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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Council questions and payment procedures
At the Splashpad this summer
Full Council - meeting notes
Wiltshire bus passenger headlines, 26.6.2023
Melksham Assembly Hall - July to September programme
Seeing rocket science nearby - buses to stations and information about them
Who's got me bike?
Wiltshire Bus Consultation
Melksham House - background and concerns
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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.

Project Assembly Hall and Blue Pool

What's happening? - Let me share an email just sent

Invites to:
- Town Councillors (14)
- FoMAH Committee (15)
- MTC Officers (7)
- If you are reading this on a public copy (where the Zoom code is redacted) but would like to be involved, please let me know. In particular, I am aware that the FoMAH group nominated its team quite a number of months ago, and since then staff changes at Melksham Town Council have meant that a number of people who love Melksham and have skills as volunteers we would welcome.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Graham Ellis is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
(This email in my role of hosting the Zoom meeting)
Topic: Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall and Assembly Hall Working Group informal meeting
Time: Jul 4, 2023 19:30
[redacted from public copy]

2. Small Groups to see / examine / measure Blue Pool property
Time: Jul 6, 2023 14:00 and 14:30

3. Week of 10th July and leading to full council on 17th July 2023.

Last Monday (26th June 2023), the Town Council voted to reform the Assembly Hall Working Group with an additional remit to look at the future involving both the Assembly Hall and the Blue Pool as well as the ongoing business of price setting and marketing for the Assembly Hall. The Working Group will report to Full Council, and will consider not only the idea of (and ideas developed from) the proposal of 22nd May 2023 at and similar options of meeting those and other needs by updating exiting infrastructure, but also other options of building anew on the whole site, and "do nothing". The way I proposed it, the working group will have very strong community representation; that to be formed / developed from the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall. There is a great ensuring enthusiasm and experience there in the volunteer community and let's use that as part of the Melksham team.

Part of the proposal I put last Monday was a combined AHWG and FoMAH Committee meeting next Tuesday (4th July) - carefully timed to allow statutory notice of meeting to be issued, yet as promptly as possible bearing in mind our nervousness that the Blue Pool building could be demolished by Christmas. Re-assurances from Councillor Alford, who's also the Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Housing, Strategic Assets and Asset Transfer, that it will NOT be demolished until we have had time to consider and that it could be "even be years" take a little off the panic, and it was Councilor Alford's friendly amendemnt to my proposal that was passed unanimaously. But for FoMAH committee members, and with an invite to all Town Councillors and staff, we'll meet at 19:30 on Tuesday as proposed

[zoom invite link redacted from public copy]

There is an enormous decision for the Town Council coming up with regards the Assembly Hall. That could just be that we walk into doing nothing - but far better if "nothing" is the answer that we do that with knowledge. If we pick up an alternative, then we do so with planned knowledge, and I am delighted that the coucil has allocated a budget of £10,000 over the next three months to get full structural and archirect's ideas evaluated, and of top importance to look at the options and business cases to help ensure that what comes out of this are possibilites that will work, and in a sensible time, and in a sustainable way, for the community - joined up thinking. At the early stages, ideas and inputs welcome - as a member of both FoMAH and AHWG I can feed them in but better YOU join in if you have an idea and want to help us carry it through to realisation and sustinance over coming years.

In order to work out the art of the possible and practical, we all need to know what's where in the buildings concerned, what condition it's in, and what is structural and what's fixtures and fitted within. In following up meetings prior to last week, our Town Clerk has expressed an interest for us to Wiltshire Council, and conveyed our request to them to gain access to look, learn and survey; we asked to borrow a key - thank you to our clerk who has been able to arrange two tours on the afternoon of Thursday 6th July for a maximum of five people on each. The invite went out at 4 O'Clock yesterday to councillors, and I passed it on to key FoMAH people; we have put forward a project specialist, a building specialist and a marketing and promotion specialist. Councillors Pat Aves and myself have also expressed an interest, which leaves five more places for councillors and (I would suggest) one or two key members of staff.

