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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Lighting in the park
Learning for Melksham
Assets and Amenities update
New Bristol Station - relevance to Melksham
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
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Some other pages on this site:
Home page and • town diary
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.

Splashpad - busiest day ever!


Yesterday, 10th August 2023, the Splashpad was its busiest ever. "Even busier than opening day" someone said, and I understand that was in 2019. It was wonderful to see it so crowded with children enjoying themselves. The Cafe was open, with extra staff called in to help serve, and ActiveTrowbridge had a bouncy castle in the park. There were hundred of people there enjoying themselves and that's exactly what it's there for. I was the "duty operator" of the splashpad - assisted, supported, overseen by our amenities team manager. I've been on a training course for the role I was in, and that's backed up by past training and activity as a swimming pool lifeguard, and on emergency first aid. I'm also rather used to handling unexpected happenings having run a customer facing business here in Melksham.

A wonderful day in the park - though not without incident. The suppliers of the loos beside the splashpad had scheduled work they were doing, and closed the loos for the day. Chocolate Ice Cream ran out at the cafe, and for the first time ever (I believe) the splashpad reached its locally set capacity of 60 and people had to wait a few minutes to get in. There was more litter than we would like around the park, and amenities team members were re-assigned from other important but not urgent duties to the Park Ranger role to pick up abandoned rubbish and clear Town Council bins.

Through the 7 hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) we had two short unscheduled closures of the Splashpad totalling about 45 minutes, and there has been criticism about this on social media. I am in a unique position on the Spashpad team of also being a Town Councillor, and that gives me a little more leeway to explain what's going on to answer those comments; written as a councillor as my view, and not the official view of the Town Council. I am also unusually well informed about yesterday, and I did (and repeated) the water test that went out of limits. So I can help explain, and also tell you how you (as a splashpad user) can help us keep it open right through the busiest of summer days.

We have to keep our water clean, with a plant and pump room around the back of the pavilion doing clever things with chlorine just like in a swimming pool. The water quality is monitored automatically, and we make additional manual checks too. Yesterday was extreme - the system tripped once, and once one of the check went just outside the very safe limits we have set. I'm sorry I had to clear the pool while the system was reset and recovered. The outages were far shorter than might have been, and I hope I kept you informed enough as to what was happening - though of course as this was the busiest day ever, we were in new territory!

So how does water get "dirty"? There are natural causes such as perspiration of course, but to those we need to add things like suncream washing off and people wee-ing in the pool. Yesterday, I was also litter picking around the pad, and a plastic wrapper or two can restrict the pumps and water flow. Recycling / cardboard containers are "clever", but when they get wet and break down, they add a lot of fibres and stuff to the water that our systems have to clear out. The systems are built to cope with a lot of this sort of thing, but volumes on the busiest day in 4 years pushed us over for a few minutes. Please help us help you if you're using the pad - use waterproof suncream, use the loos before you go in, etc. And, yes, I am aware that the loos close by were having work done on them yesterday and we were having to direct people to the other side of the park.

A long answer - but I hope that helps fill you in. It was heartbreaking to have to close the pad even for a short while, but the safety of our users is paramount and we won't take the slightest of risks. Our amenities manager stopped around way after the 5 p.m. public closure to run a series of "backwashes" to clean out the filters further and help us start tomorrow (now today) totally cleaned out. No guarantee that it won't be another really busy day, though I suspect that yesterday was a one-off with Active Trowbridge activities on the main field, and the immediate loos out of use, and it being a hot sunny day.

We count numbers in the splash pad from time to time - hundreds and hundreds of you yesterday enjoying yourselves. Great - please come down again and all through the month If you've not tried it, please come along and do so.


Published Friday, 11th August 2023

Lighting in the park

I am going to try to explain. Article prepared a day ahead and subject to correction

Prior to 2021, to the previous council, there was concern expressed that people felt unsafe when using / crossing KGV park in the dark and as a result of surveys and investigations, plans were put forward to install lighting. These eventually came to the current council in 2022 and there was a great deal of work done on what should be installed, with the majority of your councillors voting for a scheme that would / will put 16 lamps on tall posts around the circuit. But so much time had elapsed from quotations to go-ahead that prices had gone up and a few months ago the council was asked to vote further funding to this.

