Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
New Councillor at Annual Town Meeting
Annual Town Meeting last night, followed by a Town councillor only briefing. The lead up had generated a great deal of interest on social media, with concern as to whether there would be enough space for everyone who wanted to attend. In the end, there was - perhaps 35 to 40 people in the room - councillor, staff and other members of the public. It was live on Zoom too (about half a dozen there?) and I think it may have been broadcast onto YouTube
1. Over the past week, there has been concern on Social Media that the KGV subgroup, with delegated powers, was rolled into the main assets committee, with the assets committee renamed to assets and amenities. The concerns were magnified when the council's web site was updated to show (we have later learned) the new name for the committee, on top of the old terms of reference, but (as I understand it) without any comment to make it clear that the terms of reference need to be updated. Why such concern? Because it looked like the delegated and ring-fenced funds to complete KGV works has been waved away with a magician's wand. Reassurance / explanation given - but an atmosphere between people that indicates broken trust, and a need to ensure that the new terms of reference clearly look after the funding to completion of the park.
2. I got told off by one of the "Together for Melksham" councillors for pointing out that they have an absolute majority. "I am an independent, I can vote as I like" I was told. Funny that when the election papers all said "Together for Melksham" and not "Independent". I can't recall seeing a single TfM councillor yet voting against anything proposed by the mayor, so I have no evidence of independence to report - having said which, most of the stuff that's gone through has been obvious and good, and 11 out of 15 of us are still learning the ropes and don't yet feel comfortable saying "boo" to a goose!
3. We have some excellent new councillors in Melksham.
4. Readers may have seen sponsored Facebook survey by our MP which I linked to from (here). "I’m seeking the views of Melksham residents as I lead on submitting a bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund for Melksham town centre" writes Michelle. Timing is incredibly tight; on the MP and Unitary Council are rushing to get a good bid in over the next few weeks, but also very much concerned that it could be so rushed than important decisions are taken too fast and could change things way into the future. Still worth bidding for IMHO - "good" will pragmatically suffice if we haven't time for "best". Don't want to miss the boat, though it is far from certain there will be funding for us to get on the boat at all - it is a competitive bid and I don't know how oversubscribed the scheme will be; if it is very much oversubscribed, it's likely that Wiltshire will be considered to be levelled up already.
5. A shout for Priority for People ... a survey to inform local travel needs that will provide key evidence for future direction. I only heard about this last week on joining the council - now on the working party for it. I'm sure you'll hear a lot more next month, as the survey goes live and perhaps as I learn into it and talk about it!
Published Tuesday, 25th May 2021
Sustainable Transport Briefing - MelkshamI am on the Town Council for Melksham and not just for train and public transport activity. Two other councillors have been selected to represent the council on the Melksham Rail User Group and TransWilts, since I have a financial interest in the TransWilts CIC (I hold one share of £1, with comes with no gain but a liability of up to £1 if they go bust). As that's over 1% of the shares (it's 1.85%) my position is regarded as a potential conflict of interest when it comes to voting for things for TransWilts and I step back.
Having said which ... I am in a position to inform and update - here are my initial notes for one of the councillors, introducing him to the history and status as a bullet point framework.
Sector by sector analysis but TOTAL JOURNEY should be over-riding!
Note public transport in the economy / business, public transport as a necessity for those who cannot drive, and public transport as we move towards zero carbon. Short term / covid times may have been negative to public transport but it need to recover and go beyond – and that applies to each individual person travelling. Everyone can’t leave it to others.
- 8 each way per day (up from 2 in 2013)
- 75,000 journeys per annum pre Covid (up from 3,000 in 2013)
- projection 250,000 (mine), 450,000 (TransWilts official) in a few years
- need for more trains to achieve this (up to around 15 each way)
- Connections and length of day are key, 7 days a week
- track capacity limits services that can run at present
- trains make a very real difference to the area
- public transport hugely important to those without their own transport
- Covid has decimated rail journeys; they will come back but doubt on detail
- Zero carbon will be a massive push towards public transport
- Rail industry re-organisation under way [GBR – 20.5.2021 / DfT] - elements are overdue
- Operated by GWR / First group - relationship has become good over years
- Support from Central Govt., Wilts Council, Town, Parish over years
- "Fastest growing line / station in England" and ACoRP, RailFuture awards
- Many keen advocates in the industry and in the community
Save the train (2005)
-> TransWilts CRP
-> within TransWilts CIC
* Longer term, planning, major projects, wider (Wiltshire area)
* Active key player, plus board all of ex WC councillors
* 2 full time (senior one is Sophie Martin) and one PT staff
* Newsletter every 2 months, annual meeting
* DfT accredited Community Rail Partnership
Melksham Rail Development Group (1995)
-> Melksham Rail User Group
-> Melksham Transport User Group (this week!!)
