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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Council Accounts
Day trips by train from Melksham this summer
A cry for the environment
What can I do? What will it cost me?
A hard decision to be made
Blue Pool. Seeking "left field" ideas.
Blue Pool. Should the town look to purchase?
Learning about our photoVoltaic panels
Who would be a parish councillor?
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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.

New Bristol Station - relevance to Melksham

Yesterday, I went to the official opening of the new railway station to the west of Bristol at Portway Park and Ride. And today the station has opened for use by the general public. Is there any significance in this for Melksham? Was it good use of my volunteer time?

Yes, and yes.

There were opportunities during the day to network with a number of influencers a decision makers across our region. Much of that 'work' is done behind the scenes, and there has been a great deal recently. A time of change is a time of risk - but also of opportunity to line things up for a better future.

The railways seem to be in an unfriendly political environment at present. Our PM, the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Transport Secretary and the Rail Minister all represent constituencies that have way under average rail involvements - under half the economic benefit and under half the employment. The rail unions are looking out for their immediate members, and with 40% of drivers (on GWR) reaching retirement age in the next 4 years (I need to check that stat) they're looking short term rather than long term. There is little effective passenger input, and with the move to working from home and Zoom rather than in person business meetings, far fewer votes in railways than there used to be, even if many of our trains are loading as never before with leisure traffic.

But never the less - a time of change and at time of opportunity. There is an ongoing consultation concerning the potential closure of all staffed ticket offices on Great Western Railway. Melksham has no ticket office, and is an example of a station with hundreds of journeys every day but perhaps could have a thousand in a few years time, but has been held back by ... infrequent trains ... lack of local transport to station ... fear of use by first time users ... unreliable train reputation ... no staff there to help.

In the fallout from the station ticket office changes, we have a very real potential in Melksham to move towards putting some of the issues right. I wrote to around to a number of Town and Parish clerks early last month alerting them to the planned closures and I'm delighted to see a number of inputs across the area - Chippenham, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Westbury and Frome. Here in Melksham, the changes are are also an opportunity and my thanks to Melksham Without who have also picked up the issue and written in which is useful groundwork - a hook on which we can hang suggestions as I was encouraged to be doing yesterday by friends who know more (and have more influence) than I do ;-)

Meetings in Bristol last month, and networking yesterday, gave me an opportunity to chat with some of the key people and - no promises - but as the ticketing changes come about, we have an opportunity and are already on the radar to be considered within those changes. It's wonderful what hinges can be oiled by a trip to a Park and Ride on the other side of Bristol.

Published Tuesday, 1st August 2023

Council Accounts

There have been problems with the Town Council's accounting records over recent months which have been assigned to problems with the software our team uses. It's a well known and much used in local government package and I believe we have used it for quite a long time. I have not been involved in any way with this - I only joined Finance and Admin in May, and this evening was the very first meeting of that committee I attended as a member.

We are told that the problem has been fixed, and is thought to have been caused by a a bug in the software, and it is hoped that the problem won't come back. That doesn't sound totally re-assuring to me. If it were a bug, I would have anticipated a report that "it was fixed and software update [on date / to release no.]" or "we know what it was and are working around it". The fact that we were told we were the only council effected is a surprise if it were a bug, though not impossible. Logic would suggest that if just one customer is having an issue, the specific setup / use by that customer should initially be the primary suspect.

Two councillors who were there this evening have backgrounds which mean we might have been able to help earlier on. However, neither of us is operational staff on the Town Council and we delegate the day to day running to that staff. Personally, they are very welcome indeed to ask me for my thoughts and help based on my personal background as are colleague councillors, but I try to avoid poking my nose in when not asked. There are time that a quiet "do you know I could help?" word is put in and on occasions it has been taken up.

This evening's meeting was a washout. Our agenda was purely to consider the software problems, but the report is that they are fixed. And indeed some confirmation of that has been provided in data from the town team which shows new figures for the first 3 months of this financial year - but the system was only fixed on Friday, data to councillors on Sunday and not enough time to have them and consider them on the agenda. With a very quick look through, I saw no red flags.

Published Monday, 31st July 2023

Day trips by train from Melksham this summer

Are you around Melksham in August? Looking for some days out with the children? The "Freedom of Severn and Solent" railway ticket lets you take 3 days in 7, or 8 days in 15, travelling as far as Portsmouth, Cardiff, Worcester, Tiverton, and Axminster - seaside at Poole, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Weston-super-mare - all at a price of £12.20 per person per day. And there's a third off that for railcard holders, and children are half price. You can get "Friends and Family" discounts too.

