Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Blue Pool. Should the town look to purchase?
Melksham Town Council has a window of opportunity. And has to take a decision as to whether to jump through that window. Wiltshire Council no longer requires the Blue Pool - the swimming pool and associated facilities which are attached to the Assembly Hall owned by the Town Council, and the town needs to decide whether or not to make an offer to purchase it.
If we purchase the Blue Pool, what do we do with it? And if we don't purchase it, what becomes of it? The question was posed in June, and on 26th the full council resolved, under an amendment to my motion, to allow 3 months to consider options. I note that the amendment was proposed by councillor Alford, who is a Wiltshire Councillor and cabinet member as well as being a Town Councillor, and on that basis I trusted the timescale as being appropriate. We also approved the spending of up to £10,000 for survey and research work to help us reach a decision. What we would and could do with the Blue Pool, should we purchase it, would depend on the condition of the building and its structure and how much it's intertwined with the Assembly Hall. Also what the cost of each option would be, and the benefits for the community and the risks and disadvantages. Finally on 26th June we restructured the Assembly Hall Working Group to include all Town Councillors and added the investigation and recommendation to its remit - to be formalised in an updated terms of reference; the updated group is to report to full council. The resolution is minuted on pages 5 and 6 (here)
On 6th July, some members and staff of Melksham Town Council and of the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall took a look around the Blue Pool. I toured with the friends group and we took a look at the structural condition of the building and the equipment therein and layout (largely confirming drawings supplied by Wiltshire Council) and measured up. This group and other members of FoMAH put together a business case, looking at the benefits, disadvatages and order of magnitude of costs and timescales of each of the options specified by the Town Council and presented this in addition to an implementation example for the option which we feel to be the front runner at this stage.
The business case as published on 17th July and notified to council officers, councillors and the public is (here). The presentation which I made that evening, listing 4 options and giving an example of what could be done by repurposing the building, was also made available in public (here).
The 17th meeting resolved to call a meeting of the Assembly Hall working group. That has now been called for 24th (July 2023) and the agenda may be found (here).
My personal view is that now is the time for us to be considering all options and make a call for all interested people to put their cases and have them looked at. This is in line with the resolution asking the Assembly Hall working group's terms of reference to look at the options. Not everyone will agree with me - individual advocates of schemes may be uncomfortable with us taking a look at the alternatives, but we really must do so to ensure we come out with the best outcome for the town.
This work should be informed by work already done. This includes the Melksham Assembly Hall Strategic Brief of 2017 (here) and the Melksham Assembly Hall Community Survey of late last year (here). Building condition of the Assembly Hall may be found (here); the only formal comment on the state of the Blue Pool that I have found on the Town Council's website is (here) from 2018.
I do not find it easy to search documents on the Town Council's website so I may have missed some. I have collated what I've found in a library of public documents at http://www.fomah.org.uk/library.html and will add to this library as time moves on, including the addition of other old documents if they come to light - I have asked the Town Clerk to provide documents that can be reasonably found relating to Blue Pool work back to the work done in association with Wiltshire Council on the Campus project.
In my opinion, Monday's agenda is slim. It does reference councillors with a link to the presentation made on 17th July and the business plan so things we should look at -
1. Invites (currently 4 non-councillors)
2. Terms of reference
3. Present business plan; reference known documents
4. Get progress from Town Team (including 3 month progress and immediate / urgent AH repairs)
5. Invite other inputs and channels on building and facility strategy; ask about Tidworth option
6. Invite update and Assembly Hall pricing and other things for the intermediate time
There has already been recent public input in both the Assembly Hall needs assesment (link above and on the web site) and in the Town Centre masterplan consultation / cluster 1 which closed on 19th March 2023 and has informed draft neighbourhood plan work; the draft masterplan is online (here) but it is dated last December and there will be a significant plan update in public soon. Not withstanding these consultations, further public views should be sought as we make a decision on the Blue Pool purchase and the consequential plans to ensure that we are in line with informed public views. The decision will be with us for years to come.
Q - If it's just £1 why not just buy it?
