a very welcoming town, and new residents is these houses should they be built will be welcomed as new members of our community and we will look forward to them bringing a new strength to our larger town. Our interest ("meddling"?) with the developer's plans is very much designed to help the town to really be a great place for YOU.

* As is usual, developers and relevant councils have met and informed each other in the processes leading up to this planning application with a view to all working together for commonly sought and welcomed outlines

* The Council meetings at 7p.m. on Monday (MTC in the Town Hall and MWPC in The Campus) start with public participation sections at which any resident of the parish can speak. The public can then observe the rest of the meeting. It is possible for meeting to "suspend orders" to bring in a member of the public during discussions - typically done to clarify a point. As chair of the MTC meeting, I will be minded to support such a suspension to maximise information available to us.

Links (these open in a new window):

* Response of Melksham Without Parish Council to the Public Consultation being run by Gleeson/Origin 3 on Land at Blackmore Farm

* Planning Application on Wiltshire Council site

* Agenda for Town Council meeting

* Zoom link for 19:00 on 17.4.2023 / Town Council meeting

Edited additions

In answer to "at this rate there will be no green space left".

Oh yes there will:
Wiltshire - 348,300 hectares, population 513,000
Housing from 30 - 200 units per hectare
Average 2.3 persons per household
If covered at the lowest density, you'll would fit around 25 million people into Wiltshire. We are at half a million and looking in perhaps 40 years for that to increase to 1 million. That's a 1% per annum growth which is higher than it has been. So 4% of the county for housing. Add 2% for infrastucture and take 2% off for the denser build in town centres ... you've still got 95% of the land in Wiltshire in use, in 2063, as "green fields".

New housing developments are usually built on the outskirts of existing towns and along existing roads, so the perception is that far more land is covered than is actually the case.

In answer to "More cars, more pollution".

Sadly, yes - the proposals for this housing are not along any existing bus route and the layout is not freiendly to the provision of a route through the estatet to service this and other areas economically. It's on the "wrong" side of Melksham to give easy driving access to the roads to Chippenham and the motorway and to Bath, with such traffic havong to do a long three quarter ring around the town, or drive through the already-congested Town Centre.

In answer to "Always the same, no imagination just cover the fields with more concrete."

It's not always the same. Not covering fields with houses on the upside yard at the station, and the Cooper Tires and old library sites will probably bring more housing without covering fields.

Published Sunday, 16th April 2023

Millenium Mosiac

I was asked yesterday evening about the mosaic that was placed in KGV. The background is (here) on the Melksham News site. In summary - a Millenium Mosiac placed in the park, featuring a maze of panels each of which celebrated a local organiastion. In recent years, with the updating of the park, the mosaic has been pleaced in store with the intent of it being re-installed in an appropriate location. And the specification for the sensory garden that came to council earlier this week inlcudes a requirement that it be reinstalled as part of that work.

The mosaic is a wonderful celebration of Melksham - however, after nearly quarter of a century it was showing its age. Some of the organisations involved are no longer with us, others have new images and logos, and many of the people who were active in the original setup are no longer available in fit health to update and maintain it. There are other new organisations too who it would be really good to be able to celebrate; I understand there may be blank panels provided from the start with the view to them being there for the future.

A question - should the mosaic be re-installed with the existing panels and old logos, to celebrate the history and Melksham as it was in 2000, and if so how and by whom will it be looked after for the next 25 years, including the panels represnting organisations / people no longer able to take on that task? Or should it be sympathically updated to reflect new looks and new organisations, with panels being quietly retired?

Taking that second scenario ... retired panels would make an excellent display in a Melksham Museum - perhaps in Melksham House, attracting people to the area and forming the groundwork of our town having things to attract leisure visitors. Waymarking from the park to the museum and vice versa would help raise the Melsham tourist offering - but that's another story.

Published Friday, 14th April 2023

Park (KGV) update

Park Updates - from Assets and Amenites, 11th April 2023

* It is "unlikely" that the splash pad will be open later than 17:00 on longer summer evenings this year "with the current staff compliment"

* The Pavillion Cafe panel was empowered on 5th February, sought expreessions of interests and presentations, and selected a winning bidder who, however, has declined to take up the contract offered. Work is ongoing to make alternative arrangements. Clearly the target date of an initial offering by Easter has been missed, and no information was given of an alternative date.