My own vote was against lighting the circuit at the initial vote. I felt that just 3 lights - 2 along the road to the adventure centre and one between the adventure centre and skate park are all that are required, but I went along with council majority and accepted the decision, especially as this isn't in "my" ward. When the vote for additional funding came up, I supported that on the grounds that I was accepting corporate council responsibility to get the job done; a rise in price in line with inflation was really not a reason to switch tack on the whole long-discussed and agreed project. Others continued to attack the decision though.

With the council having approved the plans and chosen the lights, it passed to our Head of Operations to implement them, and I (for one) have been looking to hear about and see progress. But nothing has been visible, and there hasn't been an easy way for councillors to learn what's been going on; realistically, our decisions are picked up and followed through by our paid staff team of experts, with just occasional feedback and it's not our role to be parenting them, or attempting to do so. However, at our Assets and Amenities meeting in June we asked that our Head of Operations report back next time - "Work Stream and Priorities
This item was deferred to the next Asset Management and Amenities meeting on 7 August 2023. The item will not be in confidential session." - my request (and I was not alone) that the issue be in public.

And so - for 7th August - we had a report from the Head of Operations before us. I was disappointed that the Head of Operations was not in attendance at that meeting to answer any follow up questions we had on his report, especially as we were left with the impression from the written word that little progress had been made, and indeed that what movement there had been had not been in the direction mandated by council. Sadly, frustrations and a lack of progress lead to things boiling over.

So - where are we now? As I understand it:
* some work has been done on power supplies
* no lighting has been ordered yet
* the councillors are asking for a local expert's report
* councillors are encouraged to ask people in the park what they think
* when we get the inputs, we'll decide what to do.

>> The idea of us pulling up a map the other night and deciding for ourselves new lighting plans, without the Head of Operations or expert involved as we did so, did not go forward.

>> It may well be that the local recommendations differ from the 16 lights around the circuit

>> I note that the path lighting project in the East Ward seemed to go from a twinkle in the eye of (then) Councillor Lewis into a full schems and implementation is a very short time, and would hope that the team involved in KGV lighting can use the expertise built up in Melksham from that experience.

I will (yes) be asking people in the park. But it needs more than just those people to be considered - they are the ones who feel safe to use the unlit park. And we are (perhaps) putting in lights for the other people - the ones who do NOT turn up in the park. It's a classic schoolboy (or schoolgirl) error to only ask your existing customers why they use you; they are important, but if you're looking to improve your product to additionally need (and it's much harder) to address those who are not using you and you wish to attract.



Published Thursday, 10th August 2023

Learning for Melksham

Yesterday ... 9 trains, 3 buses and 2 trams. Melksham - Westbury - Warminster - Salisbury - Axminster - Lyme Regis - Seaton - Colyford - Seaton - Axminster - Salisbury - Westbury - Frome - Westbury - Melksham. Bacon Sarnie at Warminster, Vegan Chilli in Axminster, Cake at Colyford, and Cornish pastie in Seaton. Just a coffee to keep me awake in Salisbury. Looking at all sorts of ideas with a "would this work in Melksham" theme, while at the same time aware that only a very few of them if any will really be practical to implement. I do fancy dominoes or draughts tables in the park, and I still fancy a "Happy to Chat" on just one or two benches, but it's proven even impossible to get a leaky roof fixed that was agreed as being urgent in February. And I thought that rail was slow to do things!!

The 21:16 from Westbury to Swindon has only been running for two complete months - a brand new service which after years of asking has been brought in - a round trip via Melksham with the train returning from Swindon at or soon after 22:30 when the connection from London arrives. I used the service for the first time last night, and was delighted to count 19 passengers on the train towards Swindon on the section to, from and though Melksham. Seven passengers got off, three more joined; everyone who got off walked away from the station - no lifts, no cycles, no parked cars. And everyone crossed the A350 on the level rather than using the subway. A report from a regular train user who was on the 22:30 from Swindon on Monday night reported around 20 passengers on that service too, and that the train routinely and correctly waits until the London (to Cheltenham Spa) connection has been made. All this really good - I recall being asked to get an average of 20 passengers per train through the day for the service to become permanent in 2013, with three years to build up to that level. And here we are, just 3 months in on a service at the extreme end of the day already at that level. For the first time in my memory, full days out by train are now practical, but observing the passengers the reality is that the service is meeting a wide variety of travel needs - all shared on the same train service as they should be. As ever on a flow that's not a commuter one, numbers will (and are reported) to go up an down day by day.

