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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Communication Guidelines - Vital we get them right
Why has the fix price gone up so much?
Transport Hub - could Melksham learn from this?
Two rapid decisions afoot on Thursday?
Splashpad - busiest day ever!
Lighting in the park
Learning for Melksham
Assets and Amenities update
New Bristol Station - relevance to Melksham
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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.

Repair the roof? Council Objectives?

Update - 18th August 2023. The Councillors decided to go back to the company that quoted for roof fixes and ask them to look at vital fixes while we work out what's happening to the hall and Blue Pool in coming years. There is an urgency to some fixing but at the same time absurd to spend £90,000 if we're looking at a shutdown to move something new. We have also instructed our clerk to proceed with a structural engineer survey of both the Blue Pool and Assembly Hall to understand the options we have - I rather thought we had agreed this already, but tat seems to have got lost in the minutes and messages being passed round - lesson to read back minutes very carefully. Statement made that WC haven't actualy said we are their preferred new owner for the Blue Pool and there's an element of risk that we may find that they find a different new owner. Headline - the Assembly Hall remains marketed and looked after to the extent it has been, though we remain limited in staff, management and maintenance resources.

I thank fellow councillors Price, Goodhind, Aves, Rabey and Westbrook for supporting these votes, and councillor Hubbard for his words of support via Zoom (you have to be in the room to vote). Sad that yet again we have to put off a decision an a repair, but we need to know what we are doing and it should be done in a few weeks, with the proper data available to us. There were no votes against, though one councillor abstained. A thanks also to the officers supporting the meeting; they know I was disappointed that some data only reached me a few hours before the meeting and it was impractical to give it full consideration, but I do appreciate they have a great deal on their plates and cannot prioritise everything.

The elephant - big decision made the bigger as the consequence of our previous actions or lack of them - remain. To some extent we have kicked it down the road again which is very regrettable. The committment to the ongoing venue, though, is to be celebated as are activity changes to help move that forward.

Written and posted prior to the meeting as prepared 17th August:

Ladies and Gentlemen - fellow town councillors and residents of greater Melksham,

We have before us a single quotation for around £90,000 + VAT for what are described as temporary and urgent fixes to the leaking Assemble Hall roof, where the leaks were the butt of comedian Rich Hall's jokes when he did a show here on 8th March 2019. He is back on 2nd November - "Making his long-awaited return to Melksham" says the advertising for 2nd November 2023. I wonder if he'll make comment on the long waited "urgent" repairs to the full house of around 400 he's expected to draw.

Three questions:
1. How did we get here?
2. What are our long term goals?
3. So what we going to do?

There is much of importance to consider, and so as well as speaking to councillors tonight I have posted an extended version of this text online and have emailed a link to all councillors.

How did we get here

The longer term

The Assembly Hall is a mature building like others owned by the Town Council and requires upkeep to maintain its fabric. Failure to do so can result in spiralling costs until minor repairs become major, or indeed impractical.

Under the previous council, a significant annual sum of around £100,000 was put aside for the maintenance of the Assembly Hall and other buildings, but that money was re-allocated to projects in KGV park. So no major budget for keeping buildings in order.

In 2020, we were dealing with Covid and that rightly was extraordinarily all encompassing.

In 2021, you the electorate voted in 13 new councillors with just 2 continuing, and within the first few months 12 out of 15 councillors had voted to declare the Assembly Hall Manager redundant. A major decision with papers issued in secrecy a few minutes before we voted, though it's my understanding this had been agreed ahead of time by the "Together for Melksham" and Conservative teams. We (but not I) divested ourselves of our expert in managing and booking the hall, and looking after the building. I questioned the future prior to the vote, and was re-assured that our Head of Operations would step in with remaining work.

We also had a visioning day - in the hall - in the summer of 2021. A good look forward to our plans for the next four years. I've (frankly) forgotten much of that - the strategy document that was to follow written up by officers has yet to be delivered and we are working and doing budget planning ruddeless

Assembly Hall hire charges had been unchanged for a number of years, and rightfully a review was undertake in 2022. Proposals were made by the Head of Operations to the council as an agenda item, but the report was left out of the agenda pack to be replaced by a worked spreadsheet which it transpired had been put together by Councillor Hubbard and we all sat around playing about with figures. What we came up with was remarkably good in the circumstances, but never the less with the changed structure as well as prices resulted in a significant issue with some bookings. However, you can't keep a good hall down

The Assembly Hall Working Group was set up, but every time it came to full council to ratify its terms, it was bounced back. It's main purpose was to review hire rates ahead, but in practise officers and a couple of members interpreted the rules to regain things like the Roller Disco events and the popular summer and Christmas shows. In Spring 2023, we voted to keep prices unchanged - "The prices were reviewed for the last financial year and anecdotally have been well received ..." - good, but a business with a six figure turnover should work with more data than anecdotal - it's a ship sailing rudderless!

