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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Melksham House - background and concerns
Election - Melksham East
Attracting visitors - an example
Buses - Melksham way forward
Out and about, learning
Splash Pad and Park - open for summer
Open to public input - not there yet, but getting there
Blue Pool, Allotments, Lighting, Museum, EcoLoo, Shambles, Assembly Hall
Town Centre Cluster - Looking forward
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Some other pages on this site:

Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
Graham Ellis - background and • views
Philosophies of working as a town councillor
The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
How YOU can help and • Contact me
Links to other web sites and • pictures
Through April 2021, I posted most days. Thereafter (elected) you hear from me here at least once a week.

Wiltshire Bus Consultation

I am grateful to Wiltshire Council for their asking for their Stakeholder's views on future bus services and support in the county. But I am concerned that some of the line of questioning is seriously flawed.

1. Bus services should be provided for the economy as a whole, and a survey which looks to rank one set of users above or below another is divisive in that it sets people who should be on the same buses, sharing costs and reducing / managing support needs for all is doing the reverse and setting schoolchildren again people who use the bus to get their shopping, people who use the bus to get to work against those who use it to get to medical appointmnets, and people who use the bus to connect with trains against those who use it to meet friends. They are the same buses, the same costs to run them, and there are spare seats that generate income without extra expenditure making for a lower subsidy need per passenger, and perhaps overall.

2. Like it or not, our Goverment has made Wiltshire Council our local transport authority, and a question asking if this is right should be out of scope. The council should be bearing up to its delagated obligations, and not be using the county and its (mainly driving) local goverment staff and elected representatives to be encourage a national policy / political stance at the expense of those who use the buses.

3. Public transport is about total journeys - not just bus routes, and indeed not just about buses but connected journeys. The survey is insular in many aspects - it needs to look at people's total journey desires and requirements, making best use of the modes available.

I commend to you a public transport strategy for Wiltshire that looks to best economic and social provision for all - however they travel, and whether they're using a single bus, multiple buses, trains, or a combination of them. And whether they're travelling within Wiltshire or on journeys that cross the county boundary.

Back in 2016, I recall a similar consultation though it was in public (not just stakeholders) and from that the "Option 24/7" group grew. Since that time, Wiltshire Council's public transport team has moved from being one that had a poor reputation to one that has done remarkably well in all the circumstances thrown at it. This survey is a severe regression, once again with all the worst of pitting people who should be sharing resources against one another, and looking at wide political principles rather than getting on and going the job that central government have charged the with for the benefit of their electorate.

The Survey Questions

* Do you think that buses play an important role in Wiltshire today?

* Do you think that buses will play an important role in Wiltshire in the next 10 years?

* For what reason(s) should bus services be provided in Wiltshire? (please rank in priority order, with 1 being the most important and 5 being the least important)
Give travel opportunities for people with no alternative means of transport.
Offer a more sustainable mode of transport that is better for the environment.
Offer a choice to people who might not always wish to use the car.
Achieve a better use of available road space and reduce traffic and congestion
Getting to school or college
Commuting to and from work

Wiltshire Council financially supports about half the bus services across the country at a cost of £5.75m per year.

* Should the council continue to financially support bus services?

If no, why do you think this? (tick all that apply)
The cost too much money
It shouldn't be up to the council to pay for this
Money should be spent on other council priorities
Other (please state)

* Should the amount spent by Wiltshire Council on bus services increase, decrease or stay the same?
Note: Less funding would result in reduced bus services, with fewer buses and some services being withdrawn; more funding would see improved services, including new services and existing services operating more often or for longer periods. To maintain the same level of service, budgets will likely need to increase in coming years to take inflation into account. To increase support, we may need to increase fares, reduce subsidies or increase council tax, or take money from other council budgets.
Increase amount spent
Continue to spend about the same
Decrease amount spent
Don't know

* What should be the main objectives of providing bus services? (please select five main objectives)
The climate emergency (reducing emissions)
Providing travel for those people with no alternative travel options
Getting to/from school or college
Getting to/from healthcare facilities (GP, hospital)
Taking part in social activities
Visiting the countryside or places of interest
Tackling congestion (reducing car travel)
Getting to/from employment and training
Getting to/from places for personal business (such as optician, bank, Post Office)
Seeing friends and relatives
Getting to/from sporting or community events
Getting to/from another transport service, such as train

