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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Melksham House - Important Questions
My "important" and "action" Melksham survey - RESULTS
Melksham Councillor Changes
Melksham's trains - then, now, future
High Pavements
Major Planning Applications
Millenium Mosiac
Park (KGV) update
How to reach me
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Some other pages on this site:
Home page and • town diary
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.

New Town Councillors?


I have seen comment of "we need an election and new councillors" and stronger criticism of councillors about being uncaring, secretive, unavailable, not solving issues. In my personal view, no, we don't need new elections, at least wholesale. Let me tell you why.

Fifteen of us were elected 2 years ago for a four year term. Thirteen of us had not been on the previous council and eleven were, I believe, parish councillors for the first time. In common, we knew that we had / have four years to fulfil the role we were elected for. And that means learning, then researching, then making difficult and informed decisions, and then implementing those decisions. It would be a truly extraordinary situation to go back to "step 1" again replacing the whole bunch again half way through the cycle.

For the most part, no, your councillors are not uncaring. They may be having to make or support difficult decisions that personally disadvantage you but benefit others. They may have no authority or ability to influence on various matters, and so be seen to taking no action in that area, or may be shot down as being the messenger who says "cannot help".

For the most part, no, your councillors are not secretive. There are times that things need to be looked at behind closed doors - issues involving personal privacy of staff, councillors and everyone else. Commercial matters where bids are invited and must be kept confidential during the process. Problems which are flagged up and being solved before our team worries the public - for example "problem - who's going to man the splashpad the weekend after next" is best kept between ourselves when we can expect our staff to find a solution. Then there's the little matter of councillors receiving dozens of pages of data daily and not being secretive with it, but rather having to be selective as to what they pass on.

For the most part, no, your councillors are not unavailable. But please bear in mind that we are all volunteers. The majority of town councillors are in full time employment, and others of us are at an age where we have plenty of experience but are slowing down. I am impressed by the commitment to their role, and the tie they give to it, by most of my colleagues. Forgive us, please, if you don't find us as available as you would wish. We are un(der)trained, unpaid and have other lives to live. That's the system and looking around the council chamber, you would be hard pressed to find a new bunch of people who routinely give so much thought and time to both public stuff which is the visible tip of an iceberg and all the backroom work.

15 people. 8 elected on a "Together for Melksham" platform. 5 elected on a "Conservative" platform. 1 elected on a "LibDem" platform. Adds up to 14; I stood on my own platform in the full knowledge that it wasn't an easy route. I always was and remain happy to work with everyone and anyone else where I (and people I "talk" to in Melksham) have similar goals. But views and goals do differ on a minority of issues across the chamber, and you have a number of strong personalities who will do everything within their legal power to make decisions go their way. That may mean bringing proposals forward at short notice to reduce debate, and it may mean being seated on then resigning from a committee to slow down its work. Such things make progress much slower than it would be if we were a commercial company, a charity or a CIC, but then that's the price of us being democratic not a dictatorship. Yes, it's frustrating at times.

OK - very "internal looking" today - in summary, in my view you have a good crew of councillors and wouldn't do better if you ousted them. Please let them get on with their job, and look forward to giving your verdict two years from now. In the meantime, PLEASE tell us what you think as we do our job (that survey I've been running has been really useful to inform me, as is talking to people on a daily basis.

Still want a new crew or some replacements this year? Tough - you can't demand that (well you can, but your demand will have no way it can be implemented. See Towncouncillor.com:
""If you're hoping for a procedure to oust a councillor, I'm afraid you're out of luck! A councillor becomes disqualified only for limited reasons. The main ones are failure to attend meetings without reason for six months, becoming bankrupt or being sentenced to at least three months imprisonment (even if suspended). They can also become disqualified in relation to corrupt or illegal practices, or by becoming a paid officer of the council.""
""However, citizens do have the right to call a parish meeting, which requires 10 signatures. A parish meeting can be called to discuss any local matter, and can pass resolutions. These are not binding in all but a few specific cases, but will have some impact as expressing local feeling.""

Personally, I believe myself to be caring, and as open and available as is practical within my current and waning capabilities. Not all my colleagues agree; I have been told to "check my moral compass" by one of them. I have done so and found it, in my view, in order. But, yes, please tell me where you disagree; I abhor the activities that have resulted in one of my colleagues feeling bullied and to the extent that she has resigned but at the same time we need to know if you feel we are not doing a good job.

