Looking for my latest blog - it's here
I'm a (volunteer) councillor for the South Ward on Melksham Town Council
I am not affiliated to any party or grouping, but work in partnership.
I was elected in May 2021, for a four year term. I am sticking, after the election, to what I said before.
Environment ... Equality ... Openness
You can still find that at my campaign website at http://graham4melksham.uk.
Graham Ellis - Views, beliefs, policies
|Links in this page:|
• Views and thoughts - Town council responsibility
• Views and thoughts - Unitary Responsibility
• And other things too
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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
Life before Melksham* Born Merseyside, moved to outer London aged 4. Brought up there; 8 'O'Levels, 4 'A'Levels, BSc (Hons) Computer Science from The City University. Sandwich course and holiday / spare day work brought experience in Oil Exploration data processing, Computer Graphics, and manpower planning working for the Civil Service in Whitehall. Moved to the Luton area to take up full time job in technical support of specialist computer graphics products.
* Moved to Wiltshire (Chippenham suburb) in 1981 to take a sales role covering the whole South West on those specialist product. Set up company with former colleagues to write and sell Computer Aided Design software in 1983 - left sales role with excellent track record as our company grew. Set up office, took on staff, but much of the time worked from home (by now Easterton, near Devizes) even way back 35 years ago.
* Moved to a (specialist, server systems and workstations) IT training role based in Oxfordshire in 1990 and set up Well House Consultants to write and present such courses in 1996. Much travelled in British Isles and sometimes beyond to present such courses, learning much about places visited right up to 2019. Moved to Melksham in 1999.
Living and running a business here in Melksham South* Took on one of Melksham's Spa houses in an uninhabitable state and had craftsmen and experts restore it. Experience gained of planning systems, listed buildings, etc.; house became our home and training centre, with customers coming to Melksham from far and wide for their week-long courses.
* Bought "The Old Manor" on Spa Road in 2006 and majorly refurbished from B&B to "Well House Manor" business accommodation, with IT training suite to host our courses. Quickly became general accommodation too and a 24x7 hotel operation with an excellent team of staff. Appeared on "Four in a Bed" on Channel 4 in 2013 to promote both ourselves and the town. Rose to No. 1 on Trip Advisor for accommodation in Melksham.
* Running a hotel brought experience of both the hospitality and catering businesses, and whilst our team did the work day to day, I was fully conversant and involved taking shifts as required and with catering and emergency first aid training.
* Retired from the Hotel business in 2018, and subsequently from IT training. Sold our home on The Spa and moved into "Well House Manor" where we now live. The former main training room is now a "Museum for Melksham" which Lisa plans to re-open in future years, holding a number of pieces of local interest on loan as well as some of our own. A museum is niche interest though; for 2022 we hope to be open on request. We would really like to see a museum for the town in the Campus or Town Hall, but elements such as cost, security, storage conditions and staffing raise huge issues.
Working for a better Melksham - Chamber of Commerce and The Campus* Lisa and I joined the Chamber of Commerce and Industry when we moved to Melksham, and I was elected President - unusually for a number of years - during which we promoted a number of events such as business networking, member's information lectures and "Spot the Oddity" and commented on planning and development applications from a local business perspective. Amongst big meetings hosted at our "Well House Manor" were ones on the location of the proposed campus and what should (and should not) be included, on car parking charges, and on public transport.
* I was one of 10 sitting on the SCOB (Shadow Campus Operations Board) and learned a great deal about the various activities in the Melksham area and their facility requirements. The SCOB spoke with dozens of organisations and potential users, and helped compromise between their aspirations before coming up with initial plans. We also looked forward to planning an efficient facility with practical operation. Plans were thwarted when the SCOB was sidetracked in favour of a new body comprising councillors and council employees only, and significant off site extras were slipped into the ring fence around Campus funding, resulting in the watered down (good rather than Wow!) plans you see today.