* Local promotion, marketing, support
* Station adoption group in the Community Rail Network
* Meet every 2 months. Pure volunteer. £350 from TC vital to funding. See report pack.
* Platform extended 1 to 3 carriages a couple of years back
* Masterplan to grow station for expected passengers / numbers
* Need buses to station (and they really must connect with trains)
* Need better station access to north and east
* Cafe, extra parking useful - very new.
* For future, taxi rank, knowledgable rail person, better information
Summary – need better access, more trains, better connections and / or through services, better information systems, fares sorting out while maintain safety and affordabel fares. Public Transport travel prices have risen where car travel in real terms has fallen in price and that is detriemnatal to pesuading people to use mass transit.
Don’t forget freight – major new and changing flows though Melksham - Rail and Road
- HS2 quarry filler to Quidhampton, Road stone from Mendips, Southampton Docks
- At the cross of Bath to Devizes and Chippenham to Trowbridge and Frome
- Both route sets were First then Faresaver competition and they took over
- Competition was aggressive at times and not in total customer interest
- x34 (Chippenham - Trowbridge) 6 days a week, only to around tea time
- 271/2/3 (Bath - Devizes) runs 7 days into 6 evenings. Poor Sunday service
- Sunday and evening lost Chippenham - Trowbridge in 2015 (WC subsidy removed)
- Sunday and evening Bath - Devizes subsidised by WC for many years
- All now under DfT subsidy via WC (due to Covid)
- Also 68 / 69 (a.k.a Zigzag) ; 2 vehicles filling awkward gaps (Corsham, B-o-A)
- Daily bus Marlborough - Calne – RUH
- School bus 555 to Corsham
- Routes 14 and 15 a confused variety
- Largely school travel and seniors
- Buses arrive at new houses after people have bought their second car
- Low frequency relative to journey length puts people off
- Lack of real time information puts people off
- Bus does not go to station to connect
- Routes tend to be long way round, run 1 direction only
- Operated by Frome Bus under WC contract, 1 or 2 vehicles CIL/106 support
Bus stops / information / hardware / fares
- Town Council looks after some stops
- Many stops tired, showing only one operator routes
- Timetables often out of date and unclear if that is the case
- No clear route maps
- No real time information on the stops
- Fares confusing; tickets may not be interchangeable
- Around 100 stops in Melksham
- Some areas not served
Where are buses going
- Bus Back Better, March 2021, funded £3bn (but is that enough?)
- WC to decide Partnership of Franchise by of June 2021
- Bus Service Improvement Plans by end of October
- Implementation April 2022
- Requirements include Community inputs, intermodal connections, eve & w/e
- Option 24/7 (2016)
- To answer WC proposals to cut 50% to 90% of subsidy
- Kept cuts to just 10%
- WC no longer regarded as the "dirty man" or public transport
- Thanks to Horace Prickett and Richard Gamble, both just retired
- Excellent key officer at County Hall
- Good relationships built BUT professionals always know better
- WORKING with / on plans – we have a team!
- Real issue getting public to take an interest beyond ..
+ The stop THEY already use.
+ The service (time) THEY already catch.
+ This month / season.
- need for joined up thinking, planning, Community BUS partnerships
Need to add sections for taxi, community buses, link scheme and National Express
- Some excellent sections
- Not really joined up
- Some silly long ways round and poor (token) facilities
- Real issue towards Lacock / Chippenham
- Waymarking issues
- Bottleneck issues into Town Centre (amount of street space)
- WC are improving Melksham to Trowbridge
- Cycle hire at station is bleeding edge
- Need to connect in through routes / make cycling safer
- Need to pull in community people
- Cycles on buses, trains, parking at hubs - Real issues here!
- Key to health
- Routes not obvious / waymarking
- Some dangerous
- Some public footpaths impractical
Cars and powered vehicles
- Traffic jams at schools
- Extra bypass traffic with Bath diversions
- Move away from petrol / diesel -> electric
- Charging infrastructure
Wilshire surveys suggest that getting around is IMPORTANT to people and NEEDS ATTENTION to a great degree. Only thing that "topped" travel in these areas was / is health provision.
