Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
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Blue Pool, Allotments, Lighting, Museum, EcoLoo, Shambles, Assembly Hall
Really good to see all the seats in the "Public Gallery" at Assets and Amenities filled last night (5.6.2023). Democracy in action as members of the public come along, address the council, and get answers. More people are coming along these days and it's fantastic to see.
Allotments - picking up on a query from last Autumn, asking for spare produce to be allowed to be donated, water supplies to troughs, an update to allow people on the waiting list to take over allotments from those which are basically abandoned, and for facilities for recycling hard woody material. The terms and conditions do now allow the passing of spare produce to the likes of the larder, but the other issues look as if nothing has happened, to the frustration of an allotment holder
Lighting in KGV - continues to be controversial, with the price for what has been agreed and discussed ad infinitum going up to between £63,000 and £68,000 from £60,000. Some feel that there are better and lower cost solutions. My personal view all along is that we have a scheme that provides more lights than we need, and with placement that's not really solving a problem - the problem bing to make people feel safe as they pass through the park on dark evenings. The motion to find the extra £8,000 passed; I abstained as did a couple of others, with Councillor Goodhind voting against and requesting that his vote is recorded in the minutes ... I respect that the decision to go ahead with this lighting has been made democratically, but I cannot add my name to supporting growing cost.
Shambles festival review. An excellent event the other week - so good for hundreds of people who enjoyed the day, and the council passed a vote of thanks to the organiser. The park is there to be used. Sadly, it's the nature of events that there are complaints - the Christmas lights and turn on event that so many of you love generate complaints "even before the fireworks", and it's a minor miracle that only one complaint - of base noise - was received about Shambles. The whole was run with consultation with county experts, noise monitored all through and it was utterly within limits. A first running of the festival, though, and for next time a look will be taken at speaker placement, and information will be circulated more widely, beyond close neighbours, so that people are not taken by surprise.
EcoLoos - concern that hand sanitiser (rather than hand washing) only has limited effect against certain viruses such as norovirus and asking for a reassurance that what's provided addresses this. Also concern from councillors at the more "natural" smells, and is it a celebration that the usage is outstripping the forecast.
Museum. Several speakers raised the issue of a museum for Melksham - that it's in the constitution of the Melksham and District Historical Association, that people visit the very limited local private collections looking for information, and that our history attracts visitors to the town. The speakers were addressing the final public item on the agenda, which was asking for the building which houses both the Assembly Hall and the Blue Pool to be taken forward as a singe entity to meet needs for the future.
Reuse of Blue Pool - the big topic on the agenda. Speakers looked at the http://melksham.town/BluePool suggestion of what could be done with modest updates to bring the two buildings together for the Assembly Hall, for a museum, for a maintenance shed, and for Town Council parking. One speaker referred to the cramped bar area in the current Assembly Hall and how a new entrance would allow an expansion of service there. Another referred to the limited access to the hall at present an queues at the loos. Reference was made to the hall being hidden, whereas a vista entrance off the Campus site (with the breeze-block wall removed) would make a huge difference, and others spoke of improved parking in the area that was the patio, and of how the hall is a real gem, but yet a hidden secret in many ways.
The Committee passed (my) motion looking forward to the future for the Assembly Hall, the Blue Pool and the area - rightly saying this is too big for a final decision to be made by the committee; preparatory work to be done over coming weeks, to bring to full council at the end of this month (June 2023)
It is right that other options are explored at this time too and that we establish (for example) if Wiltshire Council are talking to others about viable schemes for the Blue Pool. There is a rumour of negotiations for its sale as a privately operated swimming pool, and questions as to whether it could revert to being an outdoor lido. There is a question as to whether it should be allocated to housing, and whether a new Assembly Hall entrance would be better provided through the old fire station.
