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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
State of the Nation Council
Council Diary - May 2023
Bigger Trade Shows
Coaches, Melksham
New Town Councillors?
Melksham House - Important Questions
My "important" and "action" Melksham survey - RESULTS
Melksham Councillor Changes
Melksham's trains - then, now, future
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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.

Wiltshire Council - Homes for Ukraine Policy


On Wednesday 3rd May (2023), I and around 20 other hosts who have been co-ordinators under the Homes for Ukraine scheme met with Wiltshire Council Leader Richard Clewer and three of his senior council staff. My thanks to Richard and his team for taking the time to meet, and for a very useful set of discussions and explanations. My double thanks to everyone who helped set up and inform the meeting - David Vigar, Felicity Courage, Caroline Kay and others.

Comments herein are my personal views and understanding, and I am open to correction.

Our guests arrived here to generous hosts in Wiltshire opening their homes for up to 6 months, or 12 months, or longer. Having a family of strangers in our home for a period is no easy thing for either for us as the hosting family, or for the guests who are equally unused to such an arrangement. Furthermore they come from a war-torn land and should be regarded as vulnerable. Although uneasy, it makes sense for guests to live with hosts for a while to help them settle, learn the language, and sort out the issues, establish an ID and living in England.

But then most of these families want to become independent. And that's a problem in Wiltshire. Our Unitary Council, Richard tells us he has a total of 4,500 on the overall housing waiting list. Our private rental market is "broken". Virtually nothing is available for those on Universal Credit. Landlords and agents able to pick and choose who they let to from a sea awash with applicants when a property becomes available. Those landlords will naturally pick tenants who have years of UK security, and are likely to be around for a considerable period rather than being on a three year "no route to settlement" visa and with an intent to leave the UK by mid 2025. It's a big problem.

Landlords are looking for securities (deposits, guarantees) that by the nature of their recent arrival, our guests cannot provide. Wiltshire Council has the power, and the funding, provided by central government to help the Ukrainian program and help overcome these obstacles. It has, however, done so only in a very limited way. It's getting better, but still pretty limited. The Council advertised for a specialist housing officer for a 12-week contract to speak with, inform and help. 8 months later, no one has been attracted to apply for the role, and the work remains undone. There are guest support officers in place, checking that host house provision is adequate, and that guests are OK in homes. Indeed, they help re-host when something goes wrong, but the supply of willing hosts who can afford to house guests is limited.

Wiltshire have been paid more than £10,000 for each guest who has arrived in the UK to help in their resettlement support - though that figure has now dropped for the most recent arrivals (the theory being that systems have been set up). That's a total income of around £15 million. It's intended for the short term support of the guests as they arrive and settle here for a year or two; it includes a thank you payment of £350 per host per month to help towards costs. It does not include things like Universal Credit, medical costs and schooling for which funding come additionally from central government.

Richard told us that he does not want to spend the whole £15 million he has been given for short term support on that short term support, but is rather taking a longer term view. He has a major housing crisis is Wiltshire and asks (with some justification) how doing things like paying the first month's rent for guests moving into the own homes would help his overall problem - "robbing Peter to pay Paul". He tells us that Wiltshire has a far bigger problem that other counties - Richard has not been leader all that long, so perhaps he has a problem here that he's inherited from Jane Scott and Philip Whitehead. "Once it's gone, it's gone" he says. So he's looking to spend the bulk of the money on buying houses. But hang on, Richard:

1. You were given this extra money to help the current wave of guests, and whilst it was not ring-fenced to limit how you spend it, it was stated as intended to help now, and not your longer term problems.

2. You called us out on the morals of "favouritism" support and asked why Ukrainian guests should be treated differently, but in the next breath tell us of other schemes that are only available to Afghan refugees. Difficult topic, but I think you are trying to have your cake and eat it.

3. The housing is starting to come online - "aren't we doing great?". No, not really, it was needed from last autumn (2022) onwards and not with the first homes coming online now and the rest in the next year or so - whilst you may prioritise Ukrainian guests for these homes, by the time they are available to be occupied, most guests will have moved from their hosts. Properties will (surprise, surprise) available for use outside the scheme, helping you overcome your general problem.

4. "Once it's gone, it's gone if we help with rent". Not really - our guests are only in transient need of governmental help. This group is not a "support throughout life" group and they will be repaying taxes back (Council Tax, Income Tax, NI, VAT, etc) once when they're helped over their initial hurdles.

5. The £350 per month per household does not cover the extra costs hosts incur. You are relying on and stretching the goodwill of your hosts by sticking to that sum. Good people who have their household budgets being stretched at present and have taken in refugees are having their kindness and budgets abused. They cannot go on strike, and they do not want to put people out onto the street; your cynical calculation is that you can "get away" with £350 a month - even (as one example from our meeting) a host with 8 guests has brought the council an income of more than £80,000.

6. Purchased houses will be mostly in "Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury" whereas guests are spread across the county - Marlborough and Malmesbury and Melksham - and many a guest family moving to them, after the upheaval of a war move, will be moving again to access them, uprooting children just established in a British School, giving up the new jobs that many have already settled into, and having to take further rebuilding steps.