On Tuesday, we should all introduce ourselves, plan for what we need to achieve during our Thursday visit, look to the setup of the AHWG/FoMAH for confirmation at the next full council. We should recommend routes forward to help and inform town council staff - work in such a way that we maximise the effectiveness of the work done and use of experts an miimising the load on staff - purpose to help ensure best outcome. We really should be setting up a management overview structure and GANTT chart in parallel with structure to full council.

I am not presuming any steps beyond next Thursday until we have met on Tuesday, but I would welcome the early adding to the calendar by the council staff a formal AHWG meeting that will lead to its consideration and refinement for full council to confirm on 17th July.

I look forward to seeing FoMAH committee members and Town Councillors should they wish on Tuesday evening.

Graham (Ellis)
E&OE :-)

P.S. I will have a couple of slides on Tuesday looking at Project Frameworks and much more - far better explained than in a document like this that is already getting long

Melksham Town Council, South Ward
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Graham Ellis -

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

Published Saturday, 1st July 2023

Council questions and payment procedures

Questions asked on Facebook in answer to yesterdays's blog (scroll down to read that blog)

1. "What would be good is if when questions are asked by the public, which more often than not get a ‘we will respond in writing’ answer that those answers are actually published so everyone knows the answer given - if they are already I’ve never managed to spot any."

2. "What’s worrying is seeing ( on last Mondays now deleted meeting ) a Councillor asking a pretty valid question about the signing of cheques / payment authorities being potentially rushed through and not actually checked by the signatories which is presumably the entire point in that system, being told he’s wasting people’s time by the mayor for questioning it."

1. The answers / follow ups do usually happen and are copied to relevant councillors (sometimes all of us). The team (councillor and staff) are aware that for most people to stand up and ask a question in public is quite a challenge and they're unlikely to let something go if they then don't get an answer. So the team will look to answer to the satisfaction of the enquirer. Sometimes, that is indeed a written answer that's published but sometimes it transforms into an explanatory meeting or a phone call. Sometimes, where there are multiple questions asked, there has been a tendency for our team to answer the easy bits and perhaps hope the more difficult bits go away, and at other times some things take so long to research and answer that the connection between question and answer is lost - there is an answer, but is it identified as being an answer?

Where a relevant councillor gets an answer, (s)he is able to share them / publish them in most cases and although you've "never managed to spot any", they are sometimes out there. For example, which I felt worth passing on as general interest. But there is so much data out there that it doesn't prove possible (not just a council thing) to ensure the right data reaches the right person and is noted and taken in at the right time. We (team) can try and do better - to a very great extent this blog's intent is an attempt to help; ask any relevant question and I will tackle it - though time is limited (and freely given) and the answer may be "I don't know and don't have time, nor do our team have the time, to take it further".

One of my fellow councillors proposed, and got through council, and we implemented, a tracking system - went live last summer. But almost all the staff who were trained, involved in setting it up, and running it, have left the council. I'm an IT person and I found it a difficult system and from what I can see it now contains a view of how things were a while ago. I am open to correction on that. I do feel that a straightforward live tracking system that's routinely kept up to date and fed as an automatic part of process, and that has a "push" facility to inform people of changes and updates rather than have interested parties having to keep coming back to see if there's been an update would make sense. More work? Only a bit if properly done, and the savings on time spent answering councillors and members of the public would more than compensate. The problem (if you like) is how we get to this from where we are today, and how we update our work ethic to trust one another and share data rather than feeling that everything we say is a risk, and the more we say (as I'm doing here), the less others will trust us out of the fear of their actions being questioned in detail. Sorry - I have gone off on a tangent there!

Anyway ... answers are there sometimes. And although the questions are asked in public, the answers may not be; even if they are, the answers may be lost in a flood of data or posted un-noticed. I *try* to come back where I have noted a question so if anyone comes back after the answer's there - example at - but clearly I'm failing to be noticed or satisfy if you never manage to spot anything.

2. I was a "cheque signatory" until last December, at which point I stepped down from that role having been informed that my availability was insufficient. We have had a system in which far too much time passes between an invoice being submitted and payment being made, and the latter stages of that involve two councillors attending at the Town Hall and going through the paperwork, initialling the paperwork for each payment in two places and signing if it's a real cheque rather than a BACS payment too. It's a process that takes a number of hours, and very often it's been late in the process so some of the payments are urgent / overdue.