A - Because it's a huge ongoing liability to take on
A - Because we need to know whether it will be cleaned out first / prepared for sale
A - Because we need to negotiate access such as taking down that darned wall
A - Because we need to know we have immediate and long term support and use and financing
Q - Why not just knock it all down and build new on the whole site including AH
A - Because it would cost an order of magnitude more that re-use
A - Because the new build would probably be smaller and we could do less
A - Because we would lose the Assembly Hall for years and perhaps ever
A - Because of the disruption caused to access to the Campus and Melksham House
A - If we knock down just the Blue Pool, what effect on the 1848 building and AH.
A - Because of the environmental cost of demolish and rebuild
Q - Are the Town Council really going to decide before October 2023
A - I doubt it, even though Councillor Alford put that time on the group's work
Q - What will the outcome be?
A - I don't know. Adding the Blue Pool in to the Assembly Hall looks sensible to me.
A - I don't know. Some suggest we should be "more ambitious" which could be expensive
A - I don't know. Some would like the whole site (AH+BP) off Town Council hands
A - I don't know. The Hall is well used and loved, but not by some of the councillors who will make the decision.
Published Sunday, 23rd July 2023
Learning about our photoVoltaic panelsThe scaffolding around our home was removed - at last - today, and it's good to have our view of the garden back. And now we can see the full glory of the photoVoltaic panels on our roof. We are starting to learn about our system - installed under the Wiltshire scheme but it's taken an age to complete with lots of frustrations and date slippages. We're now learning how to read all the various graphics and see what savings we make - claw back some of the investment and see how the finances work, see if we're helping the planet or see if we just feel good about it.
I'll tell you about this at ClimateFest on 9th September - you have that date in your diary, right? We're planning speakers, stalls, updates, local "names" sharing their own environmental audits and helping you with yours, and an "any questions" with a panel. From 13:00 to 17:00 in the Assembly Hall
If you would like to be more involved than just attending, please let me know or come along to the Town Hall at 18:00 on Tuesday 1st August for our Environment and Climate Working Group. New member will be welcomed with open arms.
Published Saturday, 22nd July 2023
Who would be a parish councillor?
I am a parish councillor - one of four representing the south ward of the town on Melksham Town Council. There are ...
... those things that we are embarrassed to be thanked for because it's not really our doing but we are given credit for.
... those things which we are criticized for by our fellow councillors or others, but perhaps that's because its something they should have done.
... those things where we know we have helped hugely and made a real difference, but very few others realise. It could be as simple as bringing something to someone's attention, or long term support.
... those things that make people think we're wonderful because a difficult choice that goes their way, and those things that make people think we're ghastly because we make a decision for the wider community rather than for them personally, or where it's not in our remit, the law, available time, expertise or budget to help.
... those things that we enjoy doing, but people don't think we should enjoy - so get thanked for to excess ... and those things that are thankless tasks which people feel we should enjoy.
... those things that are very important for people but are emotionally draining, and because they are personal and include privacy issues, we can't even share with our closer colleagues.
... those things where we have failed to pick up on something and with hindsight regret that, or where we look back with hindsight and wonder if a decision was the right one or not.
... those things we have followed up, but forgotten to get back with a report /outcome to the person or people who raised it
... those things we would love to do, but now that we're elected councillors rather than ordinary members of the public we can no longer say or do - enough of those make it make us wonder if we should really be a councillor
... those important things that are technically in the public domain, but are well hidden and not explained, and which we may decide it's easier to let sleeping dogs lie.
... those things which in our enthusiasm we over-do it when we should let it go or leave it to our staff team.
... those things which we say (or write) in our keenness which unthinkingly cause needless hurt and concern to others.
... those things where we claim to be experts (the good witch) and put ourselves forward where in reality the others around us have an expertise we hadn't appreciated, or where we need to consider what our predecessors have learned already.
... those things where we look at a small and practical project and then let our desire to do even better have us adding to the project so that it gets out of hand on scope and cost, sometimes loosing the original intent to meet a need, sometimes going way outside intended budget, often extending the time scale considerably, and probably loosing the whole project in the process.
... those things where the most local of needs does not align with the less local needs, or the needs of our political affiliation.
... those things that we know need attention, but we fear raising because all we'll do is infuriate others, or we don't raise because we're taking a break from council stuff.