Also from those reports - "VAT has not been treated consistently in the past and now this has been identified, we’ll need to make some changes to the way we invoice hirers and event bookings". Yes, but we haven't properly done so yet. A meeting in May confirmed that VAT has been charged twice so that of £24 ticket price, only £16.66 reaches the act rather than £20, but I'm still waiting to see the instructions we worked on with the accountant to fix that.

So, come this spring to have a hall that's been staggering on, vital works undone, excellent deputy managers and team and friends but very limited management from a very busy Head of Operations. But with so much community support that it's been able to carry on - booked every Saturday in September and we've been squashing the newsletter to include all the other things going on.

The Shorter term

In May and June, it became was confirmed that the future of the Blue Pool which adjoins and shares a wall with the Assembly Hall didn't have to be with Wiltshire Council and that there is potential for it to be considered as part of the future by Melksham Town Council.

With illustrative work of the sort of thing that could be done to help meet the need assessment survey of late 2022 and the Neighbourhood / Town Centre Master Plan consultation of February and March 2023, the Town Council voted on 26th June to ask for an appropriate expert to take a look at the existing building and advise us on their condition and advise us on future use with 3 options of purchase the Blue Pool and merge the buildings to meet extended needs, purchase the Blue Pool with a view to demolishing and rebuilding *something" on site to meet needs, and say "no thank you" to Wiltshire Council who are offering the Blue Pool for sale as surplus to their requirements for a token payment.

A timescale of 3 months and a budget of £10,000 was put on this work - to come back to full council, then, on 25th September with AHWG and FoMAH progressing it. Councillors and Friends toured, measured, inspected the Blue Pool in early July with our (FoMAH) expert volunteers and we worked with other groups to consider the public needs assessment and other internal needs such as that of the amenities team.

FoMAH brought to council on 17th July an early business plan, looking at all three options mandated, with an example of how some of the elements could fit in a joined building which is the best defined option at this point. The locum clerk reported that the town clerk was waiting to hear back from a quantity surveyor; she was unable to tell me whether this was prior to engagement, interim, or final work. Instead of being thanked and questioned by fellow councillors for the early work, I felt that FoMAH were criticize for going ahead with the very work we said we would do, and I took this as an example of "the best form of defence is attack". It looks like the were either embarrassed because nothing substantive had been done, or that they are motivated to look for a solution other than what is best for the town.

The locum promised to check with the Town Clerk on her return a few days after - on her return - and let me know more about the survey engaged and its timescale. I still await to hear.

I have asked about the next date for the Assembly Hall Working Group to meet. On 1st August the Committee Clerk wrote "Heather has asked me to set a meeting date for AHWG. The first suitable date she has is 2nd October 2023.". I am puzzled as to why a full council meeting can be called on 11th August to be held on 17th August, but the working group must be held off for 2 months.

What are our long term goals?

I can declare mine - to do the best for the people of the Melksham Area and what they want, as defined in consultations above and enhanced by other view too. References are made by fellow councillors to the silent majority. Other who do not use the Assembly Hall and Blue Pool are massively being encourages to join in and we can and should meet their needs too - provided that they will actually use the facilities provided and will be there to support it along the way. Both existing and future user bases are important - the existing base has shown its loyalty over many years. Future users need to get sufficiently involved now to show that they, too, will be there.

Other need to speak for themselves. Moving repair budgets away from the Assembly Hall, making the manager who runs the hall business redundant, then calling (recent MIN) for it to be knocked down and replaced by something suitable for more comedy acts (when the hall is suitable for them anyway) looks like a pattern that could almost be designed to close the hall. So does bringing this motion to an extra council meeting at short notice in the middle of the holiday season. From my councillor feed today - "Hi everyone, just a reminder about the meeting tomorrow. I know we have a lot of members on holiday at the moment and want to ensure we are going to be quorate for tomorrows meeting. 2 really important items." so there's an admission that a big decision may be being taken with a minimum of councillors.