I took a "FoSS" ticket it as it's affectinalty know in June - travelled far and wide and took lots of picures. To give you some ideas ...

Tiverton Parkway
Severn Beach
Oldfield Park
Dorchester West
Southampton Central
Swindon (Wilts)
Mottisfont & Dunbridge

Clifton Down
Portsmouth Harbour
Cardiff Central
Bristol Temple Meads

Cheltenham Spa
Worcester Foregate Street
Yeovil Pen Mill
Great Malvern
Lymington Pier

I am encouraging you to get out and about and try some of these trips. Click on each of the links above, and you'll find an example day. The FoSS ticket is valid off peak - that's leaving Melksham at or after the 09:10 train to Westbury, or the 10:02 to Swindon on Monday to Friday or any train at the weekend or on Bank Holiday Monday.

For most destinations, you will need to change trains - the train manager will advise you, or your can look it up and check your journey ahead at

Want even more ideas? My suggestions above are for the 31 days of August. You coud also go to ... Yetminster, Bruton, Castle Cary, Portsmouth and Southsea, Eastleigh, Sway, Christchurch, Wareham, Chetnole, Thornford for Beer Hackett, Avoncliff, Freshford, Avonmouth, Sea Mills, Yatton, Bridgwater, Highbridge, Newport, Lydney, Ashchurch, Chepstow, Kemble, Eastleigh, Montpelier, Nailsea, Keynsham, Fareham, Bradford-on-Avon, Stapelton Road, Yate and Cam. Beware that Didcot, Oxford and London are NOT included on the ticket, but there are excellent day trip fares to both Oxford and Didcot.

Although I'm promoting this for the summer, the Freedom of Severn and Solent, and all of these destinations for day trips, are available all year.

Published Sunday, 30th July 2023

A cry for the environment

"My lords, ladies and gentlemen

"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.

"I stand here today to bring your environment to your attention. Our weather is getting more extreme. We are burning, drying out and storming at the same time. Sea levels are rising, wildlife is dying, natural resources are running out and we're polluting our water, earth and air.

"This is a worldwide problem. What can we - and you - do about this in Melksham?

"On Tuesday, 1st August 2023 at 18:00, here in your Town Hall, your Town Council's Environment and Climate Working Group meets and we're recruiting expert and keen volunteers to join as lay members to help promote and inform our residents and assist our Town Council in being more environment friendly.

"On Saturday, 9th September 2023 from 13:00 to 17:00, in your Assembly Hall just to the rear of the Town Hall, our ClimateFest will be open to all. I encourage you to come along, bring your questions, bring your experiences. Learn and help others learn how we can help the environment and make a real difference here in Melksham as well as for the world. For you, for your children and for your grandchildren.

"What's the cost? The cost of coming along is nothing but your time. The cost of letting the climate burn is the end of life as we have known it. Some changes you can make will be a cost to you. Other changes are just sense or common sense and may save you money. We have much to learn from each other.

"I am ... Graham Ellis. I'm an independent Town Councillor here in Melksham, one of your elected parish representatives here in the South ward. I stood on a platform of equal opportunities for all, on a platform of openness of information about local government, and on a platform of concern and action for the care of our environment. These are not always universally popular platforms, but elected n 2021 I stand by them in 2023 and will continue to do so at least until 2025.

"Please - come along on Tuesday evening at 18:00 if you want to volunteer your time an energy to help us inform and implement environment care in Melksham. Come along on 9th September to the Assembly Hall at 13:00 to learn about what we're doing and what you can do further for the local environment. It's our and your future.

"Thank you for your attention."

10:30, 11:45 and 13:00, Melksham Market Place, 29.7.2023

Published Saturday, 29th July 2023

What can I do? What will it cost me?

The Environment is important - the future of our planet. Not only climate but clean air and clean land, and resource availability such as energy and water and the survival of species and individuals members of species - including the human species including our own families. And not just survival, but survival with quality of life.

Why, with such a global and long term issue, am I writing this on my parish councillor's blog? Because it's not all global and we all have to (or should be) considering what we can do to help and indeed from a selfish viewpoint (which perhaps we all are) how our help can make our own lives be or feel better.

Our Environment and Climate Working Group meets at 18:00 on Tuesday 1st August in the Town Hall and every third Tuesday thereafter. At next Tuesday's we're welcoming members of the public. We need to bolster membership in planning for ClimateFest and helping that day, but also and far more important in helping all the council's committees and residents be environment aware and considerate in what they decide and what they do.