* What makes a good bus service?
How important are each of the following characteristics to making a good bus service?
(please rate each between 0-5 where 5 is very important, 1 is not important at all) Connections to rail, coach or other bus
Runs on weekdays (Monday to Friday)
Runs Saturday
Runs Sunday
Runs throughout the day and evening
Regular journeys (same time past the hour) 1 5 Frequency (how often it runs)
Times link to school or working hours
Late evenings
Choice of destination
Journey time
Directness of route
Information on times and tickets
Bus stop facilities
Low fares
Value for money
Easy payment method Friendly and helpful driver Comfort of bus
Information while travelling Cleanliness of bus

How important is the provision of bus services at different times of the day/week?
(please rate each between 0-5 where 5 is very important, 1 is not important at all) Weekdays
Morning before 7am Daytime period 7am-7pm Evening after 7pm Saturday
Morning before 7am Daytime period 7am-7pm Evening after 7pm Sunday
Morning before 7am Daytime period 7am-7pm Evening after 7pm

How important is each of the following types of bus services?
(please rate each between 0-5 where 5 is very important, 1 is not important at all)
Local services within a city or town
Buses linking towns and/or cities
Rural and village bus services
School or college bus services
Direct buses i.e. a bus that goes to key places without the need to change
Community transport services, such as volunteer car service or dial-a-ride

What should be the minimum level of service provided on each of the following types of service on Monday to Saturday between 7am and 7pm?
Local services within a city or town
Buses linking towns and/or cities
Rural and village bus services

What do you think the maximum cost of bus travel in Wiltshire should be for:
A single bus journey in a town or city?
A single bus journey from a village into a town/city (Less than 10 miles)?
A single bus journey from a village into a town/city (10-19 miles)?
A single bus journey from a village into a town/city (20 miles+)?
A day ticket for unlimited bus travel across Wiltshire?
A week-long ticket for unlimited bus travel across Wiltshire?

Up to what age should young people be entitled to cheaper travel?
14 years 16 years 18 years 20 years 22 years 25 years Other

What fare level should apply to children and young people?
Two thirds of adult fare Half adult fare
One third adult fare Free travel

How much importance should Wiltshire Council give to the following factors in deciding whether to subsidise a bus route?
(please rate each between 0-5 where 5 is very important, 1 is not important at all)
Overall usage of the service (passenger numbers)
Overall cost of the subsidy per bus service
Cost of the subsidy per passenger journey
Availability of alternative bus or community transport services
Size of population within 800 metres walking distance of a served bus stop
Access provided along the route to facilities and services
Journey purposes of those using the service (commuting, school, leisure, shopping etc)
Levels of deprivation in the catchment population
Car ownership levels among the catchment population
Risks of social isolation and exclusion

Are there any other groups of people that you think should be eligible for cheaper travel?

Other considerations

Many bus services, particularly in rural areas, are likely to need some form of subsidy. Given the pressures on council funding, are there any other ways of funding bus services that could be explored in the future?

What benefits do buses present to your organisation or to those people you represent?

How can your organisation help support and promote bus provision in the future?

Do you have an interest in one or more specific bus services in Wiltshire?
Yes No

Which Wiltshire bus service(s) do you have an interest in and why?

What one or two changes (if any) would you like to see made to the service(s) in which you have an interest?

Which part of Wiltshire is of interest to you? (Tick all that apply)
North East Wiltshire
North West Wiltshire
Central Wiltshire
South West Wiltshire
Salisbury & South East Wiltshire

If you would like to make any other comments or suggestions about bus services in Wiltshire, please provide these in the box below.

In conclusion

Buses are VITAL - though only to a significant minority of people who are not car reliant. That minority includes very few of your councillors or council staff - I commend to them to listen very carefully to their electorate and appreciate that actual user input is so important here - not just stakeholders which is where this survey has gone.

Published Tuesday, 20th June 2023

Melksham House - background and concerns

Sharing questions raised from a concerned resident to the Town Council earlier this month, written to challenge the "parent" authority. What others may just think was asked in a form onto which I have been able to "hook" an answer. Picture from my old blog - over a decade ago. And THANK YOU to the correspondent for providing this hook.