Footnote - there will be an opportunity for the electorate in the East Ward to replace Louisa Lewis who has stepped down. If 10 or more voter in the ward write in and ask for an election, there will be one. If there is not that request, volunteer to fill the seat may be sought and the remaining 14 councillors will chose which volunteer they want. Even though an election is an expense to the Town Council, I would like to see an election as it's the opportunity to bring in fresh blood and to test the view of the electorate, and it gives the person elected a mandate an authority far stronger than the mandate of a co-option.


Published Wednesday, 26th April 2023

Melksham House - Important Questions

On 28th March 2023, Melksham Town Council held an extraordinary meeting to conduct urgent business. The main business was agenda item 5.1 - a motion worded as follows: "Members are requested to resolve that the council enters negotiations with Wiltshire Council and makes an offer to Wiltshire Council to purchase Melksham House. Members are further requested to set a limit of not less than £2,000,000 for the purchase of Melksham House." Full motion ((here))

I watched the meeting, open mouthed at what was happening, online from my holiday. The meeting was called at such short notice that I was not only booked but actually away when the date was added to our councillor's diary.

Yesterday, four weeks later (24th April 2023), I went to view the meeting minutes. Not received. Looked on the council web site to read them there as public record. Not there. So I checked with the Town Clerk. "I haven’t got round to doing them yet. I am slowly working my way through several sets of minutes. I will get them done as soon as I can. Apologies they are later than normal". So for the residents who asked what the official outcome of that urgent meeting was and how it's being followed up, my answer is "I don't know yet". Which at first seems extraordinary for a special meeting called at short notice. I do have sympathy with our town clerk who is short staffed

Personally, I try to write up notes and meetings soon after the meeting. Firstly I find that's easy to do accurately while it's fresh in my mind. Secondly, it allows actions agreed to be kicked off without delay. Happy memories of the way Phil McMullen does things - Chamber of Commerce, TransWilts CRP - now with Westbury Town Council and still very much around and a really good public transport friend. What works for Phil is typing in notes during the meeting, and continuing afterwards to lick them into draft minute shape, circulated long before we wake up next morning. I appreciate we can't have Utopia at the Town Council at the moment, with the clerk having to deal with other urgent matters (such as another meeting!!) directly following. But wouldn't it be great?

Forget the haste with which this extra meeting was called.
Forget the motion not being available until the minutes before it was discussed.
Forget that some of the motion support text/information is questionable.
Forget the absence of half of the ward councillors for Melksham House.
Forget that councillors had to make guesses during discussions.
Forget the lack of draft minutes a month later.
Forget any further feedback to councillors (me, anyway) about seeing the place.
Forget the key speaker being the Wilts Cabinet member for properties.
Forget the failure to call the Melksham House Working group set up in February.
Forget the lack of feedback from the Town Centre Masterplan consultation.

Forget all these things; they WILL be forgotten in a month or two.
Look instead at why the Town Council might wish (or not wish) to purchase Melksham House and the consequences.
* What would the Town Council do with it?
* What would the business case be?
* What would be the effect on our council tax?
* Would we need or choose to cut or sell something else back to fund it?
* What do our electorate want?
* What would happen to Melksham House if the Town Council don't buy it?
* Is the Town Council in competition for a purchase or letting by Wiltshire Council?


In my view, it makes sense for the Town Council to carefully consider the opportunity to buy Melksham House. That was resolved in February. It does not make sense for us to have committed to making an offer, site unseen, and without clear answers to the questions I have raised just above. Our consideration, in co-operation with Wiltshire Council, should be "post haste" to ensure that public money is not wasted in an inappropriate fitting out which then has to be redone to meet out needs.

I look forward to actually seeing the site and getting on with the jobs, and not sitting in the doldrums of waiting for minutes while, perhaps, one or two others who are Town Councillors take their agendas forward.



Published Tuesday, 25th April 2023

My "important" and "action" Melksham survey - RESULTS

Preliminary survey results - What is important to YOU in Melksham? Where do you feel that action is needed? Survey at http://grahamellis.uk/blog829.html

A seed of caution to readers of these results - these results are from a self-selecting set of respondents who happen to have seen my blog, but that's only a seed not a bush or tree of caution, as it's my "constituency" telling me what they feel is important, and the very fact you have filled it in shows your thought and engagement.