We have seen massive growth is public transport in the past decade but a huge setback in the last 15 months and we must regrow if we are to meet climate targets. Even going all electric in cars does not sort congestion nor affordability, quote apart from where you get the electricity.
Community PARTNERSHIP needed. New WC councillor with cabinet responsibility, new town council. MRUG becoming MTUG. Priority for People excellent research - we will probably know much / most of it BUT update and learning is key.
Strong community group and community interactions needed. Much for volunteers - bus stop adoption, advocate, helping inform in all directions, helping plan.
Travel is about us going from A to B. We need to work with the people of B too in order to get the whole setup right. Melksham cannot do it alone, but can promote / advocate / even lead with ideas as we have with Save the Train and Option 24/7.
Wider area ...
- TravelWatch SouthWest - West Wilts Rail User Group - Great Western Coffee Shop
E&OE - Graham Ellis - 24.5.2021 / firstname.lastname@example.org / 01225 708225
Option 24/7 - Now on WEDNESDAY 26th May 2021, at 19:30
Topic: Option 24/7
Buses (including right across the region)
MRUG - Now on THURSDAY 27th May 2021, at 19:30
Topic: MRUG AGM
Melksham Specific (trains BUT ALSO bringing in other transprt modes
Published Monday, 24th May 2021
My roles on Melksham Town CouncilElected to represent South Ward, May 2021. At the first Town Council meeting thereafter, roles were allocated. A very busy meeting - here is a summary of the various groups and committees I'm on. For those I am NOT on, please ask and I can redirect you or represent you to relevant people.
With 13 out of 15 councillors new to the council, and 11 out of 15 never having sat on any council, with a meeting information pack of 95 pages and an agenda or 25 items, much of it (in spite of reading up ahead of time) felt like being a deer caught in headlights. There is a need for the new council to hit the ground running on some aspects, but those are hard for the new arrivals to tell apart from the things that should not be rushed through.
Anyway - here are the roles I came away with, and the roles I do not have:
YES ... and I am happy to have been included in each of these
1. One of ten councillors who can sign cheques
2. On the CIL funding projects joint working group
3. On the economic development and planning committee
4. On the "Priority for People" working group
5. On the joint group with Wiltshire Council on "Campus leftovers"
6. The Town Council representative on the Melksham Council of Community Service
(Had to press hard to get both 4. and 5.)
I know this list is a bit dry - will explain each item as it comes up
NO ... and I am happy with most (but disappointed at a handful) of these
1a. I am NOT one of the five councillors who audits the cheques
1b. I am NOT one of the councillors who signs deeds and legal documents
3a. I am NOT on the Asset Management Committee (which is where KGV has gone)
3b. I am NOT on the Community Development Committee
3c. I am NOT on the Finance and Admin Committee
3d. I am NOT on the Staff Committee
4a. I am NOT on the Business Review Working Group
4b. I am NOT on the CCTV and Town Safety group
4c. I am NOT on the Neighbourhood Plan Group
6. I do NOT represent the Town Council at ... Air Training Corp, CATG, Dementia Friendly, Melksham Adventure Centre, Chamber of Commerce, Melksham Charities, Melksham League of Friends, Melksham Trust, North Operational Flood Working Group, Rachel Fowler Management Committee, Rainbow Day Centre, Riverside Club, TransWilts, Melksham Rail User Group, Wiltshire Council Area Board, Wiltshire Association of local councils, Wiltshire Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership, nor as a Governor at The Oak School.
Decisions were DEFERRED on the following working groups:
4e. Environment and Climate
I am disappointed the Environment and Climate was put on hold - raised my hand to speak against the suggestion that it be put on hold, but was not called by the chair. But then no-one else indicated any immediate interest and I guess it would have been silly to set up a working group with just myself. I do believe that the environment and climate are important; whilst they are things that effect the longer term, it is not something that should be put off; at the very least, the Town Council should have a group to make its position of principle clear and consider its various actions against those principles NOW and not when the mayor gets round to it.
I am concerned that we appear - to all intents and purposes - to have a party system running rather than a council of independent thinkers discussing things at open council. The new mayor was clearly a foregone conclusion, and within his own team ("to help speed things along" I think he said) he has lists of people with whom he had discussed and pre-considered appointments. The Conservative group are also, sure, a group - prediscussions cleary there, but less blatantly taken to a deFacto conclusion even before the new council met for the first time.