This is a long read ... more for the record than to garner a big readership. We should be learning from history (and it's good for that) and be informed as we move forward.

Our corrsepondent asked on 5th June 2023

I recently read the article about the potential future of Melksham House which was published in the Melksham News. I do feel that the wishes of the Town Council are being ignored or overridden by Wiltshire County Council and that the final decision should not be left to one person in the County Council.

Who did Melksham House actually belong to historically and are there any restrictions on its' use because it is a Grade 2 listed building? Are there not any laws or bye laws that could be invoked to prevent the building being used as a medical facility which it would become in effect if it was used as a mental health centre? What do the plans state for the Mental Health proposal? Would the building be residential or non-residential? There is a retirement development (Crown House) just down the road with some vulnerable residents living there. Has Wiltshire Council given any thought as to how they might be affected if patients with possibly severe mental health issues were walking past their homes each day or living in Melksham House? Such patients can be a danger to both themselves and others, as I know from my career in Nursing. Surely a risk assessment should be carried out before any decision is reached?

I fully understand the need for more mental health facilities for young people but is Melksham House the best place to have such a facility? I thought it was for the benefit of the wider community and not a small, specific part of it so why is the future use of the building now under discussion again?

I hope my email might in some way spark off new ideas to challenge the County Council although you may already have thought of the points I have raised! I am just a concerned resident and hate to see the County Council apparently acting with impunity in this matter.

Passed on to me - for reason given in first paragraph. My reply (7.6.2023)

Dear [redacted]

Thank you for getting in touch with the team at Melksham Town Council. I’m one of the Town Councillors my colleague who looks after the general mailbox suggests I’m the best one to answer because I’m probably one of the best placed to comment on the historic aspects.

How far back to you want to go? Historically, Melksham House went through s number of hands before being a Red Cross Hospital in the First World War. It was bought by Avon Rubber shortly thereafter for use as their sports and social club, and it served in that role for many years, before being purchased by Wiltshire Council around 10 to 15 years ago as part of their Campus project. Although plans were for the Campus to include both the sports building on the current site, and Melksham House itself, part of which is listed, the scheme on the Melksham House site was scaled back and the Campus opened with work only just started on The House itself.

There are listed building considerations on Melksham House in addition to normal planning laws. There is (I believe) an old covenant from the 1880s which requires that local people be allowed to have their cattle drink from the pond, but as I write the Land Registry has told us there’s a current covenant, but whether it’s that old one or a more recent one I am unsure. Because of other questions around former Avon Tyres (now Cooper Tires or Goodyear) land, I have enquired into more recent restrictions but so far have drawn a blank.

My understanding is that Wiltshire Council has a procedure for handling buildings which become surplus to immediate requirement, and that involves the building being offered initially to departments within the council who may have an appropriate use for them. The SEMH department expressed such an interest, and in mid-February, following the standard procedure, they were given preferred bidder status. Melksham Town Council decided to offer £2 million for Melksham House in late April, but last week the council heard back from Wiltshire Council turning down that offer.

I have placed a copy of the offer rejection letter at . It contains an overview of SEMD / SEMH to explain what the use of Melksham House will be, and if that does not allay your concerns, I would suggest that you get in touch with the author of the letter and ask him to respond further on the matters you raised. I can understand how you might be concerned; my wife and I have lived in Melksham for many years and were also concerned when the house next door to ours was purchased by Wiltshire Council for a related use. In practise, the neighbouring Wiltshire Council building is scarcely noticed, and they are good neighbours; I see every sign of them having considered everything involved and I would suspect that Andy Brown’s team could do the same for you for Melksham House.

As a councillor, I’m allowed a little bit of leeway in showing frustration with Wiltshire Council, and I am frustrated that they and the councillors there encouraged the Town Council to put significant effort into making the case to buy Melksham House when in reality it was already off the table. Having said which, I see the SEMH use as a sensible one and whilst nothing is certain in this world, I don’t foresee any major problems if it follows the pattern of other local SEMH facilities.

I hope this helps answer your questions; I can refer back to the Town Council staff team if need be, though I think this is outside our sphere of authority. And I could also pass your enquiry on to your Wiltshire Unitary ward councillor to help you further - if you’d like me to do that, please let me know your postcode so I can identify which that might be. Finally, please do get back with me directly if I can be of any further help. As a town (Parish) councillor, I’m very much “on patch” and Melksham House is in my ward and I walk past it regularly.