Sadly, in my view there is so much evidence that others do not share my view and are working with the objective of closing down the Assembly Hall as we know it. There is much more than I have written here. Whether that's to knock down the buildings on the site and build something new (which perhaps could have a ceebrarort new name) on it. Or to sell of the whole building and site to some sort of development (be it commercial, housing or something else). In both those cases, it would take years for anything to happen if at all, and the loyal customer base that will be using the hall day after day would be lost.

So what we going to do?

I hate to say it after all the delays and with the hall being allowed to rot through water damage, but in my view we should wait a further six weeks until we know what we are going to do.

I am minded that we are looking to cut a spend of £68000 on lighting in the park to a quarter of that, based on what we really need and want. We have a single quote before us which contravenes our standing orders and we could and should investigate that same avenue on the Assembly Hall roof, with experts in our community.

Let's have a full, complete report in the agenda pack when first published. for the next full council meeting on 25th September, which is the end of the three month period set in his proposal by councillor Alford and accepted without demur by the Town Clerk.

We run the risk of making a decision tonight that could set our course for the long future, while a report that we have commissioned is being worked on. Tonight is an opportunity being taken by those who don't use the Assembly Hall to try and put a nail in its coffin.

We should invite all councillors along to see the hall in action. Ladies and gentlemen of the council, I invite you to pass a motion that each councillor be funded from our training budget to attend an event of their choice in September (there are four) so that we can all be better informed having seen the hall and met the customers first hand when we soon make a major decision.

This article was written in haste as some papers were only supplied in the afternoon of the meeting - I may come back to correct typos and clarify things. Major changes I will declare an highlight if there are any.

Published Thursday, 17th August 2023

Communication Guidelines - Vital we get them right

I feel that having a good set of communications guidelines in place right across Council activities would make sense. But having a set of poorly written, incomplete and woolly ones would do more harm than good. We don't really have any at present.

In amongst all the busyness at the moment our clerk and her team have found time to take an example set from elsewhere and amend them into a set which they put to full council for review and adoption last month. It was such a full meeting that the agenda item got lost - for which relief much thanks, as I had only seen them with the agenda pack a few days previous, and hadn't had an opportunity to clarify certain things, nor to use my experience to suggest improvements.

I have now had an opportunity to go through the proposal and "red line" the elements I query. I have also added a section on things that could be usefully added - covering (for example) all communications and not just electronic ones. You'll find the proposal at and I would welcome thoughts / comments / inputs.

This may all look a bit theoretic, but it's actually a foundation that underly the fabric of our work. Even since the proposals of last month, what can and canot be communicated has been brought into question. In a separate incident, a comment of mine on a Town Council Facebook post was deleted by an officer; I felt I was being positive, but "comments on Facebook should really be for the public and any posts should be made by officers". I was a bit surprised so, yes, I'm in agreement with our officers that a good communications policy is overdue.

Published Wednesday, 16th August 2023

Why has the fix price gone up so much?

The figure for fixing the Assembly Hall roof is shocking - why has it risen so much? Reg gives us a clue in his report; associated information and reports (here).

* From New Civil Engineer, 7 JUL, 2022 BY TIM CLARK: "The cost of construction materials rose by almost a third in May compared to the previous year, according to the latest data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy". Over 3 years from the 2020 report to the work being done with building inflation at 27% puts the cost up by to 2 times what it was.
* Significant continued damage over the three years adds perhaps a further 50%
* Lack of allowance for scaffolding - another 40%
* And as the original was not tested by getting quotes but an optimistic estimate, a further 40%

Multiply those factors together and the price has gone up 6-fold ... £15,000 becomes £90,000

Perhaps not such a shock. The council planned to build a new maintenance shed in KGV Park, but with the price rising steeply has decided it should not do so after all. So there is a precedent. We seem to be good at sitting on our hands while prices go up out of our budget.

* We could ask "how did we get into this mess" but that won't solve the issue.
Admitting it is a scandalous failure of some sort won't solve anything

* We could question the brief that the report answers.
It's always good to know what the question was as you read an answer.

* We could ask for an intermediate update from the structural engineer we asked to be instructed in June for a report back in 3 months.
At the very least, we could usefully be copied on the brief (s)he has been given.

There is a huge difference between spending £15k and £90k. Hindsight and saying "we should have done this as soon as we were elected" is not an option. Inputs welcome

Published Tuesday, 15th August 2023

Transport Hub - could Melksham learn from this?