There have been 70 submissions made to the survey, with 23 respondents adding extra comment in the "free text" box. Each of those read and they provide valuable extra input; many answered in person, or in other blog articles - but not today to avoid this becoming overlong. 1266 individuals "important" and 705 individual "action needed" boxes have been ticked.

Click on the graphic to see it full window; it include all 57 varieties of things I asked about

The columns are as follows:
1. Ranking (I have sorted by "Which of these is important to you" column)
2. Number of people out of 70 who things that this item is in need of attention
3. Number of people out of 70 who indicates this is important to them
4. How many more people think this is important than think we need to take action
5. The activity / feature description

Reading the first lines as examples:

Christmas light are important to 39 out of 70 people surveyed, but only 4 people (that's 35 less than feel they are important) think the council needs to take action on them

A Cafe in the Park is important to 36 out of 70 people surveyed, and 29 think we need to do something about it! (Since people responded, Craig has arrived and I suspect the need for action would be much lower just 2 weeks later)

It's important for (36) people to that they have Councillors who listen inform; qute a few people (16) think we need to take action to improve this.

1 4 39 35 - Christmas Lights
2 29 36 7 - Cafe in Park
3 16 36 20 - Councillors who listen and inform
4 5 36 31 - Flowers and Floral
5 27 35 8 - Town Toilets
6 18 34 16 - Trains
7 16 34 18 - Affordable Housing
8 22 33 11 - Assembly Hall
9 21 33 12 - Parking - in Town
10 17 33 16 - Walking routes and paths
11 20 32 12 - Litter
12 12 32 20 - Street Cleaning
13 25 31 6 - Parking - around schools
14 16 31 15 - Councillors with skill and time
15 15 30 15 - Canal
16 18 29 11 - Buses
17 16 29 13 - Environment including climate
18 13 29 16 - Nature reserve
19 23 27 4 - CCTV
20 20 27 7 - Better cycle routes
21 11 27 16 - Council Staff who are available
22 7 27 20 - Riverside Walk
23 18 25 7 - Museum for Melksham
24 18 23 5 - Melksham House
25 13 23 10 - Employment
26 12 23 11 - Carnival
27 9 22 13 - Riverside Site
28 9 22 13 - Neighbourhood Plan
29 22 21 -1 - Bank(s)
30 13 21 8 - Play Areas
31 9 21 12 - Sensory Garden
32 6 21 15 - Better Information
33 24 20 -4 - Speeding and Ratruns
34 17 20 3 - Lighting in Park
35 3 20 17 - Volunteer Support

Topics which were felt to be important by fewer than 20 people than those above in my sample were (in order): Splashpad ; Play sessions in the Park ; Allotments ; Friends Garden ; Party in Park ; Hydroelectic scheme ; Grants to other organisations ; Bypass ; Bench "Happy to Chat" ; Housing estate growth ; Dog Bark ; Ecoloos ; Electric Cars ; Village / Ward halls ; Pedestrianise ; Memorial Benches ; Lower service / lower precept budget ; BMX Track ; Zipwire and slide ; Maintenance Shed ; Melksham Civic Centre ; Wedding Venue

I am conscious:

* that some of the items on this list (I note the maintenance shed for example) are not important to the typical respondent but may be very important to the council. The presence (or absence) of a proper base for our ground staff may not be on the typical voter's radar - at least until it goes wrong.

* that "no action" probably means "continue what you are doing" - the low action score for things like Christmas Lights and Volunteer Support is a real credit to folks like Miriam who have taken such a lead on these things.

* sadly, longer term stuff which I consider important does not make the public headlines. History might suggest that things like housing estate growth and village halls only become individually important once plans are made. I do take comfort from just how busy we were at the Town Centre master plan consultation, and just how good a response we got from the public in "Priority for People".

* no mention above of doctors, dentists, schools ... some people wrote them in. I have asked only about things where the Town Council and / or myself as a Councillor (wearing other hats too) have an ability to help with actions or to make informed and effective inputs. With the medical and education stuff - yes it is important, but way above my pay grade and/or knowledge base to be listed to.



Published Monday, 24th April 2023

Melksham Councillor Changes

This weekend, news has broken of one Town Councillor switching to being "Conservative" and another resigning. Both were elected on the independent "Together for Melksham" ticket in May 2021, and it's their first time on the Town Council. The reaction to these two significant departures from your ranks of independent Town Councillors on social media has been incredibly different.