... those things that we could do, but as unpaid volunteers we wonder if we really should be spending our own money and time in so doing.
OK - overall, I enjoy it - where I can help and know in my heart I have done so, the satisfaction is rewarding. And being retired, this sort of community activity helps me keep my mind (and body) active and it provides interaction with a large and social group with a general approach of betterment of the community. And I am always learning; many views and overarching principles (environment, openness, equality) are fixed and unlikely to change. How they are implemented can and does update, sometimes with significant alteration. Please help keep me informed and learning - you my readers and our residents are my lifeblood.
Illustrtation - a still from the Town Council video (on Facebook) of last Monday's meeting
Published Friday, 21st July 2023
Transport Focus - and Melksham train ticketsRailway Station Staffed Ticket offices - a Melksham perspective and can we look forward with changes to having far better here?
Most railway stations in our area have ticket offices where staff sell you tickets, answer queries (such as "what times are the trains coming back" and "can I travel on the xx:xx train with an off peak ticket"). Melksham is different - we only have a ticket machine, rather than a member of staff. It is hard for newcomers to use, and only offers a limited range of products.
There is a proposal under public consultation to close almost all remaining ticket offices in England (even Paddington!) and that lasts just into the middle of next week, with closures slated to be completed by the end of next year. With 13% of ticket sale now being from ticket office staff when it used to be over 80%, of course things need to change (and indeed have already) but what we're left with is a how to best help that remaining 12%, many of whom (for various reasons) cannot easily of comfortably switch to electronic means. If the ticket offices all closed, would those people happily change? Under the current alternatives - NO! - as evidenced by the significant number of people I speak with in Melksham who do no use our station, citing they catch the train from Chippenham, Westbury or Bradford-on-Avon so they can get their ticket from a person..
Is the answer to save ticket offices then - perhaps even against the trend open one at Melksham? It could be, or it could be that the solution here (in Melksham) is ...
1. To simplify the fare system so that it's easy to understand
2. To update the ticket machine to that it's usable in bright sunlight and rain
3. To reprogram the ticket machine to make it easier and quicker to use, perhaps with an interactive conversation mode with a regional specialist
4. To make it clear that passengers unable to purchase their ticket before they join the train may do so from the Train Manager without risk of penalty
5. To introduce a "Station Ambassador" role to provide help, information and support to customers.
To give readers an idea, currently staffed stations with ticket offices in the area include Chippenham, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Westbury, Bath Spa, Swindon, Warminster and Frome, all of which are proposed to close. The 10 nearest UN-staffed stations to where we live at present are as follow (sorted by number of passenger journey tickets to and from that station - figures just precovid):
19536 Maiden Newton
17004 Dilton Marsh
Melksham, Yetminster, Thornford and Chetnole are single platform station and have fewer trains calling there (current data) than the other unstaffed stations listed, all of which have two platforms.
On Wednesday (19th July) I was at the Transport Focus board meeting in Bristol (picture) looking at many national and sub-national train and bus issues and it was wonderfully informative and an example of an excellent and useful meeting in public. The sort of meeting that's a real pleasure to attend. You can watch it back at https://transportfocus.baevents.co.uk/bristol-board-meeting-july-2023/live-event/ should you wish to do so.
Published Thursday, 20th July 2023
A long and techincal oneMonday night's full council meeting was one of the more "interestng" and it was good to see so much input from the ten councillors present. At times, perhaps our vigour in making a point overstepped the bounds of politeness and usual decorum, and indeed since the meeting I have had calls from outside the group of councillors present asking if I'm OK and offering support. Yes, thank you - I'm fine; putting points across and campaigning for stuff you believe in is not about populatity, though it helps when it comes to a vote.
In particular, a thank you to the councillor who called me to follow up and exprssed his personal regret at overstepping the mark. Noted, and thank you. If (in the heat of the moment) I said anything I should not have done, I extend my apoloies too. I wasn't aware of my doing so at the meeting, but have since received inputs concerning my comments about the absence of the staff members who had crafted text in agenda items from the meeting at which we were to discuss and being asked to adopt their text. So whilst I still feel it was in order for me to criticise the fact that we were being asked to go forward with a proposal in the absence of it's author, I should not have expressed that criticism in a way that shared the reason for absence, which without permission to share was an invastion of the personal privacy of that staff member. The written record on my online page has been corrected, and I apologise to that staff member for the concern caused.