Here's a picture I took yesterday showing a rail interchange in a market town somewhere in the South West of England. As well as taking picture to update my "days out by train" library at I've been looking at ideas and inspirations for Melksham. In this example you'll notice how (or I can tell you):
• the platform backs out onto an active circle
• there are shops, coffee houses and restaurants with residences above
• there is and a wide pedestrianised walkway to the Town Square and attractions
• there's a local bus waiting at the station
• bridge over the railway to houses across the line
• station building with customer support staff at busy times
• trains were calling hourly in each direction, same time in each hour ("clock-face")
• trains are electric and call on the way from London to the seaside
• there were people of all sorts out enjoying themselves
• I heard so many tongues being spoken - only some I could recognise
• there's cinema, a performance and probably much more I don't know
• there are several specialist museums
population of this market town is just over 20,000

Published Sunday, 13th August 2023

Two rapid decisions afoot on Thursday?

At 18:47 on Friday evening, an extra full council meeting agenda was sprung on us for next Thursday (17th August). There are two substantive items on the agenda and they are:

4. Cricketers Cafe - Pavilion KGV
Members are requested to approve the investment of £25,000 for refurbishment costs to the pavilion and agree whether the funding is to come from the Major Projects Reserve or the General Reserve.

5. Assembly Hall Roof
To receive the report of the consultant and consider next steps. If members are in agreement that the works are to go ahead to also agree to waive Standing Orders and Financial Regulations in light of the fact that only one contractor has submitted a quote. The report demonstrates what lengths have been taken in trying to obtain three quotations. (Report to follow)

There is an opportunity prior to the meeting "Public Participation - To receive questions from members of the publici" and those can be on any topic including the above. Once the main meeting starts, members of the public are there purely to observe unless the council "suspends standing orders" to invite wider input.

The agenda has no "Questions from Councillors - To receive questions from Councillors" which is a standard agenda item on 'all' full council meetings. And there is no "Any other Business" - but then there never is on full council or committee meetings.

Personal comment

I am dismayed that we are told "report to follow". The rule is that there must be 3 complete working days between the publication of the agenda and invite to attend the meeting. This is intended to give councillors and the public the opportunity to read into the matters, make further enquiries, ask people (briefly) for their views and so be able to make a considered rather than rushed input. The agenda "rule" is being followed, but it my view the spirit of the rule is being ignored or even flouted.

I am mindful of the provision of "to follow" papers in the past:

* On 28th June 2021, when in closed session staff redundancies (including the Assembly Hall Manager) were made without a chance for those of not on the business review working group who brought the plan to mull it over and think through the consequences.

* On 28th March 2023, at an extra meeting called at minimal notice, a proposal to bid £2.1 million for the purchase of Melksham House was raised actually in the meeting.

In both examples, I feel the outcome was rushed and wrong both at the time and in hindsight. There WILL be times where extraordinary short notice meetings and papers are justified (I suspect there were such when Covid hit in March 2020) but as being applied on the Assembly Hall roof this week, it looks to me to be decidedly odd.

I am chair of the "Assembly Hall Working Group" which should be primary in making suggestions and educated inputs for the hall. On requesting a meeting, our committee clerk has advised me "[redacted] has asked me to set a meeting date for AHWG. The first suitable date she has is 2nd October 2023." Odd, then that this can come to full council this week!

The background

The Assembly Hall Roof has been leaking for a very long time with buckets catching rainwater. It has needed fixing both for public perception and safety ("Any Questions" guest - including three MPs - shepherded around the wet and slippery floors) and to avoid it getting worse with water damage internally to ceilings, walls, electrics, and so on. In February, a spend of up to £20,000 was approved, changing "replace" to "repair" in the motion before council knowing that at the time the question of moving to Melksham House was on the table. But that hasn't happened.

The Assets and Amenities Committee received a written brief from the Head of Operations on 31st July for our 7th August meeting: "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.". The Head of Operations did not attend that meeting, and no-one present was sufficiently informed to answer councillor's questions on what he had written.

A thought - I think that we (as a council) have failed to take the necessary steps to safeguard our asset in the Assembly Hall. I am fully aware that my opinion that the Assembly Hall should remain as a public hall and event venue is not universally shared. If I was a proponent of conspiracy theories, I might be suggesting that it's very convenient for those who want to close the hall and sell the land for development, and also for those who want to knock it down and start again, if it's allowed to decay through lack of maintenance. I am minded that there may be some sort of surprise brought to council on Thursday.

For the absence of doubt, I understand why we need to clarify the Pavillion investment which is already agreed as far as I'm concetned

Published Saturday, 12th August 2023

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

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

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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