We also need to do a great deal more work, and the officers present last night have been changed with oiling the wheels with Wiltshire Council. A short lead meeting of the Assembly Hall Working Group, adding in Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall, is also on the cards. I was unable to give an indication of costs last night - we simply don't know what position WC will take, nor (without access) what might need to be done. We need expert, some of whom we have access to through FoMAH contacts, to give us that overview. What we can be sure of is that demolishing the whole lot, building anew and with an entrance through the fire station would be rather costly and I suspect a grandiose scheme that would not get off the drawing board.
Illustration - before the meeting, and with a hirer unloading for their event at the Assembly Hall, you can see how tight it can be. As an advocate of public transport, it grieves me to be looking at additional parking, but there is sense in providing extra car parking for those visiting or working at the Town Hall, Assemmbly Hall, and in the future perhaps the Museum
Published Tuesday, 6th June 2023
Town Centre Cluster - Looking forwardGood to receive the clarification from Wiltshire Council yesterday that they have rejected Melksham Town Council's offer of £2 million to buy Melksham House. In my view, probably no bad thing - I really wonder what the Town Council would have done with the building, and I saw no business case. Also good news to read on the end of the letter from Wiltshire Council "Whilst this now finalises the future of this site, I do wish to open constructive dialogue with you to discuss the future ownership of the old Blue Pool site which adjoins the Assembly Rooms site and your offices and I look forward to hearing from you in due course on this matter". See (here) where I have mirrored the letter.
It makes a huge sense to consider the future provision for Melksham Town Council's residents (and those who are not our taxpayers in Melksham Without too) at this time of change. What came up on the needs assessment triggered by discussions of the Assembly Hall future at the end of last year? What came up from the big town centre masterplan consultation earlier this year?
I give you ... an improved Assembly Hall / venue ... a museum for Melksham ... a volunteer / community hub ... a desire for Melksham House, and the Town Hall to remain as key buildings in our community. See http://melksham.town/Blue Pool
Even before Wiltshire Council's confirmation on the future of Melksham House, the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall and others were taking a community look at the natural symbiosis of these evidenced desires, together with other operational requirements such as a depot location for the Melksham Town amenities team. And that team, together with wider interests, came up with a suggestion put as a public question ("please will you consider this?") to full council on 22nd May 2023 by Howard Jones. To help progress things along, I have put a councillor motion forward for next Monday's Assets and Amenities Committee asking that "It is resolved that the council staff with volunteer assistance from members of the Assembly Hall Working Group and friends of the Assembly Hall bring a researched proposal to full council prior to any irreversible actions or decisions on the pubic domain properties."
The proposal looks to be a sensible one to me - it answers the needs mentioned above, and I can see business, financial and user cases too. It may also help Wiltshire Council offload a building in the Blue Pool which has the potential to be a white elephant (or worse) to them.
However, this may not be the only proposal / idea that's going around. Last night, I learned of two other conversations going on, so I am uninformed on both of them so far:
1. """Wiltshire Council have been asked by a private company to buy the Blue Pool to continue private swimming lessons ... this seems to have been pushed under the rug ... I for one think that this is a great idea as it frees up the pool to memberships etc and benefits the whole town."""
2. """The other conversation was wouldn’t it be nice to if the blue pool was an open air lido again ... but this is only to be used certain months of the year ..."""
As yet, I don't understand the business case for a second swimming pool in Melksham - I find myself asking about how many people would use it, what they would be prepared to pay, and whether in competing the new Blue Pool and the Campus Pool would damage each other's businesses to the extent that neither was viable.
I am also aware of the limited season for an outdoor pool; I mentioned the cost of heating a pool last night (in a meeting with an advocate) and have been assured that it would be a cold water facility. I need to be sold on it having substantial use - more so than alternatives suggested.
There's often the art of compromise and tuning proposals to accommodate real desires and needs, and there's opportunity here, though sharing changing rooms and Assembly Hall event toilets would be an issue. The delay in the Town Council hearing about the SEMH deal has been frustrating, with a February decision only coming out in recent week, and it's now been suggested that something is going on between Wiltshire Council and a private company with regard the Blue Pool - for the sake of the community and the Melksham resident, it would really be helpful to know what that was so we can plan together toward the best joined up facilities for the town.