Each payment ... the invoice comes in to the officer responsible for the expenditure, and is signed off. It goes to the finance officer who sanity checks it and puts it on the internal system. Two councillors then go through the paperwork and each sign it off. If the payment is by BACS, it's then entered into the bank's online payment system by the finance officer and councillors who are authorised for online banking are invited to go on and press the green button to have the payment actually made. In my view, there are sufficient steps in there is it's properly operated to safeguard the system, and all evidence is that my fellow councillors are trustworthy in how they enquire into odd things they spot. I know that when I was in that checking and signatory role, I asked questions; the answers usually satisfied, the common point where they did not was "why has this bill taken so long for us to pay?". BUT - it would be impractical / overbearing to understand every line item on every invoice. There's a degree of pragmatism here; I compare this, perhaps, to checking train tickets - sometimes it happens, and the security of the system is in never knowing when it will happen, so the passenger getting it right (for the most part) in the first place; in the case of putting through bad payments, if someone tries it and gets caught, the penalties are high enough to dissuade them.

We do have a number of spending / payment elements I would question, though:
• Some of our expenditure looks for actions / solutions that add elements to satisfy every councillor and bring them on board. Good, except that often things get so complex that the price goes up, the utility goes down, and the time taken is way beyond the original thought if it even gets done.
• It's good that the process as described above goes through a series of checks, but it can take far too long. An expenses cheque for a volunteer that was submitted in February arrived with that volunteer last week (I'm writing on 30th June). Most bills are paid much quicker and staff expenses are typically "fast"tracked - but that very fast-tracking is itself a risk; one I am happy with because the amounts involved are small.
• Routine payments need review from time to time, and my personal view is that in a couple of areas, payments that were set up a while back should be reviewed. Suppliers and grant recipients need an assurance and a continuity (to employ staff and buy capital resources) and the decision in the very early days of this council to protect for the life of the council, with an annual report, was fine in principle. But there are one or two that I personally feel have gone a bit soft. My own view, I must emphasise; enquiries suggest it is a minority view.

Image - an old cheque, on display at the British Museum. Perhaps we should have a banking section in our museum to reflect the long history of banking in Melksham?

I am surprised that last Monday's meeting is no longer online; whether it has been deleted or the link changed, I don't know. It was my understanding that meetings should remain online until the minutes have been approved at a following meeting.

Council meetings are long ... and in the cut and thrust, comments on the fly about "wasting time" may be made which could in review be seen as inappropriate. I'm sure our mayor does not consider himself perfect, and I know I did far worse when I chaired meetings at a committee level. Of course a system of checks and balances is important; as I recall, what was meant that it was something that should be looked at in the finance committee rather than have the entire council working the minutiae. I know it didn't come across that way - the comment I'm answering has also been echoed to me by someone else.

Congratulations to anyone who has read all of this! A classic illustration, perhaps, of too much data and whilst the content is important, it's hard to see the wood for the trees. Please feel free to ask me further questions if you dare.

P.S. Time take to answer the above takes (my) volunteer time away from allotments, lighting, assembly hall, buses, virtual hub alternative, blue pool, local transport plan, museum, climatefest ... not so much a grumble from me, but rather a flag of just how much falls onto a parish councillor's plate if (s)he chooses to let it.

Addendum - public minutes from Monday's meeting just published. To give readers an idea of just how seriously we take our financial role, I going to quote here the vote on the accounting statement for the last year. This from 5 pages of printed notes, with the votes of suffient concern in two cases for it to be a "recorded vote":

Accounting Statements 2022-2023

Members requested to approve, by formal resolution, the accounting statements as outlined in Section 2 of the Annual Return. The Annual Return must be signed by the Town Mayor, Councillor S Crundell, or in his absence, by the appointed Chair of the meeting. The document must also be signed by the Town Clerk/RFO. Full statement attached.

It was proposed by Councillor Oatley, seconded by Councillor Alford and

RESOLVED to approve the accounting statement.

There was a recorded vote on this item as follows.