* I was relieved that the Social Media and Communications Policy was put back to a subsequent meeting to give is proper time to consider it, and I have been promised that the recording of Monday night WILL remain available online until (at least) the minutes have been approved at the next full council meeting. At https://www.facebook.com/melksham.town/videos/858699415808668
* I remain disappointed at the lack of progress from the Town Council (or feedback on it if a lot of background work has been done) during the three months allocated to waymark our direction on the Blue Pool, where there is a window of opportunity to plan forward for the town with both the Blue Pool and adjacent and attached Assembly Hall. I proposed that the Friends of Melksham Assmebly Hall, who have worked informally to come up with an example of what could be done, and what FoMAH members feel would be a good idea, should be given a remit to carry on the work for the council in the apparent absence of progress from them. Cheeky, really - FoMAH isn't an elected body and of course the council and the councillors you chose at the last elections are the responsible body. I couldn't have expected them to pass over any authority though more of a tone of "thank you" and less of a tone of indigation and "that's our job" would have been appreciated. Anyway - some effect in the right direction there. Further writing to follow to take things positively forward. Accompanying picture - Blue Pool roof As an aside - a HUGE "thank you" to the FoMAH team who have contributed so far to the example of what could be done. This wonderful volunteer enthusiasm is so much appreciated and can help move us councillors toward a well informed decision for the town. Presenation is at http://www.fomah.org.uk/bluepool_20230717.pdf
* It's been standard practise where members of the public are present - especially where there are several on the same topic - to bring that item forward in the agenda as a politeness to members of the public who might not want to sit there for up to three hours. I was surprised and disappointed that this convention was not followed on Monday - though it did mean that our public saw the council in action more than the othewrise would, and that cannot be a bad thing.
* There were two matters late in the aganda that were of confidentail nature. One we took and the outcome was positive. The other was time dependent and was lost; hard work by other councillors had gone into it (thank you to them) and my understanding is that work will go forward as an element of the neighbourood plan. I personally am happy with the detail in there, and secure in the knowledge that it will come to further (and public) consulatation before being adopted. Of ocurse I cannot speak for what my councillor colleagues would have said the other night, but I guess it would have been none-contraversial and indeed the hard work done by fellow councillors has (in my view) resulted in a brilliant plan element that will help take the town and area forward.
Published Wednesday, 19th July 2023
Electronic communication policies - time to reflect
Two wrongs have resulted in a right - for the moment.
Appropriate information availability to the public (and even to town councillors) about what's going on in Melksham, and public and councillor feedback on it, is one of my key strategic drivers.
An agenda item for last night's Full Council meeting "To review and adopt a Social Media and Electronic Communication Policy" with a proposed policy new to my eyes in the agenda pack, source undeclared was wrong in that it did not give an adequate opportunity for questioning, consideration and indeed consultation.
Last night's agenda was a very full one, and there was not (never going to be?) enough time to consider everything - wrong as these things should not be set up to fail.
On the Social Media and Electronic Communications policy, I was going to propose that we defer adoption of the policy until we had been given time to question some elements with the author, perhaps suggesting improvements and listen to wider views. In the end, 10 p.m. came and this item was lost. wrong that it was being put through without adequate discussion, wrong that the meeting was overloaded but right that we now have a chance to start by learning from the authors when they are available as to the reasoning behind certain measures before we vote in them.
Scroll Down to find my post of a couple of days ago that includes the full text of the proposal
I am NOT in favour of a free for all where everyone can say what they like, but neither am I in favour of a set of tight rules that suppress useful public information and views without good cause, making the roles of staff members as well as councillors difficult, and detaching our local democracy from our community to the detriment of all.
The inclusion of the supporting document for the "Hydropower System Feasibility Study" which was in last night's agenda pack will no longer be possible. "Communications from the Council will meet the following criteria" ... including "not contain content knowingly copied from elsewhere, for which we do not own the copyright". We do not own the copyright on that document (there's someone else's copyright on there) although we have permission to share it
Communications must "not contain any personal information" and "personal information on to other people or groups outside of the Council, this includes names, addresses, email ..." so that excludes the names and email addresses of the police officers in the police report presented last night.