The motion to council on Monday does, I believe, stand on its own case. It does not require a swimming pool or lido to be included. But should that be added and enhance the case, and be what's come out from the needs evidence, what great news.
Published Saturday, 3rd June 2023
Which articles are you reading?Stop Press - Wiltshire Council have just written formally to Melksham Town Council with regard to the Town Council's formal offer made in April to purchase Melksham House. See (here) where I have mirrored the letter. I will follow up further tomorrow on what this means. Clue - I am encouraged, especially by the final paragraph.
Back on topic for today ...
Feedback is my lifeblood - so I look at tools like Google Analytics to see which of my pages people are clicking through to - "voting with their feet" if you like. In the last 4 weeks, some 1,114 pages have been read by 488 users and here are links to them in the order of the number of reads. These are "click throughs" - they are people accessing at the next level deeper than seeing a Facebook summary. I am listing only pages logged as read a significant number of times.
Melksham Town Council - who's who
Arranging facilities for Melksham
* Wiltshire Council - Homes for Ukraine Policy
Melksham House - for SEND
Stepping back from chairing
Why has the station planter gone?
Minutes and resolution - proposed Melksham House purchase
Comment and feedback - lifeblood
Trip report - Weymouth
% Celebration - late train back
% At council next week
Headline look ahead
Questions to Council
38 years ago today
Assembly Hall - rates unchanged
* My personal short cuts
What it's like to be Independent
Assembly Hall hire rates 2023/24
Bank Holiday thoughts
% Wiltshire Rail Station Progress
Coronation of King Charles III
* Melksham Assembly Hall
% - these are very recent posts and will have ranked lower in this list because they're still pretty active
* - these are articles are over 4 weeks old and will have ranked lower because they are now past their peak interest.
Published Friday, 2nd June 2023
Wiltshire Rail Station ProgressToday - 1st June - marks the anniversary of the opening of the station at Dilton Marsh in 1937. Incredibly, no other new railway stations have opened in Wiltshire in the 86 years since, though the station at Melksham was closed in 1966 and reopened 19 years later.
Dilton Marsh and Melksham stations have a great deal in common. Both offer limited passenger facilities, and both have suffered since they (re)opened from a sporadic service. Neither has a decent bus connection, and passengers using the station tend to walk or cycle there. Both have a significant local catchment and their rail use (passenger numbers per head of population) are way lower than other stations in the area - so they represent levelling up opportunities.
Although I write of currently poor services at both stations, both have moved forward in recent years. "Poor" is good compared to what it used to be; looking back a decade, both services were virtually unusable, with the stations provided with train services to meet legal requirements, and not to meet the needs of passengers. The Melksham joke was "Two trains a day - too early and too late".
At Dilton Marsh, a new southbound train added last December at 08:04 has made a school flow to Warminster and a commuter flow to Salisbury and Southampton a reality (already a success), and timetable changes with a handful more services and more through trains to Trowbridge, Bath and Bristol will make another big difference.
At Melksham, our useless service was increased to a sprinkling of services through the day with a dedicated carriage shuttling back and forth between Westbury and Swindon. As a three year experiment, that outperformed industry forecasts and was continued and continues to this day, now as part of the general GWR service contract. The single carriage train has been replaced by trains of 2 or 3 carriages in length, and the platform at the station has been increase in length to be able to handle those trains.
Things do not stand still, and various adjustments have been made to the services at Melksham since the experiment started. A Sunday morning train in high summer has been made permanent all year and now forms a vital part of our service. A demonstration that we ran with the West Wilts Rail User group of a late evening Monday to Friday service was added to the timetable just last month, and we now (at last!) have an all day, every day service. For this summer (only) we have a late train on Saturday evening too - but we are hopeful that the next step will be to have that or the equivalent run throughout the year. And not just "hope" in that we are making the operational and business case to GWR and suggesting it run in such a way that it's robust and efficient. Watch this space.