Graham Ellis

P.S. Please feel free to share the above as you wish, but please note that I write as a councillor and views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the Town Council as a whole.

In response and follow up questions

Thank you very much indeed for such a quick response and your informative email. It sounds very much like a done deal here and I can see both sides of the argument of course. I see no value in taking this further, however, there is another aspect to this change of use. As I left the campus yesterday, I had a very interesting discussion with one of the workmen on site about costs and overspend on Melksham House. For example, a ditch was dug alongside the entrance road this week for electricity cabling at a cost of (he quoted) £22,000. Apparently, Wiltshire Council rejected an offer by the contractor to do this and install an underground conduit in preparation for the cabling as the new campus was being built. That would, he estimated, have only costs hundreds. The gentleman I was speaking to also said that later this week/next week, a further, new trench is being dug alongside this one (about 18inches across from it!) for water piping - where is the sense in that if the cost is so high? He also said that because of the new plan for the property, a lift is being installed retrospectively at huge cost due to the structural changes required. He mentioned other changes that have occurred, contributing to what sounds like it could be a significant overspend. I appreciate that I have no facts or documents to get answers and this conversation is second hand information but maybe someone on the Town Council does have the ability to obtain answers.

I accept the need for the facility now proposed but is there any way of challenging Wiltshire Council about what the original budget was, what has already been spent and what the estimated overspend will be? Could we also ask the Council for an explanation as to why the plan was changed so close to completion of the restoration and why there has been no public consultation or information campaign about this? Ultimately, who decided to go ahead with the change, who set the budget and who authorised what sounds like it could be a large overspend at a time when public spending is under so much pressure? As a local Council Tax payer, I want to know that Wiltshire County Council is accountable, democratic and spending my contribution wisely!

And my follow up (9.6.2023)

So much of what you write relates to Wiltshire Council - and I’m a *town* councillor. Your questions are good ones, but I can only comment as an individual, although as one who’s been around this stuff and involved as a lay (none-council) person at times. In my ward in Melksham (South) I share with three other town councillors - there’s Colin Goodhind, Jacqui Crundell, Jon Hubbard and the four of us each do our volunteer work representing the community within different aspects; people tend to ask me about transport, and Jon about younger people issues for example. Your single Wiltshire Councillor is Jon Hubbard, and that’s a much bigger role, with Wiltshire Councillors being funded for their work. In terms of size, Wiltshire Council gets 10 times the income per household that the Town Council gets, so clearly they do a lot more and are the “big fish” here.

OK ... I WAS involved in The Campus in the early days of the project. Wiltshire Council bought Melksham House from Cooper Tires in 2011, with a budget of around £24 million to make a single reception / single site sports, leisure and community centre. The “Shadow Campus Operations Board” (SCOB) was set up - a couple of representatives from Wiltshire Council and the Town Council, various sporting groups, Chamber of Commerce, Community Area Partnership. Volunteers and we worked out later we put some 8,000 hours into getting the project on budget and to and through planning. We were told the funding was ring fenced, but then other costs (such as the Oakfields Stadia, the Skate Park and the Market Place) were slipped into the ring fence and the available budget reduced - so we have ended up with a reduced Campus that’s just good (in my opinion) when it should have been fantastic. You’ll find that the SCOB, which was sidetracked and has not met further since the budget was raided, is now blamed for the debacle, but in fact it’s far more complex and as a member of the SCOB I found myself having to take a deep breath and take it on the chin.

Why am I telling you this? To help explain why the new Campus built by WC didn’t take into consideration other elements on the site. So things like the road being dug up for electric and water were done with view to the new budget rather than the longer term greater good. With intent to “Move on” Melksham House as cheaply as they could. Unfortunately for them, there’s a planning requirement to bring back Melksham House into occupyable condition and they’re doing so by a further spend of a number of million pounds which involved digging up the road again for electric. You’re right that forethought and joint Melksham House and the Campus at the same time would have saved money, and it’s ironic that had the money being spent on Melksham House now been available at the time the campus was being done, we could probably have had the whole superb project. Yes, it’s sad on how it’s happened - but then hindsight is marvellous stuff.