Councillor Alford – For
Councillor Aves – For
Councillor Cooke – Absent
Councillor J Crundell – Absent
The Town Mayor, Councillor S Crundell – For
Councillor Ellis – For
Councillor Forgacs – Absent
Councillor Goodhind – Abstain
Councillor Houghton – Absent
Councillor Hubbard – Against
Councillor Mortimer – Against
Councillor Oatley – For
Councillor Price – Absent
Councillor Rabey – Absent

Totals. For 5, against 2, abstain 1.

We are sometimes asked to make difficult calls; my own vote in favour was made with an element of trepidation in that there are a couple of technical issues which are not ideal but pragmatically we should be moving on. The amounts involved are a tiny proportion of the budget, but I can understand accountants on the council being never the less strongly concerned. There was no indication of any intentionally naughty stuff, nor of any council failure to meet obligations.

Published Thursday, 29th June 2023

At the Splashpad this summer

Want a chat with one of your town councillors in an informal setting? Thursdays throughout July and August, I will be on volunteer duty at the Splashpad in KGV Park. My primary role there will be a safety one, including the monitoring of the operation of the pad and the regular testing of the water, and if we're chatting and a check is due, I must break off from our conversation to do that job.

Safe operation of the Splashpad is critical. It requires not only the correct mechanical working of the water flows, but also the correct quality of that water too, and for this latter is so important that the automated gauges in the equipment room are backed up by manual tests every couple of hours. That's the same way it is in a swimming pool. I have already watched, and practised under supervision, multiple openings of the Splashpad and many water tests, and I have multiple closes booked as well. And next week I'm on an offsite training course "STA Level 2 Award in Pool Water Treatment" with an onsite element. Assuming I pass (gain the award) I'll then be doing a further supervised day before running the pad on my own - though even then with emergency phone contacts, and if in any serious doubt at any time, I would shut the pad.

I am not the only one getting the above training. This summer, if you use the Splashpad you will meet others running and checking it who you have not seen in that role before. They are excellent people all going through a program of learning in a similar way to a similar level. Between us and our managers, we plan that the Splashpad will be routinely available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily to the end of August

The Splashpad operating person is NOT a lifeguard as you would have in a swimming pool, and perhaps at the seaside, and it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to keep an eye on those they are responsible for. However, the Splashpad operator does have the safety of those at and around the pad in mind at all times, and can and will direct users, including limiting access, if needed.

Background - from the public minutes of the Melksham Town Council Staffing Committee of 15th June 2023:

"Amenities Team/Town Hall Team Recruitment

"The Town Clerk updated the Committee on the recruitment process and the interim plan to ensure the business of the town council continues. Roles based at the town hall were currently being evaluated.

"Members did offer their services to assist the Amenities Team where possible; offers of help will now be included in a work plan.

"The committee commended Councillor Ellis who had volunteered to work one day a week at the Splashpad and previously for the sterling efforts of Councillor Mortimer and Goodhind who had litter picked around the skatepark and removed the dead leaves.

"A progress report on other staffing matters was made, the actions and advice were noted. (Confidential notes dated 15.6.2023 refer)"

My helping at the Splashpad this summer is a temporary arrangement. It's in the interest of users of the facilities of the park - keeping it open and safe for them. It's also an opportunity for me as a councillor to learn a little more of the job our team does, to support them, and to meet people around the town. Those benefits of learning and meeting could prove so useful that I look to reproducing the opportunity in the future, but not at the expense of tipping the balance between paid and voluntary roles. Please ask me if you have any questions.

Published Wednesday, 28th June 2023

Full Council - meeting notes

Last night, some of your elected representatives met in a full and very long council meeting. A lot of the length related to last year's accounts and assets, and I will admit to only understanding parts of the technicalities on what are very large sums of money. Insurance value (rebuild cost), what we paid for something and how much money we could get if we sold it are different, but it's far from clear to me which was which in the data presented. Some things simply could not be sold - someone else would have to be paid to take them on, because restrictions mean that little could be done them, and they need maintenance to keep them safe. I value the expertise in these matters in some of my fellow councillors, and our accountants, and there integrity, and on that basis I'm in the minority of councillors who supported the adoption of some financial papers for filing from last year.