Working for a better Melksham - Trains and Buses* In 2005, I read a letter in the Melksham Independent News telling me that we had missed the consultation on train services to and from Melksham for the next ten years, and that services were to reduce from 5 to 2 daily; a serious issue for our business with many customers arriving and leaving by rail, and an issue for others too. I instigated the "Save the Train" campaign, joined forces with the Melksham Railway Development group, and protested the need for something appropriate. Protest turned to partnership and we formed the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership and with a lot of hard work all together, working with local and central government and the rail industry, train services have risen to 8 each way per day, and passenger journey numbers from 3,000 to 75,000 per annum from the data I was originally given by the Office of Rail and Road to the year to March 2018. I left TransWilts in the autumn of 2018 - I still endorse their main objectives, but it has moved from being a local community group to a staffed company with interest right across Wiltshire, directed by Wiltshire Councillors / former councillors and former LEP (Government body) chair, with a paid staff and a government accreditation mandate that is diffuse from the reasons it was set up. The team are good people, but not one of them will be a Melksham voter (Town or Without) on 6th May, and I wish them well but it is no longer the organisation I and others helped set up.
* With our success in regaining an appropriate train service in 2013, the Melksham Railway Development Group has rebranded through the Melksham Rail USER group and come our AGM in May will become the Melksham TRANSPORT User Group. I am currently vice chair, with responsibility for website, publicity and promotion (of public transport rather than just the group). My wife and I have produced many of the information and timetable leaflets, newspaper ads, etc, over the years and I "project manage" the annual Santa trip.
* With the rail success (Melksham became the fastest growing station in England for several years), I was invited to join the board of TravelWatch SouthWest - a CIC that co-ordinates passenger groups across the South West, and have been re-elected for multiple further 3 year terms. Regular webinars help keep everyone up to date and we learn good practise (and what has not worked) from all across the area and beyond. The position also helps me work regionally and nationally to help ensure that buses and trains move forward in a best way for everyone, including those who live in Melksham.
* While First Bus served Melksham, I was on their Bath User Panel at which we worked with the operator to help smooth out issues and explain changes for passenger benefit. Should any other local operator set up a similar panel, I would welcome an opportunity to join it.
* In 2016, I was part of the team that put together "Option 24/7" bus proposals in response to Wiltshire Council's consultation on bus cuts, and the outcome of the consultation was that very few cuts were made rather that the deep ones planned which would have left us without any evening or weekend buses. Wiltshire Council's alignment with our views did not go so far as reforming town bus routes to suite the next decade, but the government's "Buses Back Better" directive to councils if they want bus funding (15.3.2021) aligns remarkably with our principles, and the Option 24/7 team has already informed MRUG, is researching in Melksham, and has been in touch with Wiltshire Council to continue our partnership.
* In 2007, I set up an online forum - the "Great Western Coffee Shop - by passengers, for passengers" as a voice for rail passengers - to ask questions, share experiences, and discuss what they would like to see. The forum is still running - on our server, with around 100 users logged in each day and 150 guests. Our database comprises around 22,000 topics and we are read by the local authority officers, rail managers, etc so that voices from Melksham and wider are heard. These days, I remain webmaster and the most active member, but am ably assisted by a team of 10 administrators and moderators on a daily basis. The experience of this brings in an understanding of everything from personal relationships to GDPR and copyright law.
Working for a better Melksham - Other Transport, planning, looking ahead to zero carbon* Much of the above will lead you to think I support public transport - I do, but at the same time I do drive a car (down from 30,000 miles a year a decade ago to a tenth of that - and virtually nothing in 2020). Current car is electric. I also cycle (electric assisted bicycle) and walk extensively - much around Melksham. I have also researched and lead walks for residents and visitors to the area.
* I take a strong interest in sustainability subjects such as climate change, peak oil, clean air zones and zero carbon, applying and encouraging good practise where I can. I attended the open air meeting that Greta Thunberg addressed in Bristol in February 2020 (ironically getting cold and wet in the process) but I do not support extreme illegal action to forward the agenda. I support the right / freedom to legally and safely demonstrate and protest; I worry that there are parties who are intent on changing the law to restrict those freedoms, but at the same time I cannot support those who take violent or otherwise unsafe action in protest. The whole climate issue needs to be dealt with, everyone working together, to ensure a sustainable and high quality life into the future for our children and grandchildren, irrespective of the lunatic fringe on both extremes.