I’m one for learning from the past, to help for the future. Looking at where we are today, I hope we get it right with the old Blue Pool and new uses there, and that’s the next thing coming up. Wiltshire Council are looking to offload that - or so they tell us - and as it’s joined to the Assembly Hall that’s owned by the Town Council, that brings in our interest. At the Monday meeting this week, I proposed that we consider taking over the Blue Pool to provide a new maintenance shed (currently our amenities team can’t use the shed in the park as it’s condemned, and hires a unit out an Bowerhill - not even in our parish. We provide a badly wanted museum there, and a far better entry to the Assembly Hall which is a wonderful hall but a hidden secret and difficult to access for hall users. The elements seem to come together I (from an initial look) but there’s such more consideration needed and at the same time I don’t trust that we understand what Wiltshire Council might do.

I suspect that I’ve been a bit of a “politician” and not actually answered all the questions; some I can’t, others would trigger even longer writing. We may hope for perfect spending of the public purse, but it will never be that way. If we waited for a perfect solution we would spend even more on expert consultants and then never do anything.

Huge thank you for your interest - very happy to discuss this stuff further in person but I don’t have all the knowledge or all the answers, and both you and some of my colleagues might not agree with what I write or suggest.


Melksham Town Council, South Ward
Blog at
Facebook at
I only visit other social media occasionally.
Graham Ellis -

Email: or
Phone: 01225 708225 / 0797 4 925 928
Home: 48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY

Published Monday, 19th June 2023

Election - Melksham East

Nominations have closed for candidates for the byelection for the Town (Parish) ward of Melksham East, and the list will be published at 16:00 on 19th June 2023. The election will be held on Thursday 13th July, with the successful candidate being seated as a councillor for the remaining 2 years of this council term until May 2025.

If you are a resident with a vote in the East ward, I encourage you to listen, read, and ask the candidates questions and I strongly encourage you to use your vote. Remember that you'll need a photoID to vote, even though that has not been required in the past.

I look forward to working closely, if the successful candidate is so minded, with our new councillor whoever that might be - especially if he or she is aligned with my principles including openness, environment and equallity.

Illustration - official ward map; note that it does not show recent housing development. If you've moved into the new housing within the shaded area this is your opportunity to take part in town processes, even if not yet shown.

Update - 19.6.2023 at 13:00 A few hours early, here is the official list of candidates

P.S. This is a multiseat ward and the new councillor will serve alongside the three others already seated. I am not one of them - I am one of the four councillors in the South ward. In practice, it is usual for all councillors to work for thr whole common good of Melksham, though each of us specialises in our ward issues too.

Update - 14th July 2023 - from the Melksham News
Jennie Westbrook elected to town council for Melksham East ward
Voting took place earlier today, 13th July, in a town council by-election.
Results are:
Geoff Mitcham (Independent): 66
Ryan Clarke (Independent): 68
Jennie Westbrook (Liberal Democrats): 367

Published Sunday, 18th June 2023

Attracting visitors - an example

I have no problem in learning from other towns - "can we learn anything for Melksham here" and yesterday, somewhat unplanned, I found myself in Tiverton.

* What a marvellous museum - and talking with their manager, they started many years ago with a small group of volunteers in a single room ... now a significant attraction. Not only the old history of the town, but also recent and social history and interepretted for a wide audience as with elements to make it fun for the children, rewarding for the current volunteers, and viable as an ongoing community interest business.

Video here

* The Grand Western Canal, with waterside cafes and lovely walks, is another attraction. Horsedrawn boat trips were not running (midweek, termtime) but never the less there was a quiet vibrancy about the place and beauty stretching out into the countryside.

* I arrived by train into Tiverton Parkway station. It's a massive shame that the railway no longer reaches Tiverton itself, but this main line station, with several trains in each direction was a busy place; a cafe and newspaper shop with pleasant seating, an open booking office, customer loos, announcements keeping us up to date with service changes - what more could you want? Oh yes - a bus into town. Yep, they have those too.

Tiverton has a popuation of around 20,000 - so it's a little smaller than Melksham. However, it's also the centre for a much larger area than we are. It's much more "on the tourist trail" than Melksham, but yet is that mostly because of long term promotion; there's no reason that Melksham too cannot attract visitors to a combination of a vibrant museum and town centre, lovely countryside, waterway walks, and good public transport links. For sure, we have ways to go, but Tiverton showed me how it can be done.