Looking further forward at Melksham, with the service running all day, every day the next step is to increase the frequency / fill in gaps. With a service every hour rather than every two hours, modelling suggests that passenger numbers would more than double, and early gaps that need to be filled include southbound departures from Melksham between 06:36 and 09:10, and again between 15:39 and 18:03. Both of those will be significant steps, requiring an extra train and perhaps extra capacity on the line such as a passing loop, as well as (maybe) a re-instatement of the 4th platform at Westbury and/or the third platform at Chippenham, both of which are still there but don't have a track alongside.
Onward connections at both Dilton Marsh and Melksham also need attention. I know Melksham well; we need a bus connecting with trains and servicing the Town Centre, East of Melksham, Bowerhill, Hampton Park and Berryfield before running back to the station to catch the next train is a next stage "road side". We demonstrated this during ClimateFest last year. Opening a foot and cycle way from the Station to Foundry Close - a few yards of path connecting very end of Station Approach to the already-placed roundabout near McDonalds, with land cleaning, footpath grading and removal of a fencing panel.
Last night, Bryony Chetwode of TravelWatch SouthWest came and gave us an inspirational talk at the West Wiltshire Rail User Group meeting in Trowbridge. At times, it feels like we are battling desperately hard against a storm of resistance, but in practise we are working alongside the "powers that be" in that same storm, and we are in partnership making significant long term change.
Published Thursday, 1st June 2023
At council next weekNext Week's Assets and Amenities (5th June 2023) - my briefing for the Environment and Climate Working Group. I have added a little more text here than usual, to explain procedures for any wider circulation.
I have noted items of potential interest on the agenda below. The really BIG one is item 10 which is a suggestion that we look to the Town Council taking over the Blue Pool as our replacement maintenance building, museum, and extended reception area for the Assembly Hall. There would be significant environmental risks and opportunities. As well as the agenda pack (link at the end), the background to this suggestion is at http://melksham.town/BluePool.
My view is this proposal makes sense. There is a lot of work to be done to progress it, and that needs to be done in a short time frame bearing in mind the stated alternative plans.
The meeting starts with "Public Participation – To receive questions from members of the public." And that's an opportunity to ask about the environmental aspects of the items on the agenda (or anything else). Once the main meeting starts, it's "listen only" for members of the public, unless the committee decides to "suspend standing orders" to invite others to speak. Typically that happens where we have experts / well informed people in the room who can help us make a better and broader based decision. The meeting concludes with a confidential session on workstreams - I have copied the published agenda explanation onto the base of this message by way of explanation.
Agenda items of potential interest to ECWG members (IMHO)
4. KGV Park
- 4.1 KGV Lighting
To note the following update. A Variation Order has been received from the successful tender. The project is still over budget.
- 4.2 KGV Maintenance Building
To note the following update. Repair & Demolition Report prepared. Awaiting final Bat Survey, which is expected by August.
- 4.3 KGV Fencing
Members to resolve on taking the project forward. Installation and budget agreed but not yet signed off.
- 4.4 ECO Loos
To note the following update. Self-locking timers purchased and installed, but not yet invoiced. Timers set to be open 7am-7pm.
- 4.5 Shambles Festival. The Festival took place on Saturday 20th May 2023. Head of Operations will give a verbal report.
7. Awdry Avenue Play Area. Proposal to invest up to £50,000 in replacing all equipment and designing a new park for the forest ward. Environmental comment - "Are there any environmental concerns which should be considered? Very little when digging up the ground but we can use responsibly sourced material to combat this"
8. Goal posts for Foresters Park. Proposal to remove the existing football goal post as it is in poor condition and replace it with a new post and a second one the other side of the field to help utilise the area better. Environmentak comment - "Are there any environmental concerns which should be considered? Very little when digging up the ground to install the goal post"
9. Resurfacing of Hazelwood Court. "Councillor Price is requesting the committee has a discussion on the resurfacing of Hazelwood Court." I am (sorry) trying to work out "Hazelwood Court". I have Hazelwood Road in my ward ...