* The EcoLoos by the pavilion and splashpad will be installed on or by 28th April 2023 and available daytime for use free of charge. It is noted that the first weekend after installation is a Bank Holiday and they are expected to be busy.

* Bids are invited for the first phase of the sensory garden, with separate bids for the removal of spoil dumped on the site. Further work, not necessariy by the same contractor / team is likely to be undertaken the following year based on the framework provided.

* A deposit has been paid for fencing changes around the dog bark to provide a double gate "air trap" and exclude the charry trees, and also to help secure the park from the entry of unauthorised vehicles

* The demolition of the old maintenance shed is to go ahead as soon as possible after final checks have been made that we're clear to do so. There has been concern about the laws on demolishing bat roosts, even though there is zero evidence of the place being used by or suitable for bats.

* The council has received three bids for the supply and installation of lights around the park circuit, and four councillors have been appointed to select which company we award the contract to. There has been concern at the amount of lighting, but it was pointed out that the lights will be motion sensitive. I declined to be on the selection panel as I'm still of the view that we only need 3 or 4 lights and not the fifteen agreed by your council, and the selection panel is not there to change the speciication - just to select the best type and supplier for the fifteeen.

* We look forward to the Shambles Festival on 20th May - running from Midday to 10 p.m. and a rota of town councillors to support this privately run event is being drawn up with a view to having at least one councillor there throughout.

ADDED - And Also:

Wedding Venue - the Town Council asked the Operations Manager to look further into his outline suggestion that the Town Hall be licensed as a venue for civil partnerships and registrations from next year

That Meeting Space - The lease to the Good News Church for the old Art House Café as was has been extended for a further year

Safey Audit - Three councillors were appointed to a new Health and Safety Working Group

Clean Up - As a follow up to the meeting, a request has been received by councillors to wash up dirty cups and glasses after meetings rather than leaving them for staff. This has resulted in further conversations between councillors and staff.

Published Wednesday, 12th April 2023

How to reach me

I am delighted at the response to my personal Melksham Town Councillor survey at - please keep the inputs coming. Not only am I getting a significant number of responses, but their shape / pattern clearly shows a great deal of thought being put in. For just for another day or two, I am not even hinting at early results to encourage further responses unsullied responses.

What I will do, though, is to start to address some of the issued raise in the free text boxes. Let's start with "Thank you for the very useful information you regularly provide. Have you considered a regular newsletter in Melksham Independent News, to reach those not using Facebook?". Good question.

I have (and continue) to review how best to inform and reach people. And you are right that I should look to reach people in lots of different ways, because different people receive different inputs. I recall being on the SCOB (Shadow Campus Operations Board) where we wanted to keep the whole community informed and we had ten (I kid you not) different channels but still got people complaining that weren't informing them.


* There is a limit as to what an individual councillor can do. Both in terms of time, and in terms of what (s)he's willing to spend. Remember than the TOWN councillor role is a volunteer one - we are unpaid and do not get expenses; the best we get is the loan of a council tablet if we wish, and the occasional cup of tea or coffee and if we're lucky cakes or a sandwich when we're doing general volunteer work.

* The council as a whole has a communications feed, staff and a budget to inform. I hope you have seen huge improvements there in the last six months or so, thanks to our team - I have. But that feed does not / cannot convey individual councillor communications. However, there's is a limit here too - the information hub project which had the intent o providing all the town information in one place started at the start of last year with an intent to be running by the autumn, but stalled and has been defunded for the next financial year as part of costcutting to keep the precept down. It has been commented that's it's unlikely you'll see anything before early 2025.

And so ... you will hear from me regularly:

* Via Facebook -

* On my blog, where I have written some 260 articles in 2 years. You can search at

* During council meetings, you are welcome to attend in public, or via Zoom or on the council's Facebook feed.

Irregularly, you will also hear:

* Twitter, LinkedIn, Nextdoor. And other Facebook Groups too

* In the Melksham News where I do something they consider newsworthy enough (and I do think of telling them when I do things so they are not in the dark).

* Where there's a local consultation or survey, you'll often find me helping with running it and meeting people, and I'm often to be found at events like the Christmas Lights, Assembly Hall Quiz nights, the Coronation event, River and Food Festival and so on. Happy to talk - I'm largely there to meet people

You are also welcome to make contact:

* Phone, email or social media

* In person - my home address is on this page an no secret; if you "just pop round" you are taking a chance because I tend to be out and about a lot.