This post shared from my online / rail forum at http://www.passenger.chat/27765


Published Wednesday, 9th August 2023

Assets and Amenities update

Report of the (Melksham Town Council) Head of Operations - pages 111 and 112 of the public agenda pack published on 31st July for the meeting of the Asset Management and Amenities Committee to be held at 7 p.m. on Monday 7th August. Copied here for information, complete and initially without comment or edit. (Here) is a link to the full agenda including a link to join the meeting remote if you wish.

1. KGV event power and lighting project.
The power supply for events has been ordered to be installed by Kan Connections as a separate item. The lighting scheme that was proposed and agreed will exceed budget and not provide the level of control required. The luminaires, although looking aesthetically in keeping with the heritage of the park cannot be retrofitted with controls. This item has moved back and forth for a number of years; there have been differences of opinions and costs have escalated during this time. To bring the scheme to fruition, a hybrid scheme could be the answer to satisfy as many aspects of the project as possible. This would involve installing street style lighting at the back of the park to light the road from the car park to the adventure centre, which would satisfy safety concerns. Something more decorative around the pavilion area such as festoon to enhance the Café operation and more traditional heritage columns in the park itself at certain points creating a route from one side to the other.

2. KGV fencing.
The KGV fencing work commenced on 31st July and is likely to take 2 weeks.

3. Eco loos.
These have now been installed but further work starts on w/c 7th August to dig out the vaults that will make the loos truly eco. The cubicles have been successfully ventilated following remedial works. The groundworks are being completed by a local contractor as part of the project. The digestion of the waste will be undertaken by worms and insects and raked back on a regular basis by Healthmatic employees to aid the drying out process before removal from site. The loos use around 30kW of power per annum.

4. Cricketers Café
The café continues to attract reasonable trade but the work needs to start to transform the internal space ready for the Winter. A letter of intent for a 10 year lease has been issued and quotes are coming in for the various works which will start this process. The Council and the Operator will both be investing up to £25,000 each into the project ( to be approved by Council)

5. Goal posts at Foresters
These have been ordered and we are awaiting an install date.

6. Awdry Avenue play area
There has been no progress to date on this project as the consultant that was going to undertake the work has moved on. Our retained consultant who is working on the building condition survey works will make a start on the proposed redevelopment and it is envisaged that the consultant can work with the Parks Working Group to develop a play area strategy.

7. Water troughs in Allotments
The first water trough has been installed at Awdry Avenue and we have two more, ready to be sited in suitable locations. It is suggested that these are in Addison and Methuen but it has also been highlighted that there is a need for two more at Awdry Avenue. The cost of each trough is £154, delivery is £48.30 and installation is around £80 per trough including fittings.

8. Amenities Assistants
Three new members of staff started this month and the fruits of their labour are clear to see in and around the Town.

9. Roundhouse and Church Wall
The reparatory works to both these structures is unlikely to be done this year due delays in contact from Wiltshire Council (which has now been forthcoming) and the availability of our stonemason. If a window appears, both jobs will be progressed if possible.

10. Assembly Hall roof repairs from building condition report survey
Our retained consultant for the building repair survey works has struggled to generate responses from the roofing companies that initially expressed an interest with exception of a local contractor who has been to site. We will continue to persevere as this is a time critical item but may have to concede that only one contractor is interested and make appropriate arrangements in the light of this situation.

11. BMX track and Sensory Garden
Our retained consultant for the building repair survey works will be tasked to make a start on these projects over the next two months to gain some traction whilst the new team are bedding in and getting trained up.

Published Sunday, 6th August 2023

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
Sherborne
Oldfield Park
Dorchester West
Salisbury
Southampton Central
Stroud
Bournemouth
Swindon (Wilts)
Mottisfont & Dunbridge

Weymouth
Clifton Down
Portsmouth Harbour
Cardiff Central
Axminster
Brockenhurst
Frome
Warminster
Weston-Super-Mare
Bristol Temple Meads

Cheltenham Spa
Poole
Romsey
Worcester Foregate Street
Yeovil Pen Mill
Gloucester
Great Malvern
Lymington Pier
Taunton
Hamble

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 gwr.com.

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
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Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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