10. Public Owned Assets in and around the Town Hall. "We have a number of potential risks and opportunities at present, relating to the future of the infrastructure of Melksham House, The Blue Pool, The Assembly Hall, and the Town Hall. We also have a number of desires or requirements on the service provision by the Town Council, such as council offices, a council chamber and meeting rooms, a community venue, a museum, parking, and a maintenance depot for our parks and gardens team." ... "Depending on works needed, the works would be environmentally considerate - for example any reroof could be open to solar panel roof which would also cut the energy running costs of all the buildings."
11. Confidential Session. Members are requested to discuss the following in Confidential session pursuant to Section 1 (2) of the Public Bodies Admission to Meetings) Act 1960; the Council, by resolution, may exclude the public from a meeting (whether during the whole or part of the proceedings) whenever publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted or for other special reasons stated in the resolution and arising from the nature of that business or of the proceedings. In view of the sensitive nature of the business about to be transacted, it is advisable in the public interest that the public and press be excluded, and they are instructed to withdraw.
- 11.1 Work Stream and Priorities. Members have been issued with two Private and Confidential documents which are to be discussed and priorities are to be settled on for the coming work stream outlined. Consideration can be given to outsource some of the projects to enable completion if this option was felt suitable. For Decision.
Inputs welcome. Councillors on this committee: T Price (Chair), C Goodhind (Vice-Chair), P Aves, G Cooke, S Crundell, G Ellis, C Forgacs, J Hubbard, J Oatley if you want to get in touch with any of us ahead of time. Full agenda pack at https://moderngov.microshadeapplications.co.uk/MelkshamTC/documents/g817/Public20pack%2005th-Jun-2023%2019.0020Management20Amenities%20Committee.pdf?T=10
Published Wednesday, 31st May 2023
Celebration - late train backFor the first time in nearly 17 years, we have a late evening train to bring people home to Melksham - it arrives at 22:55.
The implications are massive. For the first time in the memory of many people, a full day out and getting home afterwards is now possible - this is the final piece of the jigsaw that we have been putting together with our campaign for years.
A big "thank you" to everyone who has helped get us to this point - to the managers and train planners who have set it up, and the staff who will be running the train every Monday to Friday.
A very low-key evening - a Bank Holiday and a Monday, no special advertising, but never the less three people arrived on the train into Melksham (and other were travelling on through). One of the people who got off stopped and chatted and told me what a godsend this new train is - it already made a difference for him tonight. It will never be the busiest of trains, but it fills a real need and I doubt it will ever be empty either. I look forward to working with GWR and with our Community Rail friends to make in work.
The late train leaves Swindon at 22:30 and Chippenham at 22:45 and arrives into Melksham at 22:55. Connection from London Paddington at 21:31 and from Bristol Temple Meads at 22:00.
In the opposite direction, the train runs from Westbury at 21:16 and Trowbridge at 21:22, arriving into Melksham at 21:32; connection from Southampton at 20:10 and Salisbury at 20:42.
Published Monday, 29th May 2023
Comment and feedback - lifebloodBackground
I took a phone call from a fellow councillor the other day, to alert me to concerns from other parties that I'm following up comments on social media that are posed by people who perhaps are commenting under a "nom-de-plume" and perhaps have unclear motives to be asking.
The "alert" was described as being to help me avoid getting into awkward situations, and I appreciate that, but at the same time I got a distinct feeling that I am being "strongly encouraged" to write less and keep much more to myself.
Thank you for the alert. As it happens, I'm aware of risks involved in answering posts, especially doing so in public. That is especially where the questions or comments I'm answering are made anonymously or by someone who is not who they claim to be. Modern parlance is "risk assessment" and "risk mitigation" and I think along those lines as I post.
I was about to say "I have been doing this for 20 years, so I know what I'm doing", but that's not quite right. For sure, I have been doing this sort of thing for 30 years, starting with online newsgroups before we even had the worldwide web, and gopher before Google. But as I say, that's not quite right; times and technologies change, and anyone who says "I have been doing it this way for 25 years, I have always done it this way and I know what I am doing" worries me.