With just 5 out of 14 elected representatives saying "yes" (3 against or abstaining, and 6 absent) this was scarcely a decision that's going to inspire public confidence. Full and final accounts were not presented for the year just gone, because a few things need to be moved around, so we noted the draft figures. There are areas where things really were not done as they should have been last year, but now is not the time to pile loads of resources into going back through that are passed; in my view it's time for a pragmatic move on. Getting a half of one percent of our turnover into the right box - at the expense of not doing things for the town, and costing more than that half of one percent in officer's time to do so, would be an irresponsible "jobsworth" approach in my view. What we have done is learned a lot, and this current year from 1st April 2023 should not be subject to the same mistakes. Let's move on.

We moved on to look at the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool site(s). A relief that your councillors are taking this very seriously. They extended their meeting to reach a decision on the next step. They allocated a budget to actually working out what's the best thing to be done. They empowered the "Assembly Hall Working Group" to report to full council and not just to a committee, and have allowed all councillors a vote there if they wish. They have set a three month project timescale for this work. My plea for expert volunteer help to have a place at the table has been glossed over and they have been diluted into insignificance. My plea to let those of us who have already worked into this help by taking the load off staff have been steamrolled, and I really don't know how the Town Clerk is going to have the time to do the job along with everything else on her plate. My (I felt) very, very clear statements that this was a starting point and all options need looking at seemed unheard by other councillors who seemed to thinks that the little group who put together the first suggestion were set on THAT as being the outcome - no, we are desperately plea-ing to simply being given an opportunity to look around ("borrow a key") so that we can help move this forward.

Councillors are right that this is massive for Melksham for the next 20 years and we need to get it right. As a negotiation with Wiltshire Council is a key element, I feel that the councillors who are on both councils (receiving money from Wiltshire Council, unremunerated by the Town Council) should step back from taking an active role at the Town Council on this, tempting though it is for them to be involved and have their names showing as key positive movers as this moves forward towards the 2025 elections. In some ways, money involved in the "transfer" or "purchase" of the Blue Pool - if that's the outcome - from one public owner to another would be a paper transaction, but on the other hand it needs to be cleanly done. Back to where I started, perhaps, with the concerns over last year's accounts where I started.

Today - a la Monty Python - something completely different. You will hear about it over coming days or weeks. And with Melksham and its people at the heart.

Published Tuesday, 27th June 2023

Wiltshire bus passenger headlines, 26.6.2023

Here's the latest update - as at this morning (26.6.2023) - on Wiltshire buses

* After the end of this week, ENCTS card ("senior bus passes") will revert to being accepted only after 09:30 on Mondays to Fridays (a few exceptions on infrequent rural routes where they will be accepted a little earlier) and any time Saturday, Sunday or public holidays

* The £2 single fare for any journey on a local bus now continues until 31st October 2023. There is lots of advertising around to tell you it's "Until 30th June" but that has been extended. From November 2023 for 12 months, the single fare will be £2.50, up from £2.

* Wiltshire Council has been awarded £2.1 million in "BSIP+" funding - a significant sum for them. However, it is not yet clear what the Department for Transport will allow the money to be spent on, nor whether it must be spent by the end of the current financial year. An update is expected on this in the next few days; it looks likely that modest service improvements may be possible, but there's a question as to where the bus operators will get the drivers from, and perhaps whether they'll have enough vehicles. There's also an open question as to how any improvements could be continued next year.

* Bus services are expected to continue broadly unchanged until Spring 2024. Consultants have been engaged and are doing various surveys and analysis to look forward. There is a consultation out to key stakeholders at present - 80 responses to date - and a public survey is planned over 12 weeks summer / autumn. Wiltshire Counci Officer referred back to the 2016 public consultation, which was their second biggest ever in Wiltshire, and they are preparing for a massive response again.

The above comes from a bus update at this morning's Wiltshire Enhanced Partership (bus) Forum. I am sharing initially via my Melksham Town Councillor blog but it applies right acrosss the county. On public transport, I have a far wider interest, and sat there this morning alongside bus professionals - from operating companies and from local transport authorities. I attended with my Option 24/7 (passenger group) hat on - http:/ needs a fresh lick of paint though, which will be coming soon; Facebook group at though that tends to get lots of posts from other nearby areas. Further writeups to follow for campaigners / partners / people taking an active interest - above news is headlines for all bus users.