"Do not forward personal information on to other people or groups outside of the Council, this includes names" so that means that people subject to the policy cannot say "get in touch with your MP who's Michelle Donelan"
"not contain content that is knowingly unlawful, libellous, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented or racially offensive" in communications from the council. Good - but nothing to stop content that is knowingly untrue; I believe I have examples - not sure if I believe "The Council will always try to use the most effective channel for its communications" from within the policy itself, as the examples above seem to rule out effective communications in the future - a policy against itself!
Perhaps I am overthinking this - but I am looking not only to our current team, but towards the legacy it would leave to a future team who perhaps are not less scrupulous and more looking to take the opportunities of holes offered by a poor policy than the current team.
Published Tuesday, 18th July 2023
Blue Pool and Assembly Hall 2 x full Town Council meetings, 17th July 2023. The full Town Council on 26th June voted for a three month project to look at the future of the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall. The Town Council was allocated £10,000 to engage a structural engineer to look at the condition of existing resources and advise on the possible, and the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall were looking at an example of the possible. With only 2 full council meetings in the three months, tonight was an opportunity to report back.
On the Town Council side, our Clerk is waiting to hear back from a quantity surveryor. I don't know if that's from the initial approach or with a final report.
On the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall side, a huge amount of work has been done and we reported back on that tonight. Our presentation and supporing document is at http://www.fomah.org.uk/ and you can see the huge amount we have done.
But there should not be sides - it should be moulding into a partnership. It's my view that the Town Council needs to step things up a bit or it will fail to meet the deadline it set itself, and to be a partner and not a hurdle.
Published Monday, 17th July 2023
Sneaking in a policy that stifles sharing?Update - 18th July - the meeting ran out of time and the consideration of this issue was, therefore, deffered. See (here) for new article and comment.
On Monday 17th July 2023, your Town Council will be asked to adopt a new "Social Media and Electronic Communications Policy".
Much of it is good, but I have serious concerns. It appears to limit what council staff and councillors can say, even in terms of sharing information which is available in public. It confirms the right of the council to access councillor's emails in certain circumstances, while failing to define the limits on that. It confirms, correctly, the council's right to remove material in the case of some types of breach, but it does not state anything about material validly published being retained, allowing the council to delete and edit as it wishes. It allows some categories of posted information to be published and remain which we probably would not want there in The Council's name. There is a lack of clarity in whom it applies to.
The proposed policy "appeared" for the first time on Tuesday evening (12th June) on pages 147 to 149 of the 219 page agenda pack of the second of two full council meetings to be held the following Monday evening. There is no explanatory text, nor originator's signature. By Friday, I had established that the policy was written by an officer (not our communications officer) with amendments by our town clerk. It appears to be based on a mature template. The Town Clerk has not been available from Wednesday, and both she and the officer concerned are not available on Monday and will not be at the meeting to address queries and concerns.
If I were being a "Drama Queen", I might suggest that this new policy is being sneaked in with the intention of it being adopted, unnoticed, during a busy meeting, and with an aim of reducing the availability of public information from your council and councillors. To give lie to any such suggestion, I will propose that we defer adoption of the policy until councillors have had a full chance to understand some of the elements and reasons for omissions, and submit and agree amendments. It can then come back, as a policy which is strong and clearly does not infringe basic democratic rights, benefitting from the inputs and ideas the multitude of skills in your councillors and staff such as the officers concerned with communications.
Published Saturday, 15th July 2023
BBC "Any Questions" in MelkshamUPDATE 16.7.2023 - excellent show. Superb publicity for Melksham and our team. I even got to ask a question (on railway station ticket offices) at (here) ... I emailed overnight (Friday) to Any Answer and they called me up during the discussions on the show ... full segment on station ticket offices at (here). Original post follows ...