* Stop me in the street or park, in the shops, or on the bus or at the station. (Photos - from a walk-around yesterday, 10th April 2023)

Where I am not normally to be found:

* I am not spending my personal money on bulk printed infomation - be that for a regular piece in the local paper or door to door literature, though I did withing the strict legal limits in the lead up to my election in 2021. Nor am I seeking sponsorship or political group backing to promote.

* I won't be on other social media - it's too easy to spread too thinly and to leave outdated stuff behind, or not respond to messages in obscure mailboxes

* I tried a regular Zoom session - open to anyone who wanted to come at a fixed time. Sorry, but once the excitement of the 2021 election was over interest dried up. I AM happy to chat by appointment on Zoom.

* Physical limitations mean that you're unlikely to find me going things like flower or litter duty, or passenger surveys, any longer.

And to summarise my role:

I am just one of fifteen Melksham Town (Parish) councillors elected summer of 2021 for 4 years to represent various parts of the town on the council. Along with three others (Jon Hubbard, Colin Goodhind and Jacqui Crundell) I represent the "South" ward which is most of the Town Centre and the area to the south as far as the A350 / bypass and the A365 Devizes Road. I do NOT represent Berryfield, Bowerhill or The Spa which are part of a quite separate parish council - Melksham Without - but there is a big crossover between the area; we are no longer separate villages except from an admin viewpoint, and we work together on many issues for the common outcome.

The Town Council looks after parks, allotments, the Assembly Hall, some street scene, etc. ... we are also advisory on the future direction of the town, making comment to planning applications and through the neighbourhood plan on the town's future direction. However, we are dwarfed by Wiltshire Council, to whom you (the council tax payer) each contribute some ten times what we ask from you. So for many things, you'll be looking to your Wiltshire Councillor where (in the south ward) you are represented by Jon Hubbard. Your Wiltshire councillor - with his much greater area of responsibilites - does get some income from Wiltshire Council to help him in his role, so feel free to trouble him. None of your Town Councillors receive any funding for that role - however, we all have a love of the town and are happy to give our volunteer time. Colin and I live in the ward and the other two not far away, so we have (or should have) the local knowledge. Even if we are not the right person to raise something with, we can help direct you as appropiate.

Health facilites, schools, shops, care in the community, taxis, buses, trains ... all things that come up and where as councillors we have little or or no formal mandate, and in some cases little influence. We can, though, help air overall views and often offer explanations and pointers, and also help set an environment in which these things develop in a positive way.

Published Tuesday, 11th April 2023

What's Important to YOU?

Half way through my term as a Melksham Town Councillor. I feel that as a town council we have plenty of ideas but still no long term vision. We have done some good work, but we have much more we could do, and we need to prioritise both time and money in a way that benefits the medium to long term, and not just the views of our own term until we stand (if we wish) for re-election the year after next.

Which of these are IMPORTANT to you?
Which of these are IN NEED OF ATTENTION?

I am not just asking the question - I am asking you to tell me. Information entered will be used to inform me. I hope to use it to produce some overall views and trends which I may share, but personal data will NOT be shared.

* If you feel something is important, please check that box. That's to let me know what your priorties are, even if they are running sweetly at present.

* If you feel there's a need for action on something, please check that box. That's to let me know if it's something you feel the council should be taking a look at ... I will see if you have ticked the "important" box too as I prioritise things.

With some things we can help directly ... others are outside our control, but we can make inputs that will help persuade other authoritise.