Published Monday, 26th June 2023

Melksham Assembly Hall - July to September programme

Melksham Assembly Hall program for July to September 2023 has arrived back from the printers. Initial bundles dropped off at the Tourist Information, the Town Hall and (of course) at the Assembly Hall itself.

A number of our Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall have picked up bundles too and are distributing it house to house in parts of the Melksham Town and Melksham Without. It's online too - and there's a link from the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall's Facebook Page.

My thanks to the Town Council's team for supplying the base inforation for the program and for managing the hall and running or overseeing these events in such a positive and helpful way. My thanks to the volunteer teams who are taking the leaflet around door to door (another 480 just picked up!) and for the graphic art work and arranging the printing.

The events we have next month, and in September, are many and varied. Please choose a couple you wouldn't normally attend to come along to, as well as your reguar events. The hall is busy - and you can help us make all these events it's busy with even more successful.

Published Sunday, 25th June 2023

Seeing rocket science nearby - buses to stations and information about them

Integrating Public Transport - lessons

Over the past two weeks, I've been travelling around by train and bus over the "Severn and Solent" region. Lots of people around, and people being brought to and from home, friends, countryside, towns, cities, businesses. Seeing public transport as an integral part of our economy. Crowded trains, busy buses running all day. And bumping into people who I've been on the bus with in and around the towns. There is a great deal we could learn from and pick up here in Wiltshire. Sadly, many of those things are not ones we can pick up and do ourselves. We need the "powers that be" and the operators to actually do these things - we as a community and [potential] passengers can advocate, can help promote, can partner, but we are not bus operators or drivers, nor are we the local transport authority with rights and tools to specify.

The illustrative picture at the top of this thread is from inside the bus to the town at Tiverton Parkway Station. You'll note that the bus is right outside the station, and that there are taxis waiting there too. Of course, Tiverton is not Melksham, where the railway station is in the back of the industrial estate, one train an hour calls in alternate directions, and the population is around 25,000. For Tiverton, the station is in the countryside, around 2 trains each way call in every hour, and the population I'm told is 20,000.

Wiltshire has it right in some places - there are several good bus services at Chippenham and Trowbridge stations, and some at Salisbury (though in the latter two cases, the signposting is not obvious). Elsewhere, there is a disjoint. Westbury station - a railway hub - has 4 buses a DAY. Warminster has buses every 15 minutes on one DAY a year - to Imber. And Melksham only has buses at the station when they're running rail replacement services because of engineering works.

I come across, perhaps, as being a bit critical there. Yes, but there are other stations where the bus links don't really work. For example, I got off the train in Hamworthy yesterday and finding the bus was not staightforward. But at least when I got to the bus stop, there were clear printed timetables. Oh - and there was a real time display telling me about the next services.

So these past two weeks have not exactly been Utopia - but they have shown me some of the wonderful things we could - and probably should - be doing here in Melksham, and across Wiltshire too. We actually have the right key people to work with at County Hall in place, and some bus operators have excellent managers to move things forward but I cannot give the same credit to our politicians at county or national level, nor to central government financial decision makes who have chose to give so much money to some of our neighbours, but nothing to quite a lot of others.

Published Saturday, 24th June 2023

Who's got me bike?

"Borrowed" - early yesterday evening (20.6.2023) from an employee's cycle parking area (ironcially close to the police station). Please can you share this post to help whoever has it know that I would be grateful if it's returned to 48, Spa Road or to the employment place it was taken from. I know a lot of cycles look the same - perhaps you took the wrong one? Mine / ours (it's was in used by oe of our guests to get to / from her shifts in the dark) is marked in a unique way by the police, so that will help them identify it if it comes into their possession.

As per picture - it's the EZEGO Electric foldable cycle that I got to help me met around about 2 years ago. My quickest way to the station ...

Would be great to have it back - can you help? Please Let people know by sharing? Thanks

Published Wednesday, 21st June 2023

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

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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