The benefit of long experience held be older councillors and staff is priceless, but so is the ability in those people to tune and modernise - think about what they do and how they do it. We should all remember that; a question the other day asked my "why do the people who have been in this for a long time still need training" and the answer is "to help them be fresh and effective in current times".
I read something and listen and learn something every day. Delighted to do so. And I spend time thinking and "playing" with ideas. Much of what I do is by "rote" from experience - knowing what works and has been done before, yet I try to keep an eye open to see if it still works, or to take account of changing circumstances and always have objectives in mind. And I don't like thing that are repetitive and achieve nothing real. Perhaps that's why I'm not into games (playing them, at least!)
So - I will keep answering. It make me think and helps me formulate and update my views. And it helps keep anyone who cares to read in the picture. I really appreciate feedback too - tell me where you agree, and if you disagree tell me why, and suggest alternatives, so I can tune views and better represent you. Together, we have strength and fully informed we can do better. This way, my strategy, the greater benefit and quality of life, information, equal opportunities and environment in Melksham, in understood and we can all work together in that same direction.
1. I do not "do" unattributed quotes or deliberate leaks. Where such things have been suspected in the past, it's turned out to be someone else!
2. Personal privacy and confidential documents / discussions are outside my openness policy
3. What I've written and say remains in the public domain. The few edits you'll find are corrections to facts and updates to stories to ensure that stuff found via searches is better than historic (but it WILL report how it's been updated)
4. I understand that my approach can make people nervous to work with me, and harder to progress projects. To some extent, so be it; I would far rather have open discussion and a team effort to get the very best results but there's a risk in everything and sometimes the approach does not pay off.
5. You are probably wondering at the cover picture. It's me, thinking and also having an ice cream yesterday in Weymouth. Doing lots of things at once - thinking, eating, catching up with friends and our community members, encouraging public transport use, see what has changed in Weymouth (and Swanage), updating my photo library, and getting fresh air and exercise too.
Published Sunday, 28th May 2023
Trip report - WeymouthA wonderful seaside trip today (27.5.2023) - on the direct Saturday train from Swindon, Chippenham and Melksham to Weymouth. I joined the train with 50 other people at Melksham, on time at 09:10, and we picked up more along the way - train was pretty well full but not uncomfortable by the time we reached Weymouth at 11:10 - a few people choosing to stand, but then a few open seats too - so 300 people all of whom melted into the vast enjoyment that is Weymouth.
The return train was less busy - almost certainly because many of the people we picked up on the way down at intermediate stations had enjoyed their days out and returned home on earlier services. We left on time at 19:40. A delay at Yeovil Pen Mill (trespassers reported on the line ahead of us) meant we didn't pull in to Melksham until a quarter past ten (rather than twenty to ten); I counted 98 passengers on the final stretch from Trowbridge to Melksham, of whom 49 got off at Melksham. Big "thank you" to the train manager who kept us informed, and to passengers for their patience during the delay - most of you were tired, but stoic about it and were relaxing or snoozing after a great day, and from Melksham station almost everyone walked home - a couple of groups being picked up, and a couple of cars parked at the station.
The train runs next on 10th June - same time, same fare of £21.50 return, or £14.15 per person in a group of three or more or on a railcard, or £10.75 for a child aged 5 to 15 - buy on the day at the station (on the train if you're doing a "groupsave" or paying in cash) or ahead of time online; GWR run the train and the tickets can be purchased from https://www.gwr.com commission and delivery charge free.
I (personally) love going to Weymouth. Yesterday, I took the trip partly to update my seaside pictures, but got enjoyably sidetracked and ended up with just a few - so I'll be going again next month. In the meantime, sharing just a few of the quick snaps I took later in the day (the headline picture taken on my sidetrack to the heritage railway from Wareham to Swanage!)
There is an important story here - the train service is key to Melksham. Not just seaside trips but our daily travel. There are 9 trains each way per day, and thousands of other stations you can reach - it's our link to the network. Download the summer timeable here. Yesterday's passengers were not just to Weymouth, and the trains were bringing people in for the day as well as taking them out. Even when we got back, there were people joining the train towards Chippenham and Swindon.