Am I being reasonable in my concerns? I believe so, and I look at what other counties are doing to give me a check based on what others are doing

a. ALL neighbouring counties have made or are making additional payments over and above the £350. It's a postcode lottery - some have upped it to £600. Others are paying an extra £50 per month per guest. Travel out of Wiltshire to any of our neighbours and you'll find a more generous scheme that's helping guests stay with their hosts and helping avoid the disruption of them having to move on as household budgets are squeezed

b. Other councils are paying first month rentals as people move to rented accommodation (yes, that costs money) and guaranteeing deposits (that is a cheap thing to do).

c. As far as I know, no other council is using the bulk of the money to buy homes which will fit into the general stock. Your wording of "we are not the only ones looking at this" is (no doubt) correct, but clever. You quoted another county who have, I believe, taken a serious look at what you are doing but I have seen no evidence of them adopting a similar scheme, and certainly not putting the bulk of monies intended for immediate support into it.

Richard had a one hour slot to talk to us. And it was really good to have Felicity and others explain the issues to him, and to listen to his response and explanations. But he then had to move on to another meeting, and left us with senior council staff who, however, could make no further comment on political policy. As a group, we did not press such points with them, but I really wonder how they feel about the rather unusual policies they're required to implement in Wiltshire.

Other topics not covered in my narrative above:

The Council HAS helped provide English for Speakers of Other Languages courses. Good, but there remains the issue of them not being difficult to access for many of the guest who have issues such as:
* Fitting in with children and childcare
* Public transport to get to and from classes
* Be at time that do not clash with their (often shift) work.
Not an easy one, and a magic "you can learn online" answer does not suit everyone

The support staff provided by the council have, over time, moved from looking purely after the guests to now having an eye out for the hosts too. There were some appalling examples in the early days, but it has been so much better of late - I can certainly say that in our part of the county, where a closer working relationship between the council officers and the hosting community is working much better. I appreciate it is a concern to professional offers that "do-gooders" in the community might not be fully aware, for example, or all the safeguarding issues and may - with the best of intent - make some situations worse rather than better. But at the same time, talking person to person within our communities does, for example, open up more potential hosts and help us help landlords understand that, actually, these guests are a "good bet" for them as they select tenants for vacant properties.

How do we progress this - "date of next meeting"? Richard considers it impractical to co-ordinate diaries for regular meetings, but has offered ongoing Zoom sessions with his staff. Excellent and an offer to be taken up. However, the overall strategy is set, and whilst the team may be persuaded (for example) to advertise the housing officer role in such a way that it actually encourages people to apply, I don't see Richard making any policy changes and indeed his intent would appear to be that the door is firmly closed to any changes.

Looking further ahead - our guests have 3-year Biometric Residence Permits and are in limbo as to what may happen beyond that point. We and they - for the most part - dream of being able to return safely to Ukraine, but it's anyone's guess as to how the war will drag on and whether remaining infrastructure will support them as they rebuild. Their visas are clearly stated as having "no route for settlement" in the UK. But are we going to chuck them out the year after next? I would doubt that - more than 100,000 people kicked out of the UK, most of whom are the very younger generation we need to be in our workforce. The answer is unclear, but no one has yet given us an answer other than "I'm sure there will be an answer"; I hope it's a caring one, and not a politically motivated one - an answer which looks out for the people concerned, and not just for popular vote.


Image - County Hall, Trowbridge, where we met. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WiltshireCouncilTrowbridge.jpg - under Creative Commons license


Published Friday, 5th May 2023

State of the Nation Council

Handforth parish council, which found itself at the centre of a media storm after a Zoom meeting went viral earlier this year, has since lost two members. First to quit was chairman Brian Tolver, who told stand-in clerk Jackie Weaver she had "no authority here" ...

Beneath the smooth facade of many parish councils is a much less than smooth operation, and it's no exception at Melksham Town Council which is in constitutional terms a big parish. That should be no great surprise considering the complexity of authority - is the mayor, the clerk, the staffing committee, or the key groups or full council of 15 (14 at the moment) in charge? How do you ensure the enthusiasm of the people concerned for their town, their allegiance, their campaigns or their careers does not get carried beyond strong debate into what other consider and sometimes is bullying? How do you keep the whole organisation stable through these ructions?

It is common knowledge that our town council has been lost a number of staff and a councillor too. There will always be a turnover, but in my opinion that turnover has been far too high to be normal, and we are so short of staff - especially experienced team members - that the remaining people have far more on their plates that they're used to, and in addition have extra work "firefighting" issues that are there as a result of staff shortage.

I'm telling you this "as it is", if you like - and as I see it from my personal councillor viewpoint. I am not offering you a solution today. I myself only have an overview of some of the issues, and actions I see being taken that may on the surface look perverse may be made for excellent reasons I am not aware of. But I do know that we need to move forward from what looks like a downward spiral and (re)build a team that can all work together for our town.