In East Ward, Louisa Lewis's departure - explained in her resignation letter (copied in the MIN) she said, "This decision comes after experiencing persistent bullying from some councillors and staff members of the Town Council, causing me significant distress. I had hoped that volunteering as a town councillor would be a positive experience, but unfortunately, it has been far from it. I have personally been attacked and belittled in public, and my efforts have been met with resistance rather than support." She also said "I am going to be able to work in the community without the restrictions of being a councillor. I will have more time to spend on community projects and will be able to participate in community-led activities. I love Melksham town and am committed to working hard for and with the residents." Pink on the right of the map

In the Forest Ward, Jack Oatley states "I have taken a very considered decision to become a Conservative councillor because after two years of sitting as an independent councillor I was becoming frustrated by a lack of progress in getting action for my residents and a lack of confidence in the Together for Melksham grouping under whose banner I was elected. I feel my views align with my Conservative colleagues in Melksham and I feel I can get more done for my residents as a member of the ruling group on Wiltshire Council. I am still the voice of Melksham Forest. I am just doing it now with a bigger group, a bigger party behind me who will champion me. I will continue to champion my residents as a Conservative member." Dark Green on map

The pressures of the role of a Parish Councillor (and I would assume in Jack's role as a County Councillor too) are enormous. My wife Lisa stood for the previous Town Council as part of a grouping. She was persuaded to do so being told that it would just involve half a dozen full council meetings a year and being on a couple of committees. In my standing this time, I chose to stand independently but spoke and took advice from dear friends with a long political history. That advice confirmed that I would need a thick skin, a great deal of time, the patience of Job, and that I would be on show even when walking into town to pick up a takeaway. I had been on a similar circuit for years, having been involved in transport campaigning so I knew what to expect - otherwise it would have been unimaginable, and I really feel for both Louisa and Jack's issues, though not in a position to do much more than tell them that.

Four years is a short time to get monolith projects through the treacle, but a very long time indeed to stick to your direction planned in a short (six week) election campaign, especially as you learn into the job which is incredibly different to what you were sold. You learn about everything from yellow lines to speed cameras, from the finances of running an event venue to deciding how much money to raise from your tax payers and where to spend it, and from defining a sensory garden, and learning the best time of year to plant trees to staffing and volunteer support procedures. And as you learn these things, your view becomes clearer and you may change your mind on things. So, really, half way through your term is an appropriate time to take stock and to ask yourself "What now?".

I have been asking myself "what am I doing [here]?" I know of at least three other councillors in addition to Jack and Louisa who have given indication to the councillor group that they are alse reviewing their position. And perhaps Jack and Louisa are the brave ones here who are actually making a change.

Louisa over her two years has generated nothing but admiration in her ward for her effective work. As you'll see from the quotes above from her resignation letter, she has felt it distressingly the opposite from some councillors and staff members, to the extent that she has decided to leave. Social media, in all its normal cruelty, has stepped above that norm and is both wishing Louisa well and very much looking forward to working with her in a redefined role for Melksham.

Jack has generated a lot of flack in his change. In 2021, 519 people voted for him as an independent on Wiltshire Council. 397 voted for Pat Aves as Lib Dem and 375 voted for Claire Forgacs as Conservative. If I were Claire, perhaps I would be concerned at this candidate being elected on one ticket and then usurping hers. If you are one of the 519 voters who chose Jack rather than a Conservative, you might be in wonderment, especially (as I understand it) if one of the reasons that Jack has switched is to be in with that ruling party.

On the Town Council, the situation is different. It's much more about personality rather than party. Five out of six candidates in the Forest were elected, and the election label has proven to be far more of a guide than a grouping. As a Town Councillor, I'm just as happy with Jack if he choses to label himself as "Together for Melksham", "Independent" or "Conservative" provided that he listens to the electorate in his ward and responds to and works with them and his four elected colleagues. I look forward to working with Jack over the next 2 years.



I (Graham Ellis) commented earlier that two years in, and with some of the incredible things that have been going on and are not unique to Jack and Louisa, many of us have reviewed. I have too. I have asked myself "what am I doing here?".

I remain an independent Town Councillor. I remain a lover of the town, if not of some of the mechanisms its Town Council team uses. Some of those things can be improved, others cannot for legal reasons. I see good qualities in staff, councillors and other volunteers all around, and wish that those qualities could be better harnessed for the good of the town. I do and have been working with other councillors and others whatever their labels to play my part.