Important; Action needed - * Affordable Housing
Important; Action needed - * Allotments
Important; Action needed - * Assembly Hall
Important; Action needed - * BMX Track
Important; Action needed - * Bank(s)
Important; Action needed - * Bench - "Happy to Chat"
Important; Action needed - * Better Information
Important; Action needed - * Better cycle routes
Important; Action needed - * Buses
Important; Action needed - * Bypass
Important; Action needed - * CCTV
Important; Action needed - * Cafe in Park
Important; Action needed - * Canal
Important; Action needed - * Carnival
Important; Action needed - * Christmas Lights
Important; Action needed - * Council Staff who are available
Important; Action needed - * Councillors who listen and inform
Important; Action needed - * Councillors with skill and time
Important; Action needed - * Dog Bark
Important; Action needed - * Ecoloos
Important; Action needed - * Electric Cars
Important; Action needed - * Employment
Important; Action needed - * Environment including Climate
Important; Action needed - * Flowers and Floral
Important; Action needed - * Friends Garden
Important; Action needed - * Grants to other organisations
Important; Action needed - * Housing estate growth
Important; Action needed - * Hydroelectic scheme
Important; Action needed - * Lighting in Park
Important; Action needed - * Litter
Important; Action needed - * Lower service / lower precept budget
Important; Action needed - * Maintenance Shed
Important; Action needed - * Melksham Civic Centre
Important; Action needed - * Melksham House
Important; Action needed - * Memorial Benches
Important; Action needed - * Museum for Melksham and our heritage
Important; Action needed - * Nature reserve
Important; Action needed - * Naturist Park
Important; Action needed - * Neighbourhood Plan
Important; Action needed - * Parking - around schools
Important; Action needed - * Parking - in Town
Important; Action needed - * Party in Park
Important; Action needed - * Pedestrianise
Important; Action needed - * Play Areas
Important; Action needed - * Play sessions in the park
Important; Action needed - * Riverside Site
Important; Action needed - * Riverside Walk
Important; Action needed - * Sensory Garden
Important; Action needed - * Speeding and ratruns
Important; Action needed - * Splashpad
Important; Action needed - * Street Cleaning
Important; Action needed - * Town Toilets
Important; Action needed - * Trains
Important; Action needed - * Village / Ward halls
Important; Action needed - * Volunteer Support
Important; Action needed - * Walking routes and paths
Important; Action needed - * Wedding Venue
Important; Action needed - * Zipwire and slide
- Please tell me your postcode (so that I know if you're a resident / where your concerns are)

The following are OPTIONAL - if you want me to follow up, please add ...
- Your name
- Your email address or other preferred contact
- any additional areas?
- and any other comments?

Please when completed

Your help and guidance is very much appreciated - thank you.

* Inputs always welcome - this survey will be open at least until 30th April 2023, but I will be reading results as they come in

* Please get in touch / ask me about any of the things in that LONG list above if you want to ask or say more

* Your inputs here are to me as a councillor and not to the Town Council as a whole.

Published Sunday, 9th April 2023

Thinking forward

Later today, I get back to Melksham having been away for over a month - physically away, though on line every day and getting (somewhat) our local news. Over the weekend, I'll be catching up on Town Council issues - reading in and speaking with fellow councillors. I know that amongst other topics will be the Assembly Hall, the Cafe in KGV Park, staffing issues, Neighbourhood Plan, the Environment and Climate Group, Coronation Weekend and which councillors want what roles for the next year. The motion to move forwards towards a possible purchase of Melksham House which was raised with incredibly little time for thought at the extraordinary council meeting late last month has also filled my thoughts - I was able to watch that unfold, though not vote, via the public access zoom. I look forward to reading the minutes from that full meeting, including the confidential session at the end.

My Facebook Timeline came up with a memory the other day of 2 years ago when I announced my intent to stand for election as one of your councillors in Melksham South Ward. An opportune time to stop, think, review - exactly half way throught the four year term for which (thank you, I am honoured), you elected me for. And to think about what I want to do for the next two years. I have my thoughts, but it would be premature of me to share them until I have validated their sanity against the veritable floor of extra data I'll be wallowing in over the weekend, and during next week when some of our staff team will be available to answer questions.

I can give you some of my underlying personal thoughts - I suspect other councillors ask themselves too. They include "what am I still capable of?", "what do I have time to do?", "what will I enjoy doing?", "what else do I want to do?", "what else should I be doing?" and "can I stand the fire of the council kitchen?" Then within those thoughts, "what is the most helpful for Melksham, places and people I love and things I believe in?"

Published Thursday, 6th April 2023

MADE for Melksham

Melksham and District Entertainment - MADE for you. We are a Community Interest Company offering - from January 2026 ...
* Orchestral Entertainment and recitals in the Blue Room (formerly the Blue Pool)
* Stage acts in the Alford Hall (formerly the Assembly Hall)
* Swimming, dry side sporting activities and creche in the Hubbard Hall (formery the Campus)
* Library and Museum in Melksham House

All these facilities and venues are on the Melksham Campus, with pedestrianised entrance off the Market Place through Melksham House Gates. On your right, reception for the Blue Room (to the left of the new lobby area) and Alford Hall (to the right of the new lobby). Ahead and to your right is Melksham House, and ahead and to your left is Hubbard Hall. The Campus sight also houses the bowling club, the tennis club and the cricket club. Main vehicle access is from Orchard Gardens, and egress from via Place Road, and a new access is available from the A350 to the rear of the site to additional parking that helps keep vehicles away from the Town Centre.