Published Tuesday, 18th May 2021
Strategy and tacticsSet a strategy, and the tactics will be clear
"It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies." ... actually, it means much more than just recognising. It means ensuring even, fair and positive treatment of and opportunities for every individual irrespective of those differences.
* Climate future
Zero Carbon, Clean Air, Peak Oil, Noise, Habitat and planet diversity. Ensuring that we work towards and provide a sustainable planet with an excellent life / economy / setup for our children and their children. And while we're at it, clean up the dirty air, congestion, etc, for ourselves as steps in the direction we need to head towards a healthier lifestyle
This is a shorter term one. Bring back better. As we pick up the pieces after the storm called "Coronavirus" than has swept through, see how we can make best use of those peices and construct something better. To some extent this overlaps with the diversity and climate future agendas, but it widensd and broadens it too.
So - how on earth does this relate to Melksham Town Council? Setting a strategy helps those smaller decisions - be they tactical or day to day - be made in line with what will work in the longer term. For sure, there are times that a council / govermental body needs to take a calculated risk - trying something leading edge that turns out to have been bleeding edge, but with a longer term view of things in sight, we should be able to help make decisions which bring about small but long term changes, and reduce "sillies" where something put up in 2021 (at great expense) needs taking down or is redundant and a drain on the taxpayer (further expense) by 2023.
Published Sunday, 16th May 2021
Early days - now a Melksham Town Councillor"A week is a long time in politics". It's not quite a week since the results of the Melksham Town Council election were declared, and I have had a lot to learn.
I stood with every intent of doing my best to be elected within what I consider to be best practise. And also with every intent of doing my very best over the coming four years, perhaps beyond, for the electorate of the ward and the town, whether or not they voted for me should I have been elected. And that intent / committent remains.
Melksham's Town Council now consists ...
8 Councillors elected for the "Together for Melksham" team
5 Councillors elected for the Conservative Party
1 Councillor elected for the Liberal Democrat Party
1 Councillor (myself) elected as an independent
We - the councillors - should all work together for the common continued provision of excellence that we inherit, and for the forward progress and development of that and other provision.
Our first Town Council meeting is on Monday - in person, and a long agenda. That agenda shows a great number of appointments to subcommittees and outside bodies, and I have to believe that each of the groups and parties will come to that meeting with ideas formed. It will be an interesting evening. There are also a couple of councillors who were on the last council, and a couple of others who have been there previously, who ill be able to start from a position of prior experience. I look forward to taking advantage of their experience, while adding a fresh new independent voice to help robustly test and develop for the future.
I am publishing this on my online diary (blog) and it will remain in place; minor edits may be made to make it clear if anything goes out of date, but my nature is such that I will stand by what I write. I have done for many years, and - thank you - that continuing record is one of the things you tell me is what brought me your vote. I hope to not let you down, but I must continue to stress that in this Town Council role I'm just one in fifteen and do not want to build false or unrealistic visions of influence of activity. The Town Council has big powers to influence, but very few statutory powers. But positive development can come from persuasion, partnership and a darned good case.
Published Friday, 14th May 2021
Graham Ellis - elected to Melksham Town CouncilA huge "Thank you" to everyone who voted for me last Thursday. Results out yesterday (Sunday) have me elected as one of the four councillors serving for the SOUTH WARD for the next four years. I am independent of all groupings, but look forward to working with councillors of all other parties and teams for the mutual progress and development of matters in Melksham for all residents of the ward and the wider town.
Independent for South Ward
I live on Spa Road in the ward; my address, phone number, etc, no secret and people are very welcome to get in touch. I am here primarily for the people of Melksham South, no matter who you voted for, or whether you voted. But in so much of what goes on there is common interest, so really I'm here for Melksham as a whole - and where it's appropriate the catchment beyond the town.
The Town Council and councillors have great powers to advise and suggest; they carry the power of the electorate's vote and in many cases the weight of many years experience. However, many issues important to you are decided by our Unitary Council, or even subRegionally or nationally, or are in the hands of other bodies. As the only councillor out of 15 elected on an unaffiliated platform and as such I will have the ability to question, encourage, tune and support positive moves, but no real voting power to overturn anything should either of the two major teams decide on a course of action (or inaction). There is already talk of suspending standing orders ... and I need to understand what that means.
Much more to be written over coming days.
Congratulations to all the other successful candidates too - the hard work begins!