There is a whole story in each of these topics, and I have struggled to find a single representative picture of each. Where is does come down to singlarlity is a singular vision of what a town like Melksham could (and should) be doing. Some elements may be there and available to us already, and the seeds of others are available too.

Published Saturday, 17th June 2023

Buses - Melksham way forward

Wiltshire Council is currently reviewing the public transport services that it organises. The Town Council has been asked to comment, and I have written a briefing note for our next Assets and Amenities Committee meeting. I have also been asked to comment from a couple of other standpoints with my public transport "hat" on. "We would therefore be keen to know your thoughts on what our bus service priorities should be and how and where financial support should be focused" my thoughts

Summary recommendation at the end of my briefing note - of Melksham area specific items that will "cost", I recommend in order:
1. (Re)instatement of route 15 / as route 16 and NOT to old route
2. Improved Sunday services to Bath - frequency and longer day
3. Real Time departure boards at Town Centre stops (links elsewhere)
4. Evening buses from Chippenham to Trowbridge and back via Melksham
5. Sunday buses from Chippenham to Trowbridge and back via Melksham

The briefing note can be found at - user inputs welcome, please!

Published Tuesday, 13th June 2023

Out and about, learning

Out and about! Like old times - VERY old times. In my youff, I travelled around a lot by train. Days were "semi-planned", but travel was on rover tickets and I could jump on and off trains within an area more or less as I pleased.

But yet it's not like old times; there's no heavy tomes of printed timetables to be tracking ahead - instead, there's online tracking (and, yes, I do have the electronic National Rail timetable mirrored). It's an opportunity to look and learn (I'm always learning!). It's an opportunity to update my photolibrary, and that has changed from the occasional photograph on a roll of 36 to hundreds each day. And (sorry, folks) it's an opportunity with modern internet connections to share my experiences rather than ending up with slides and prints in a dusty draw.

Amazingly, bulk buying train travel across an area is not expensive - I have an "8 out of 15 Severn and Solent Rover ticket" - 8 days in a fortnight that's cost me just over £8 per day (on a senior railcard that has cut is from £12) and I spent an extra £9 yesterday to add an "Explore Cardiff and The Valleys" day.

I would sorta-recommend my approach to people with the right attitude, but I would hate to define "right". It's not all a bed of roses - planning errors or snap decisions or service disruption can lead to unknown and long waits on cold (not at this time of year) dark platforms. But there are beautiful scenes, fascinating places, good people, and experiences that educate.

Published Monday, 12th June 2023

Splash Pad and Park - open for summer

Sitting enjoying my wrap from The Cricketers the other day, thinking what a great park we have here in Melksham. Fine weather but early afternoon and so most of the kids were in school, with those who *were* around being the "tinies".

A dad walks by with his child. "Dad - can we go in the SplashPad". "No son - its not open" and, indeed, the water wasn't running and gate was closed. It looked closed though (I checked, putting my head around the office door) it was open.

Now - it could be that Dad knew it was open, but hadn't got a towel with him, but it would seem to be an idea to have something there that says "open". A comment made that putting up a sign that says "open" might be seen as us taking the piss because we've had so many past issues with manning, but I'm happy to explain that not everyone "reads" the presence or absence of a lock and chain on the gate as an open/closed indicator. I look forward to a busy summer in the park, including at the Splash Pad

Published Saturday, 10th June 2023

Open to public input - not there yet, but getting there

When you elected me to the Town Council in 2021, you did so in spite of my breaking some of the conventions of local electioneering. One of those conventions was to be very much open with information to - well - anyone who's interested, within the bounds of personal, privacy and confidences, security, commercial, bullying, copyright, and so forth. This doesn't make my "job" any easier - I spend a fair chunk of time explaining, and nudge-nudge, wink-wink pre-meeting meetings that spring decisions are few and far between for me. I'm so glad I'm retired from paid work, as that extra time I have these days allows me to do this on a voluntary basis.