Eat before your event at one our sponsoring partner in town ... Market Tavern, Refa Tandoori, Cornerstone, Henry's, King's Arms, Hiding Place, West End Malay food, Melksham Tandoori, The Bear, The Grapes, Casa and Devana Thai.

We would also like to thank Melksham Town Council (our landlords at Alford Hall and the Blue Room), Melksham Without Parish Coucil, Wiltshire Council (our landlords at Hubbard Hall and Melksham House) and the Swindon and Wiltshire LEP for their help in getting this leisure and entertainment hub off the ground, and the lottery fund for their generous grant support. Without your enthusiastic support, this vibrant new entertainment (and operationally self supporting) centre could not be taking shape.

Events will take place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening from mid January to the end of July and from September to the week before Christmas, and with carriages at 10:45 and 11:15 each night offering homebound travel to neighbouring towns. These events will be booked by the CIC working with promoters and we are keen to be in touch with promoters and other groups of both estabished an new acts. Regular clubs and meetings will take place in our venues too which are available for hire for the rest of the week too - old favourites such as roller disco, jazz club and model car club and new events too. Alford Hall and the Blue Room can each accomodate over 400 people and we look forward to the return of major Melksham institutions such as TrainWest - formerly held at the Christie Miller Sports Centre - in coming years taking both venues.

OK - It's 1st April and I post this as a light hearted "April Fool" contribution - and yet - why not? Let's make a business case for an excellent entertainment centre in the heart of Melksham. Let's run it as a charity and CIC to allow it to be practical largely with enthuiastic volunteers on a not-for-profit basis and let's really meet the needs of the community. Why not? If YOU reading this are a Wiltshire or Melksham Town Councillor, please add your support.

Published Saturday, 1st April 2023

Appreciating Volunteers

THANK YOU to all the volunteers who do so much for us in Melksham Town.

We have a wonderful community here, and this evening some special people in that community will be thanked for what they have done for the town and its people at the mayor's reception and awards. I was honoured to be on the panel that recommended awards to the mayor, and would like to congratulate each and every person receiving an award. Names are not being widely published until tonight.

The panel was delighted to receive so many nominations and be able to make quite a number of awards this year. As a panel member, I would also like to add my appreciation to the wider group in the Melksham area who do so much for us. There are so many that it's just not possible to mention them all, and the guidelines of the awards means that a number of worthy volunteering people and anyone who is remunerated by the Town Council, cannot be included.

Have a good evening, everyone. And again THANK YOU for what you do for the town - whether or not you are receiving an award. You - wider group - get my personal THANK YOU.

Published Friday, 31st March 2023

Vision needed - Melksham

Future use of Melksham House? Future use of Assembly Hall? Future use of Old Bank Building? Let's take a step wider and look at the whole picture. Melksham needs a vision. We don't have one. And It needs an expert resource available to help guide and set that vision for the town and its residents as a business. We don't have one.

We did have these things but:

* We declared our business development manager redundant in spring 2021, and lost an excellent person who worked tirelessly for the town. That was a sad council meeting, held in the Assembly Hall with most councillors only given papers on what we were about to do once we went into secret session.

* We failed as a council to pick up the excellent "Priority for People" work from the previous council, and the working out of what we need has faded. The reports are there, we do have the background data if we need it - and indeed I have personally made use of it to inform at suggest what we should be doing on transport, but I should not be alone in developing it and doing so wider than my transport niche.

* We held a visioning day in the summer of 2021, soon after we were elected, to help us put a long term strategy in place. That work, as far as I can see, has been parked in the sidings since then. And as time passes, other things happen and what we all said that day is getting harder to remember and it would be difficult for anyone to pick up the notes.

* From late 2021 and continuing, a great deal of councillor and staff resource has been put into Human Resource matters, with paid and volunteer representative members having a major pull on their time in working these matters through. I would expect an element of this sort of thing at any work place and I am not at liberty to share detail. I can tell you that a great deal of my personal time has been diverted from working for Melksham's future, and that in the financial year just ending we had spend our whole HR consultancy budget in a matter of months, and I estimate we will have spend 5 times what we allowed when the final 2022/23 accounts are produced. I know other have put in a massive amount of time too - and much of that is time lost to other council activities.