This evening - 14th July 2023 - the BBC's "Any Questions" on Radio 4 will be broadcast live at 20:00 from Melksham. "Alex Forsyth presents political debate from Melksham Assembly Hall in Wiltshire with Thangam Debbonaire MP, Richard Foord MP, John Glen MP and Katherine Bennett." https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001npgh
It will be repeated at 13:10 tomorrow (Saturday 15th July) and that will be followed by "Any Answers" after the 14:00 news with Anita Anand hosting a follow up phone-in. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qmmy
Big "Thank You" to Terri Welch for suggesting to the BBC that they come to Melksham, and to the Town Council for providing such a suitable venue. Please listen in to hear speakers from across the region answer questions on current topics from local residents. Will questions be asked on the sharp rises in mortgages that many of you are facing, on the difficulty of finding an NHS dentist, on how to nurture British tennis players for Wimbledon, or whether cluster bombs should be made available to Ukraine? Perhaps a question will be asked on the BBC's current issues with the personal lives of their presenters?
As I write, tickets are still available at TicketSource ( [link] ) and I look forward to seeing friends there. Or, please, listen on line. It should be an interesting evening.
Published Thursday, 13th July 2023
CouncilSpeak - Abbreviations As councilors, we often abbreviate for speed and our own sanity (and to stop meetings going on too long). Here are some abbreviations you may come across at Melksham Town Council. I have also added a ward map as common query is "who are my councillors". Look back at http://grahamellis.uk/blog130.html to then find who you've voted in. Note that in East Ward, Louisa and Carl have both resigned; first vacancy to be filled by election tomorrow, second vacancy to follow thereafter. Outside the coloured areas, Melksham Town Council is almost entirely surrounded by Melksham Without Parish Council.
A&A - Assets and Amenities Committee
AGM - Annual General Meeting
ASB(O) - AntiSocial Behaviour (Order)
AH - Assembly Hall
AHWG - Assembly Hall Working Group
BAU - Business as Usual
BOA - Bradford-on-Avon
BP - Blue Pool
BRICKS - Charity number: 1183118; not sure what it stands for
CATG - Community Area Transport Group (Now LHFIG)
CCS - Crown Commercial Services
CCTV - Closed Circuit Television
CIC - Community Interest Company
ComDev - Community Developement Committee
CPT - Community Policing Team
CPRE - Council for the Presevation of Rural England
ECWG - Environment and Climate Working Group
EcDev - Economic Development and Planning Committee
EGM - Extraorindary General Meeting
FOI - Freedom of Information
FoMAH - Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall
GWR - Great Western Railway
HD - Hugh Davies (Head of Operations)
KGV - King George Fifth
LHFIG - Local Highways Footpaths and Infrastructure Group
LR - Linda Roberts (Town Clerk)
LTP - Local Tranport Plan
MELK - Sometime abbreviation for Melksham
MH - Melksham House
MKM - Melksham (Rail Industy abbreviation)
MP - Member of Parliament
MRDG - Melksham Railway Development Group (now MTUG)
MRUG - Melksham Rail User Group (now MTUG)
MTC - Melksham Town Council
MTUG - Melksham Transport User Group
MWPC - Melksham Without Parish Council
NALC - The National Association of Local Councils
NP - Neighbourhood Plan
NPII - Neighbourhood Plan 2
NPPF - National Planning Policy Framework
NR - National Rail
O247 - Option 24/7
PC - Police Constable
PCC - Police and Crime Commissioner
PCSO - Police Community Support Officer
PWLB - Public Works Loan Board
RACI - Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed
RDG - Rail Delivery Group
RFO - Responsible Financial Officer
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SEN(D) - Special Educational Needs (and Disabled)
SID - Speed Indicator Device
SLCC - Society of Local Council Clerks
TC - Town Council
TH - Town Hall
TIC - Tourist Information Centre
TOC - Train Operating Company
TVM - Ticket Vending Machine
TW - TransWilts
TWHC - The Well House Collection
TWSW - TravelWatch SouthWest
VAT - Value Added Tax
WC - Wiltshire Council
WCC - Wiltshire County Council (now WC)
WSO - Wiltshire Swindon and Oxfordshire
WWDC - West Wilts District Council (superceded)
WWRUG - West Wiltshire Rail User Group
Tempted to add links to all of those. Haven't, but please ask me about any of them!
Published Wednesday, 12th July 2023