Here are the full results for all wards of Melksham Town Council
Published Monday, 10th May 2021
Thank you for voting - How I reached youGraham Ellis - Campaign for Melksham Town Council, South Ward.
1st April to 6th May 2021.
Some stats for the record:
First leaflet - every available door (say 2200)
Second leaflet - almost all doors (say 2000)
Melksham News - all candidate data, almost all doors (say 2400)
37 blog articles written / topics addressed
892 users - 1st April to 6th May, 1869 page views
12 unboosted posts > 10 engagaments 5645 reach, 588 engagements
4 boosted posts, 4417 reach, 692 engagements, 192 link clicks
Topics raised with me most frequently face to face:
* Race / equality / diversity
* Bus to station; empty double deckers
* Traffic around schools at let out time
* Too many takeaways and too few "real" shops
* Mistrust of [others, to my face!] candidates / politicians
* Always vote for xxx party or never for independent
* Person knows me as having been consistently around for years
Published Saturday, 8th May 2021
Thank you for voting - results awaitedThank you for voting - by post, or in person, yesterday - whoever you voted for.
The more votes cast, the stronger mandate those elected will have.
Today - Friday 7th May 2021 - Postal Votes will be opened and verified
Tomorrow - Saturday 8th May 2021 - Count for WILTHSHIRE COUNCIL Divisions
Sunday 9th May 2021 - Count for contested TOWN COUNCIL (and parish) Wards
Monday 10th May 2021 - Count for the POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER
Once the result is published for Melksham Town Council (South Ward), I will follow up on this blog. That much is for sure. Then it's "Plan A", "Plan B", "Plan C" or "Plan D" depending on whether I'm elected by a long way, just elected, have a near miss, or have been trounced. I'll tell you about the plan that's activated early next week.
Published Friday, 7th May 2021
Election Day!Please vote for me - GRAHAM ELLIS, for Town Council - if you're in Melksham South Ward. Your polling station will be at the Assembly Hall, Canberra (on Spa Road) or Queensway Hall.
I'm an independent candidate - not linked with any political party or grouping, so that means I can think for the electorate where I live, without being directed by third parties from outside. I've lived in Melksham for many years, run a business in the ward itself for 16, and live here in the ward. It's my first time standing, but I have done a lot of work volunteering and supporting community development and activities, so I know a bit about what goes on, what needs cherishing and what could do with updating. And in those activities, I'm so familiar with working with others to persuade the community and wider authorities to do what works for us, and makes sense for them. I would much appreciate your vote so that I can continue to work for the community with an electoral mandate.
All through April, I wrote a daily piece covering everything from personal details to what a town council does and where it spends its money - all accessible via http://grahamellis.uk - though as it's now voting day, you will have little chance to read and absorb before you go down to the polling station. But that's important stuff, both for now and for the future. I'll keep you informed after the election too.
Published Thursday, 6th May 2021
Please vote - here are your polling stations
Some readers of this note will have voted already (*), by post, here in Wiltshire. Others will be visiting polling stations to vote tomorrow (6th May 2021). And, sadly, the majority of people who are registered to vote won't do so.
Can I ask you, especially if you live in Melksham (South Ward), to vote tomorrow for between one and four Town Councillors. You have a choice to make between seven candidates. And I suspect it will be a pretty close run election with a narrow margin between those elected and those not elected. Your vote will count and the more votes a candidate gets, the stronger his or her mandate to represent the electorate.
(*) - edit/update. I understand that some postal Votes have only just arrived - too late to be sure of getting them back. You may take them to any polling station in your ward on election day. Rather nullifies the point of having a postal vote, but Wilts Council assure us that the "vast majority" went out in time, and that the usual reason for late returns is that people leave them "sitting on the kitchen table" for too long.
Polling Stations in the South Ward are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on 6th May as follows:
• The Canberra Centre, (To The Rear of The Front Building), 56 Spa Road (FM1 - 1687 voters))
• Melksham Assembly Hall, Market Place, Melksham, Wiltshire (FM2 and FM3 - 1205 voters)
• Queensway Hall, Queensway, Melksham, Wiltshire (FM4 - 726 voters))
Your polling card will have a voter number starting FM1 through FM4 telling you which is your place to vote. If you sent in a postal vote, you cannot vote in person, but if you had and did not return a postal vote, you can take it, completed, to any of the three polling stations and hand it in during voting hours.
My information is online - perhaps in more detail than is good for me - at http://grahamellis.uk
Published Wednesday, 5th May 2021