* In May of last year (2022), I was elected to be chair of the council's Economic Development and Planning Committee. The main businesses of this committee is to make recommendations on planning applications, to review and promote minor road and footpath projects, and to steer the Town Stewards and Sparkle Team in where to direct their resource limited town clean activities. "Econ Dev" should also be looking out for the longer term strategy, but I will admit to progress being frustratingly slow and uninformed without available officer expertise.

* I am delighted that we asked people in February and March for their inputs on the Town Centre Master Plan to inform the Neighbourhood Plan. My huge thanks to Teresa Strange and Linda Roberts for their work in setting this up and staffing. A couple of Town Councillors as well as myself staffed the stakeholder consultation days. Sad to say I was the only Town Councillor who was there through the following three days which the general public was encouraged to attend. I learned a very great deal - kept busy all the time, as were Teresa and Linda, and a "thank you" to the Melksham Without councillors who helped.

* The Neighbourhood Plan steering group meeting scheduled for Wednesday (29th March 2023) was postponed into April and has now been pushed back into May. One of the inputs will be from that consultation, where "Cluster 1" inputs give us direction as to what people want for the area of Melksham Market Place and the Melksham House site.

* The Environment and Climate is fundamental to our long term. But the ECWG (Working Group) lost several members including its chair in February (in frustration, I believe) and then - although the active members all liaised by email - no meeting was set up for March and our staff sent out a cancellation notice around 48 hours before the meeting was due. Again, a poor outcome when looking at what our vision should be.

* Looking forward in the park, bids were sought to run the cafe for forthcoming year and there was excellent interest, including some really good bids. The working group made a decision last month (February) as to who to appoint, but in spite of that being an excellent proposal that the bidders had clearly put a huge effort into, that bidder withdrew in early March. I only heard about the withdrawal in the last 10 days and councillors were asked for ideas in confidence - I have made a suggestion and been thanked for it, but at this stage I don't know where we stand. I would be amazed if planned opening - even as a pop-up initially - happen, but I hope to be amazed. It could be done in the way.

... so now we have very, very limited vision and it feels that - apart from the existing Neighbourhood Plan which looses some of its teeth in July - we are flying by the seat of our pants without looking ahead at the long term strategy

It's not all bad news in terms of taking note of the public - the year after next, your 15 Town Councillors offer themselves to you for re-election. So you'll start to see (you may already have done so) more popular proposals coming through, and your councillors wishing to engage with and actively support projects which are popular. And projects which can be completed (or at least started or promised) by May 2025.

We do, though, need a vision beyond in my opinion. The Town Centre Master Plan and Neighbourhood plan are good tools for some of that. The Town Council should step in line alongside that with its own vision. I live in hope that it will do so, but I'm far from certain that it will. We need to reduce the time and money we spend on HR; we should be able to do so with a line in the sand and a motivational lead to form us back into a team. We need to put together a proper council strategy looking forward for 5, 10 or 15 years like we are doing for the Neighbourhood Plan and Town Centre Masterplan.

Contention over "Cluster 1" - The Campus, Melksham House, The Blue Pool, The Assembly Hall, The Town Hall and the old Lloyds Bank building - has lead me to write the background above. Melksham Town Council has decided to enter serious negotiations with Wiltshire Council with a view to purchasing Melksham House (28.3.2023, extraordinary meeting). This indicates that your councillors present and it favour at that meeting have serious intent, but not that the issue will be concluded with a successful purchase.

So what does it need - it needs the Town Council to come up with a serious business plan for the future of resources it will continue to own, and for the disposal of buildings it no longer requires. And it then needs (if the Public Works Loan Board is asked to lend us money) clear public support for the scheme. Much information on what's wanted is there already - from last month's Town Centre Masterplan inputs and from the Town Council's need survey for the Assembly Hall which ran at the end of last year, and has yet to be properly considered.

On my return (I'm out of town until Easter), I'll be asking our Mayor, our Town Clerk, and the leaders of the two groupings on the council to work with me on "Econ Dev" to produce options for the business plan, and the plan itself. I may find myself out of step with them all and not re-appointed as the chair of that committee - or even a member of it - in May. We are headed for an interesting spring.

Published Thursday, 30th March 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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