* I drafted the Melksham Rail User Group inputs to the Melksham A350 bypass consultation and the Local Plan consultation in recent months (signed off by the committee) and have read and endorse the Neighbourhood plan.
Personal Life* I have been married to Lisa for 22 years. When we met, Lisa was not British (nor EU nor Commonwealth); we courted for several years before getting married and learning how the immigration and nationalisation system works. We have seen a little discrimination - but only a very little (we are relieved!), probably because Lisa is of Caucasian descent and has English as a first language.
* Between us, Lisa and I have three children - or rather they were children but are now independent, married, living away, and with children of their own. We've had a cat in the past, and dogs - currently we have a rescue greyhound "Billy".
* Lisa has done (and continues to do) a great deal of work on the social history and ancestry of Melksham, with projects including the commemoration of the end of the first world war, but much more looking back at the history of Melksham in the 100 years prior to that. I have learned a great deal about our town and its people too from assisting, and am helping put the database online for public view.
Summary* I have been around, then, for over 65 years. Loads of experience of life, and lots of knowledge of Melksham which I look forward to appling more fully in coming years for the good of the town, its residents, businesses and visitors.
And my views
My wife and I moved to Melksham 20 years ago, because we found the house we wanted here. The house turned into a home, and the town turned into our lifelong residence. We were made welcome - very welcome - by those we met. And we try and want to do the same for other newcomers to their new homes.
Look at each of the maps on the right and you will see how Melksham has grown and grown through the ages. Whilst we may at times have concerns about infrastructure and services keeping pace and the need to plan carefully, I welcome the progress of a town made better by new arrivals irrespective of colour or creed and alongside existing residents. A vibrant town looking forward, and not a town looking to resist all change. I will help that happend to the best of my ability within the very limited authority and influence it gives me.
The final frame looks forward to the future, indicating where the town might expand in and around Melksham Town South.
Views and thoughts - council responsibility
Councils should provide services for their communities to fill gaps, taking on a modest loss for doing so and perhaps taking modest but assessed risk in doing to. These services should look to being available to all in target groups. Services should not compete with viable commercial operations which are directly parallel.
The Melksham Community has a great number of voluntary organisations, and council support does and should continue to be provided. Small grants, information, training, events that bring groups and others together, publicity, etc ... all things which can (and for the most part are) usefully be provided by a larger central operation rather than leaving each group to struggle with what are big tasks for smaller and keen (but perhaps not totally informed) groups.
The Council should take an active interest in travel to, from and within the town, and an interest in helping to ensure that traffic passing through the Melksham area but not stopping can be persuaded to stop and use our facilities if appropriate, otherwise be helped on its way with minimal interference (traffic jams and safety, noise, clean air) with the town. Town Council responsibility for transport provision is limited (much at a national , subnational or unitary level) but never the less the town can provide inputs to those levels. Information, waymarking, stationary facilities making travel (car, taxi, walk, bus, cycle, train) easy to understand and find, and better to use, is an area where The Town can help
Town Centres have changed so much in recent years, and that change is accellerated though the last year. We have a rump of remaining "classics" - and long may we support and encourage them at a sustainable level. We also have some specialist shops with a shopfront in Melksham but most of their business online, and some finanicial establishment though we have lost three out of four of the "Big Four" banks. But we have a growing sector of social and personal service - you can't get your hair cut, nails done, or teeth fixed online, and takeaway, restaurants, cafes and pubs thrive.