In years prior to my election, I attended council (Town, Without, Area Board) meetings from time to time and often I was accompanied in the public gallery only by others with an interest in the same agenda item. So when I was first elected to council, 2 years ago, I was not surprised to see the public gallery at our meetings empty. But why was that ...
- because there's no interest?
- because they don't know about a meeting?
- because there's so much interest that people leave infuriated, sleepless, feeling sickened?
- because the electorate has a trust in the people it's elected?
- because the electorate has trust in reading about it later in the MIN?
- because the electorate is too busy with its other priorities?
- because information about upcoming meeting is too hard to find?
- because it requires real effort and time investment to attend?
- because meetings are "listen only" for the public, so no chance to input?
- because people lack transport to get to and (especially) from meetings?

I am delighted to see an increased attendance and public interest at meetings these days - it's a cause for celebration because it allows a wider range of involvement than the 14 councillors, but also a curse in that things take longer and lots more explanation is necessary. No longer can as much be nodded through - and that's a huge change in just 25 months; I look back with regret at some of the things I nodded through when I knew no better in May 2021.

How has this change come about? Council meetings and committees are now livestreamed with both Zoom and Facebook feeds. The Facebook feed, where people can be anonymous, view later offline, skip forward and back, is dominant - as I write I have looked at the reported number of views of the last 4 meetings:
410 views - full, 15.5.2023
370 views - full, 22.5.2023
365 views - EcDev, 30.5.2023
272 views - A&A, 5.6.2023
In contrast, the Zoom really hasn't been used much. Although the clerk asks people to turn their video on if they want to say something, there's no guarantee that they'll be called if they do and if people (councillors or others) know they wish to speak, best turn up in person. And legally councillors have to be in the room to vote.

Credit to the staff who do "comms" for the Town Council in getting meeting notices out and visible ahead of time. Thank you - please keep up the good work.

There is never just one way of reaching people and I would like to think that my data feeds such as this blog (this is article no. 302) also help; certainly people feel informed, though frustratingly at time people feel informed after a key meeting rather than before. You're too late - decision already made is where I started with public transport campaigning in 2005 and it's galling BUT there needs to be a cut-off or nothing will ever get done! You don't understand the whole picture is often valid too - and that's where I can help to explain; often there are tradeoffs on cost, or in providing something for one group that disadvantages another, or where proving something is easy enough, but it becomes something that's unmaintainable into the future or creates a safeguarding risk.

I'm triggered to write the above through interactions over the addition of lighting in KGV park, which has been "rumbling along" for a long time - certainly from prior to my time as a councillor. Continued strong feelings this week have lead me to look back, stung by suggestions that public visibly and input has been limited thus having us end up with what some consider a less than optimum system going in.

Looking back, lighting in the park has indeed been discussed at Council and previously blogged - see from January 2023 for a long explanation, or to trawl through the 16 of over 300 blogs where I mention lighting.

In January, the scheme to be installed passed with 9 in favour and 6 against. I wrote "Having given you six reasons I am with the minority on your council on this, I accept the majority decision and understand it's their decision for you the voters. I will support that, doing my best to make sure the scheme is implemented optimally." And that's where I remain. We can't go on, for ever discussing and doing nothing in the hope of an eventual unanimous decision. But what we should do is to learn from this experience in consultation and decision where some feel left out and see if we can do better with the next projects.

And so ... I am delighted at the high volume of discussions at the moment on things like the best use and future of the public estate at and adjoining the Market Place; please continue to work with your councillors and staff team as we all work hard for the continued operation and progress of Melksham. It ain't easy - some of us are new, others of us have many years under our belt, but these are changing times and we all need to learn and update to match those times, and much of that can very deep - even behind the scenes of what I write here. I spent 2 hours yesterday afternoon learning about and helping others clarify how VAT and commissions work on gigs at the Assembly Hall; it as needed as a consequence of the new pricing policy brought in a year ago, and I came out of that meeting encouraged that we all - staff, councillors, contractors, artists, and people book to perform and attend those performances will be better served in the future. That's the power of having more than just a couple of councillors involved.

Illustration - behind the scene at your Town Council. Yes, that really is a picture - taken on Monday afternoon - on Town Council property. Do you know what it is, or is that just too much information and it should be left to the staff team with councillor 'lite' direction?

Published Wednesday, 7th June 2023

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 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 forward

Good 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 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

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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