Three mantras when I started - Environment, Equality and Openess. And they remain. Openess means sharing information, objectives and views, and that's very much what you'll find on this blog. It means telling people where I can in an accessible way, not "it was a sentence on page 57 [out of 210] of the consultation notes" which was how Melksham's train service loss in 2006 was explained to me when I questioned whether the change had been published.

Openness cannot mean "no confidences". There are many personal / individual issues involved in what I am writing about, and privacy of those directly or indirectly is paramount, as are commercial-in-confidence matters. We have one of these coming up at "Econ Dev" tomorrow night; all I can tell you is that it is does not relate in any way the matters raised in this blog, and I can only ask you to trust me on that.

I personally could not put a "Conservative" label alongside my name. Even though Melksham is not national policy, I would not wish to be associated with Brexit as it has been implemented, taking years to process desperate asylum seekers, or some policies of popularism over moving to a more sustainable environment. I'm sure I would find the same could be said for some policies of other parties ... not the easiest way to do things, but I'm very happy to align in my own little way and work with people of any label for the good of Melksham.

Finally, on a lighter note, policies F, G, I, O, P, Q, R, T, W and Y even in the most loony of parties have an element of sense in them.


Published Sunday, 23rd April 2023

Melksham's trains - then, now, future

Melksham Station closed on 18th April 1966, as part of the Reshaping of British Railways under Dr Richard Beeching. Here (top picture) is what it looked like around 1964.

The station was demolished, and the line reduced to a single track passing through, with just occasional freight trains passing, and with the odd passenger train on diversion.

Melksham Station re-opened in 1985 using a short stretch of the platform that remained, with a train to Swindon in the morning and back in the late afternoon as a commuter service. Various experiments were tried over the years, but none was successful enough to endure until the service was stepped up to 8 services each way per day in December 2013, forming the basis of the current service.

This current service has been a success and runs to this day. Single carriage trains are a thing of the past - there's now a minimum 2 carriages, and trains run 7 days a week all year, from early morning through to mid evening. An additional late evening service from Westbury at 21:15 and from Swindon at 22:30 commences next month.

The station is now almost unrecognisable even in a "Then and Now" picture. There's still a short stretch of the old platform in use, but it has now been much extended and resurfaced. A waiting room, ticket machine, next train displays, a cycle shelter and more have been provided. A new car park with electric charging points has been provided, and signs proudly direct you from the Town Centre to the station - less than 10 minutes from the Town Bridge.

As well as the physical changes, you'll notice a big change between the pictures that there are now people around - passengers using the trains. Current times (and new times for summer 2023) may be found at http://www.mtug.org.uk/summer2023.html

In 2005 (yes, 18 years ago) I first took an interest in the train service through Melksham launching what I expected to be a short project to "Save the Train"; there was talk at that time of the service being withdrawn. We had a four step campaign plan:
1. Make people aware that the service needed to be looked at
2. Get it looked at, with a view to working out what's appropriate
3. Take steps to actually get that appropriate service running
4. Work like **** in the community to make it work

Even for 2013, we had a definition issue with an "appropriate" service and studies suggested it could be either one train every 2 hours, or a better service of one train every hour. We were able to persuade the powers that be to run a 3 year trial of one train every 2 hours - the lower definition - and that was a huge success, with a forecast of 108,000 journeys per annum to from or through Melksham after 3 years of growth being met surpassed with 180,000 journeys being made in the first year, and quarter of a million in the second.

So what for the future?
1. "Appropriate" for the next years is hourly, but the single track line now has a lot more freight too, and so something needs to be done to increase capacity.2. The station is at the end of a cul-de-sac and only accessible from the Town Centre. A new access path and cycle way is needed to Foundry Close or Scotland Road to allow passengers to walk to or from North Melksham and Melksham Forest
3. Buses are needed to bring people to the station to catch their trains and to take them home when they arrive as Melksham continues to grow.
4. Ongoing community support and publicity is needed to ensure that people know about the station and the service and there is a friendly face available to them to help with travel plans, fares and other information.

Published Tuesday, 18th April 2023

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.

Background

* 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 http://grahamellis.uk/blog829.html - 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.

Noting:

* 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 - https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/

* On my blog, where I have written some 260 articles in 2 years. You can search at http://grahamellis.uk/search.html

* 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
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Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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