Markets and Small Retailers
The area in front of the Town Hall, the weekly market, Melksham Maker's Market https://www.facebook.com/pg/themelkshammakersmarket/posts/ , Sunday Markets at Avonside (in North Ward), Christmas Fayre, Carnival, Party in the Park all very much helped and encouraged. Not only do they help by giving local businesses an outlet, but they also bring people happily into the town to the other permanent busineeses for mutual benefit
Melksham in Bloom and Town Tidy
You will find me supporting these events, but only minimally taking part on the ground. Phyical exercise tires me quickly (medical issue) and I don't have green fingers - but rather brown one which kill plants. I do and will help with limited physical activity at Melksham Station, helping keep that small area tidy when allowed under Covid restrictions, but I am better not exhausting myself away from my specialist area, and doing things other community members can do far better.
The Town Council has an excellent team of staff and part of a councillor's role is to work alongside them, facilitate their job, and help motivate and enthuse them. There is an HR management task which may in very rare circumstances include actions seen by some parties as negative.
The following issues are for Wiltshire Council, but the town council can have a strong advisory role
Views and thoughts - Unitary responsibility
I am disappointed that so many of the originally planned facilities have been lost in the cycles of planning and re-design as other spending by Wiltshire Council has been slipped inside the Campus money's ringfence leaving much less for the build.
Having said that - we still have the possibility of a good facility (though perhaps no longer "Wow!") and
I welcome the much delayed start of the Campus build and - more important, the opening, use and benefits flowing from the opened Campus to Melksham. If I were a councillor I would look to be working with others to help get anything that needs to be decided along the way right, and make it work - just as I did when sitting on the SCOB.
Melksham House itself is no longer included in the public Campus / build. It's gone from those plans, including the promised exhibition / museum area and none-sport elements have moved into the main, predominantly sport, building. I need to update on some of this and other elements on or behind the Market Place, and what is funded and how. But ... see housing section.
With the Campus alongside the Town Centre, the two will be mutually supporting - with people visiting the town to visit both where otherwise they might use one or none in the town.
I would actually encourage some growth in Melksham, though ensuring that infrastucture issues were taken into account and dealt with in parallel. Housing should take into account climate friendly and lifestyle concerns for the future; I am not averse to Melksham House - where the frontage is listed and historic and the rear needs knocking down and rebuilding becoming a residential development if the other aspirations under "Melksham Campus" are addressed. It makes big sense for people who don't need cars - walking and cycling distance to town and transport.
Within The Ward - an eye out for Melksham Hospital and the area behind it. Just outside The Ward - actual and potential brownfield sites across the river in Melksham North, and just across the A350 in Melksham Without - a potential canalside development.
I am very much in favour of "Access for All". That includes more that you might think at first - for example, thinking of flat / wheelchair access may conjour up images of old people being pushed around - but it's much more than that - it's Mum or Dad pushing a buggy with the kids in it, it's people with heavy luggage, and it's mobility chairs too. There is also sense in "not overdoing it"; as my daughter-in-law (a wheelchair user) explains, you need to make sure that plenty of the housing stock / parking spaces / loo stalls are wheelchair friendly - and not all of them which would be a needless expense.
Disabled (horrid word!) does not just mean "wheelchair" - that's just an example. It's other physical constraints too - including sensory ones such as eyes and ears, and medical and mental issues too. For some not greatly affected (I'm an example here - technically disabled by some measures) it's something that requires no more than us adjusting ourselves to limitations. For others, it can be such that they require adaption and certainly consideration on a day to day basis.
But it's also individual and a strong but pragmatic approach needs to be taken to adaptions, especially where they are ones to the general town furniture.
I remember, though, that people who are in a wheelchair, hard of hearing, can't hear what I say, frail are just that - PEOPLE. If in the company of a carer, I will talk to / with the person ... and with and to the carer, who is also a person.
We live in a beautiful old town - which in the centre was built before the era of the ubiquitous motor car, and in the suburbs was build before multiple car ownership. Recent builds may allow for more cars, but they often fail to allow for public transport which - if we are to use public transport more in the future - is a potential problem. And as we don't yet know what an autonomous vehicle system might be shaped like, new build cannot allow for that.