Just arrived in Weymouth - crowds off the train and it's just 100 yards to the beach!
The beach at Weymouth is huge and sandy, with sheltered bathing and all the fun of the seaside
The harbour is picture-postcard pretty, and the are lots of places to eat, drink, sit out, go crabbing, walk and take it all in ...
Traditional "rompers" on the sea front, as well as a penny arcade and rides for the tinies and also the more robust
Ice cream, Candy Floss, Fish and Chips - or a pie and a pint (or two) if you prefer
And so boarding the trains home, under the watchful eye of the train manager to ensure you're on the Melksham train.
Published Saturday, 27th May 2023
Arranging facilities for MelkshamLooking at Melksham House, the Blue Pool, the Assembly Hall and the Town Hall, I think there is space for the Town Council offices (A), a council chamber (B), a venue where it is at the moment (C) with an enhanced access and facilities, a museum (D), a maintenance shed for the Town Council (E), and also SEN / SEMH needs in Melksham House (F), where work is underway to, in seems, make it suitable for that use. It will all fit, and indeed it would allow Melksham Town Council to move its amenities base and store from the rented unit on Bowerhill, and also to demolish the maintenance shed in the KGV park without building a replacement.
The goal posts were moved in February with Wiltshire Council's responsible officers giving the SEN team "favoured bidder" status and hindsight that since that time, works at fitting out Melksham House have been with their use of it in mind. What was a bit of a shock was that this moving of the goal posts wasn't picked up by the Town Council who were encouraged to put in a serious bid for it, to avoid it being "lost to the community" and at an extraordinary meeting at the end of March voted to do so. Personally, I'm learning that Melksham House might be a pretty darned right place for the SEN facility, leaving the historic building in public care are providing for the people who need it in our area's society. It's almost a blessing we don't have to "find" £2.1 million to buy it for the town and then find a use for it and money to maintain it, when we may well have what we need available close by anyway.
So - what do we do? We leave the Town Hall as it is. We take the old Blue Pool reception and one of the changing rooms and make in into a much bigger reception for the adjoining Assembly Hall. The former gym in the Blue Pool becomes a museum and exhibition area with a shared reception with the Assembly Hall. The former pool becomes the maintenance store / shed. Click on the plan to see it full size
OK - that's the broad brush strokes - now let's look at the associated works. The start of this was introduced by Howard Jones in a public question at the full council meeting (22.5.2023) and handed around. It's on line at http://Melksham.Town/BluePool
• The wall from the Melksham House Gate separating the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool from the Melksham House grounds can go, apart from a small section that protects the electric substation. And that will give a great open frontage to the Assembly Hall - both pairs of the double doors to the back of the hall and the new reception replacing the current one wedged between parked cars and the Town Hall.
• The Blue Pool water tanks upstairs in the Assembly Hall need to be removed and / or made long term safe (and while I'm asking, have Wiltshire Council been paying to rent the space from the Town Council, and if not, why not?)
• I do not know about the condition of the main building housing the pool itself, and some sort of decking or infill would be needed.
• Extra parking could be provided in the former outside terraces of the Blue Pool
• The Assembly Hall bar and lounge area could be extended into the old reception - it's been tight for space
• The Cheese Store building, currently holding the water tanks and caretaker cottage could - well - provide a caretaker cottage.
• Plenty of roofs that may well be fitted with solar panels; the immediate work needed on the main hall is probably not a complete reroof.
Much work remains to be done to fill in these very broad outlines, and to work out who owns what, and how any assets are transferred. But looking forward to having it operational, it makes huge sense for all six of SEN, for the Town Council's main offices, for their amenities team, for councillor meetings, for the Assembly Hall and for the museum.