Published Tuesday, 2nd May 2023

Council Diary - May 2023

Looking ahead in May - I have whole series of meetings, and there may be more to add.

By theme:

* On 15th May, the full meeting of the Town Council chooses its mayor and deputy, committee and working group membership for the next 12 months. There are probably going to be a few changes, though at this stage most of us have settled down. I am currently on Environment and Climate, on Economic Development and on the Assembly Hall Working Group - shown in my diary below marked "*" because I may be voted off them; if there's a lot of councillors wanting to be on a committee, on vote the places tend to go to the group members, with the independent left to pick up poison chalices and council areas where there is little disagreement. A full council meeting on 22nd May will be lead and chaired by whoever if the mayor by that time.

* At the neighbourhood plan steering group on 3rd May, we should learn the results of the Town Centre Masterplan consultation that took place in February and March and will allow us to work towards a proposal based on public input. It can come to Economic Development on 9th May, as can other element of the neighbourhood plan. We'll also be looking at new planning applications, as will the new economic development committee on 30th - now moved to Tuesdays.

* Coronation events and the Shambles festival and the council quiz night happen during the month.

* For saying that the was a rush to set up a Melksham House Group in February, and hold a special meeting in March to agree to offer £2 million to buy it, here we are in May with no action that I have seen. We don't even have the minutes of the meeting yet. The Assembly Hall Working Group met last month and a new date was set, I recall, for late May, but again no notes received yet, and the next step hasn't even been added to the diary. I hear the sound of feet dragging!

* If residents in the East Ward want an election for the seat vacated by Louisa Lewis last month, they need to let the returning officer know by 22nd May. My own view would be to welcome an election to give the new councillor the legitimacy of a vote and give us a new voice happy to enter the fray, rather than existing councillors clubbing together to co-opt the person most in line with them. That latter would be fine (and cheaper) if there were a general consensus in the community that the council is doing a good, consensual job, but that is not the case.

3rd May 13:00 - Meeting Richard Clewer on Wiltshire's Ukraine support
3rd May 18:30 - Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group
6th May 10:00 - Coronation Party in the Park
7th May Coronation event in the Assembly Hall
9th May 19:00 - Economic Development and Planning
15th May 19:00 - Full Council, Annual meeting
17th May 19:00 - Environment and Climate working Group (*)
20th May Shambles Festival
21st May New train service starts
22nd May Last day for East Ward residents to ask for a by-election
22nd May 19:00 - Full Council
24th May 12:00 - Electric Bus meeting
25th May Closing date for Customer and Community (Rail) fund
25th May 19:00 - Assembly Hall Quiz
29th May Bank Holiday
30th May 19:00 - Economic Development and Planning (*)
31st May 19:30 - West Wilts Rail User Group



Published Monday, 1st May 2023

Bigger Trade Shows

A Really enjoyable day at the Bristol Model Railway Exhibition in Thornbury yesterday, and I'll be there today (Saturday 29th April) and Sunday too, with my http://www.passenger.chat Coffee Shop Forum, Railfuture, Friends of Suburban Bristol Railways and the West Wiltshire Rail User Group. I met a number of retired railwaymen, and also campaigners from the wider area, and that makes events like these a really useful learning opportunity to help me understand what might work in the future in our part of Wiltshire.

How sad that we no longer have the big TrainWest in Melksham, now that the hall where it was held has been demolished, and the replacement that Wiltshire Council have provided is does not have sufficient space. Plans for our Campus originally included indoor bowling for winter use, with the green covered over for the rest of the year to host major regional events - exactly what the have done in Thornbury. The program doesn't look quiet - there's a cat show next weekend, and other events there though the summer. In case you were wondering, Thornbury is about half the size of Melksham.

We need to take care as we update our town's facilities further that we meet the needs of our existing users as well as going forward in such a way that we can meet needs not currently met. Wiltshire Council in their move to The Campus have driven away events like TrainWest, together with the business it brings to the town. Melksham Town Council needs to ensure that it does not make the same mistake in its handling of the Assembly Hall and the much smaller Melksham House.


Published Saturday, 29th April 2023

Coaches, Melksham

Melksham is on the way from many places to many others. Could it be a place where people pause as they pass and in so doing help support town businesses?

I first knew Melksham in 1981 as a town I bypassed on my way down the A350, heade for Dorset, Devon and beyond. I changed jobs and moved a few years later, and then I bypassed Melksham on my way past on the A365, headed for Bristol. I can't recall even stopping here, except perhaps at the Little Chef once or twice. Our move here in 1999 was to a landmark fixer-upper and only at that point did I come to know the town. Roots put down for good.

Why don't more people stop here? Is it because we don't attract people into Town? Is it that people passing by simply haven't discovered what we have to offer? Do we want to attract more people into our Town Centre?

We have a coach park in King's Street. We have a number of places to eat. We have pretty and historic buildings. We have parkland and a nature reserve. We have shops. We have a Tourist Information Centre. Should we be signposting our town and promoting it better to passing traffic including on regular holiday coach runs for their restbeaks?


Published Thursday, 27th April 2023

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
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Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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