I would encourage change that reduces traffic in the town centre, and provides safer walking and cycling routes too. As an example, that might include making the Church Steet to Lowbourne Corner of the High Street into a pedestrian / cycling / bus road only. This might be contentious with business owners, but I'll speculate that they would quickly see an improvement. Rephased lights would reduce traffic jams and cars idling over in the roads remaining open too.
Wilts and Berks Canal; tourism
I would encourage the (re)opening of the Wilts and Berks Canal from Semington up to the River Avon just downstream of the Challeymead (bypass) bridge then up the river through the town before veering off on a side cut to regain the old canal course northwards to Lacock. I believe it to be impractical to reopen the canal on its old route through the heart of the Melksham South ward, and the new route offers an opportunity to bring it through the heart of the town - good for the town and for the businesses. Each boat travelling a canal is said to bring 25 people to th canal - to watch, to walk, to "gongoozle" as well as travel on the boat. Care needs to be taken to ensure the rich and varied wildlife at Conigre Mead Nature Reserve is safeguarded; in normal practise, the opening of a waterway to boats may cause initial disturbance, but things settle back down. With the specialties involved at Conigre Mead, consideration may need to be given for specific species.
Two hundred years ago, Melksham was the largest town for many miles and we have fine selection of building dating back 200 years or more. However, none of them is a focal / tourist point nor open to the public so we tend not to get too many visitors into the town. We do have (when not in restrictions) a variety of places to eat, but lack attractions; the coming canal will attract some and (re)development along the waterway.
We may well have opportunities to repurpose or encourage the repurposing and development of parts of Melksham with a view to encouraging social and visitor activity over coming years. Examples include the Riverside, old Melksham House, and I question what plans are / where the hospital is going.
Zero Carbon and the environment
We can't go on burning fossil fuel like we have done, and we must change at a pace uncomfortably fast for some. It's not just global warming - it's running out of fuel (peak oil - remember?) and air quality too. And it's only half a job done if we replace a dirty queue of vehicles with a clean queue of vehicles. Transport has made the smallest improvement so far, but much work needs to be done on domestic and other building heating, and from a Town Council viewpoint that will include the Town Hall, Assembly Hall and other buildings.
I am proud to have attended the event / visit of Greta Thunberg to Bristol in February 2020 and listened to her talk. There is criticism that she herself is talking and not doing the science research and development stuff; maybe - but there is a need to raise awareness so that people do consider and act, in addition to the technocrat and community actions. My attendance has helped me think, talk about and bring the need for change to the attention of those I interface with.
School and roads around them
The roads around schools get very busy indeed at school start and end time, sometimes with Mum's or Dad's taxi making a short journey for a single child. Better set up street furniture and road layout to encourage walking to school? The Government's "Buses Back Better" initiative launched 15.3.2021 may add bus vehicles into the area, and they could be routed at school start / end time to give a wider coverage of transport to and from school.
There are very much safety concerns about children taking themselves to school; perhaps there was always a problem but in the modern information age people are more aware of the problem and measure to re-assure and reduce risk perhaps needed.
Young people's facilities
I commend the work done by our schools, Young Melksham and others for the young people of the town, and I also commend the responsibity of the vast majority of parents in the town and area. Positive provision for our youth and younger people is part of the fabric of our society; seeing that as a positive in terms of helping upcoming generations develop into full adult society members, but also countering the negative spiral that bright but bored young people might fall into.
Under the headlines we see when things go wrong, we have a wonderful core of younger people here in Melksham. I have been delighted to have worked with a number of them over the years.
And other things too ...many to be written up in due course, looking to write more about issues that come up more often, and less about those rarely raised.
Little changes - big differences
Rubbish Collection - http://grahamellis.uk/blog95.html (5th April 2021)
Coming out of CoVID
Crime including speeding and antisocial behaviour
NHS / Defibs
Pedestrians over Challeymead - http://grahamellis.uk/blog98.html (8th April 2021)
Dog fouling and facilities
Trees and safeguarding nature areas