Published Thursday, 25th May 2023
Questions to CouncilUPDATE - 6th June 2023 - Answers to Rob Carter at /lib/may23_ftc.pdf
Before each meeting of Melksham Town Council, there is an opportunity for "Public Participation – To receive questions from members of the public". The opportunity is not frequently taken up - there's the occasional question asked from time to time. Typically, the chair and / or lead council officer at the meeting will promise a written response; that's perfectly reasonable as the typical request is looking for a considered answer. This not a circus of the form of PMQs (Prime Minister's Questions) for the entertainment and motivation of the party and public - it's a real opportunity for the public / electorate to reach the town's leaders and get a response.
I am delighted that question were asked by speakers both last week and this at full council.
From the (now) approved public notes on the meeting of 15th May 2023:
Mike Saunders remarked on the fact that a couple of officers have left the council who were part of the Environment and Climate Working Group. He was disappointed that the wider membership had not been advised. He asked if it was possible to have a list of officers’ names and contact details.
Terri Welch wanted to bring to council’s attention the situation with the Weir gate which is currently owned by Cooper Tires. Terri reported that the Environment Agency were not willing to take on the responsibility. Terri thought the town council should be aware as it is a key element in preventing the town centre from flooding.
Robert Carter asked some questions on responsibility for:
* Footpath clearing
* Events and carnivals, particularly the Jubilee Celebrations and the Coronation Event, asking how events were planned
* Public consultation
* The decision to cancel the Sunday (Coronation) event
* Ceremonial aspects of the town
* The union flag on the Town Hall not fitting for the Coronation, adding that it is important that the Town Hall is kept looking at its best
* The planting on the roundabout
* Weeds in the Market Place
* Decisions on weeding and trimming
* The budget spent on lights in the park
* Engaging volunteers to assist with events etc
From my notes on the meeting of 22nd May 2023:
Lisa Ellis asked, bearing in mind rumours that are rife:
1. Can it be confirmed that the purchase of Melksham House by Melksham Town Council is now off the table because of Wiltshire Council’s decision to accept their internal offer by SEND on the 14th of February 2023?
2. Can it be confirmed that the Melksham Assembly Hall will remain at its present location, with necessary repairs made urgently to fix faults?
3. Can it be confirmed that Melksham Town Hall will remain an asset of the Town Council?
4. Will the Town Council work with interested community members in an open way to help take forward the town’s assets for the benefit of our community including establishing a policy of having at least two members of the public on each working group?
Howard Jones asked
1. Through asset transfer or other means if required, would the Town Council consider acquiring the Blue Pool building in order to enhance the attached Assembly Hall with facilities such as:
• a suitable entrance and reception area
• increase the number of available men’s and women’s toilets, add an accessible toilet
• establish a museum
• provide dedicated parking to ease the strain on the parking in the Melksham campus?
• add an additional emergency exit
2. Can you include the suggestion being handed out into the minutes of this meeting so that it can be given full and serious consideration at the next meeting of the appropriate committee?
3. Can I also ask the three Wiltshire Councillors, representing Melksham, take this request to Wiltshire Council, for their consideration?
4. Why was my Freedom of Information request (mid April) passed on to an organisation that is not subject to FOI when I chased it up having had no answer in mid May?
Mike Saunders asked about the councils' real committent to the environment and climate, bearing in mind its failure to call the scheduled meeting of that working group, or to provide support for the informal event then set up by members. Also bearing in mind the officer's advice to that meeting "ClimateFest wasn’t a confirmed event for this year, due to shortage of officers to plan and organise this event. The complement of available officers and their capacity is currently vastly limited."
Although Howard's third question asked something of the three Wiltshire Councillors who also sit on the town council, only one of them was actually present. Two other councillors were also absent - so that was 10 out of the 14 of us there.
The document that Howard handed around is at http://Melksham.Town/BluePool
I do not normally name people in my blog. However, the above reports what they said in public, and they may be seen online asking these questions.
I am not going to pre-empt the written replies that have been promised at both meetings. I did ask that the minutes from 15th May 2023 be amended to include that promise to respond in writing to the official record, and that was agreed but with the proviso that the public questions are not a part of the meeting - they precede the meeting - and so do not actually form a part of the minutes of the meeting.
Published Tuesday, 23rd May 2023