ClimateFest on 9th September 2023, open to the public from 13:00 to 17:00 in the Assembly Hall, will bring you
* Talks from local experts on topics such as smart energy, public transport and an XR Overview
* "Any Questions" where you can pose questions to a panel of experts and thinkers
* Environment Audits - some of your councillors and notable local folks will tell you about what they do to help the environment and invite you to do a similar audit for your own lifestyle
* Local stalls and experts with whom you can chat on various environmental issues
Program details to follow

Please come along on 1st August and / or 9th September. No booking needed for either date.

Published Wednesday, 26th July 2023

A hard decision to be made

I have received an email from a knowledgable voter in my ward, confirming that he's not been a supporter of the Assembly Hall over the years, but never the less making suggestions and making an extremely valued input. I am sharing my response as it covers a number of important points. The availability of the Blue Pool forces the Town Council into a position of having a decision to make - be that to grasp the nettle or to sit on its hands and do nothing. At least this is being discussed in public and we are not sleepwalking into nothing.

I wrote

Huge “Thank you” for this

The Assembly Hall has never (in my memory) been something that has engendered universal support - but it’s not unique in that; there are things that “need” to be done for elements of our population that the other elements really don’t benefit from. Those could be things done for a majority or signifiant minority, or those (and this is NOT the Assembly Hall) done to help a disadvantaged few be part of society out of basic humanity.

So it’s unlikely that we will have a universally acclaimed outcome from current discussions but what we need to do is to work toward a practical outcome that provides for the substantial number who want and use the facility, without costing those who don’t an “arm and a leg”. Of course, the Hall is part of our community and it’s more complex than that - it brings guests into town for example, who eat in restaurants, stay in hotels and fill up at petrol stations where the people running and working there get some economic benefit, even though they may not want to go to the Historical Association, Yoga, Car Club, Quiz night, the Area Board, “Polar Express” or a Fleetwood Mac tribute act!

You are right to caution against going bold - so bold that nothing happens.
- We have committed to spending up to £10,000 to help us make the right decision
- If we spend £1 on buying the Blue Pool, we probably commit to £100,000 in basic running costs and cleanup without proper view to the future.
- If on top of the pound, we spend £1,000,000, we could achieve much of the suggestions from FoMAH and have something that’s of real long term benefit for so many, and does so at a following cost that does not include substantial financing of loan repayments
- If we decide to knock down and start again, we are around £10,000,000 and could come up with a fantastic facility that would be a living memorial to those who took the bold steps to get it. But the risks of nothing happening if we go that route are high, and someone (perhaps the taxpayer) is going to be paying not the running costs, but interest and capital repayment, for many years to come.

This will be an analysis which I’m sure you’ve already made, [redacted], but now that I’m writing, I’ll be sharing much of the text wider to help others consider it as you and I are doing. Thank you for your specific inputs which we’ll feed through and into the process. The whole point of the 2 months (now) and £10,000 is to help us make the best decision for the long term and as yet I do not know the outcome - in many ways that makes me nervous through not knowing, but I want to be able to look back in a few years (and AFTER the next local election - I am not vote-searching) and know that we did good for Melksham

This is published in draft form on 24th July and will be updated on the publication date given below.

Published Tuesday, 25th July 2023

Blue Pool. Seeking "left field" ideas.

The "Blue Pool" was part of Melksham House grounds, then a lido, and most recently an enclosed swimming pool. That has now closed and the customer base moved to The Campus. Ownership has gone from Avon Rubber to Melksham Urban District Council to West Wilts District Council to Wiltshire Council. The Assembly Hall started as a Cheese Store and open market area. It then became a drill hall, the via the ministry as an equipment store in WWII and into the Assembly Hall.

Over the next 2 months the Town Council will be working out whether to offer to purchase the Blue Pool. If it does, it could provide a maintenance facility for our team, improved access to the Assembly Hall and better bar, reception, a Melksham Hub and cafe for mums and kids, Town Council parking including disabled, and space in which a museum, a senior's club and games room, and indeed much more. It could also decide to tear the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall down and build anew. It could sell the combined site to someone else to build something new. Or it could walk away from the opportunity to purchase.

The next month is YOUR opportunity to come up with something else if you have a "left field" idea for the whole site. For example, you could think about having it revert to an old use, or look at it for bowling - see (here) where there is reference to that. If you have a different business case option (we'll need an idea of how it will work in both conversion of use and running phases for several decades), please let me or another Town Councillor know for us to consider. I want to do my best to ensure that no-one comes along with an alternative overall use after recommendations have been made in September. Background information to help you is scattered, but you should find at least some of the public documents at in the Friend's Library.

Published Monday, 24th July 2023

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 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 panels

The 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

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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