Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Online from next Monday
Town Council public meetings
Prior to 6th May, the old Town Council had been holding its meetings virtually, and with public able to view and input during participation sections from their homes. But that arrangement was under temporary Coronavirus rules/laws and in common with councils across England the 1972 local government act's provision of the requirment of the physical presence of councillors to vote and to form a quorum came back into play.
Since I joined all of our public meetings (and things like visioning and councillor training too) have taken place in the Assembly Hall which offers sufficient space for social distancing, including space necessary to allow for members of the press and public to be able to fit in too. I have been delighted to see members of the press and public present, and would welcome more. A couple of meetings were also broadcast on YouTube and Zoom, but for a per-meeting setup this has been expensive and I would not like to try and justify the extra costs incurredn to ratepayers had we incurred those costs for every meeting.
From next Monday (19th July), rules change again and council meetings will be back in the Council Chamber in the Town Hall. The newly installed, permanent AV system there will be used to provide virtual access for the public and press, in addition to the physical access available for councillors (of course), press and public at the Town Hall.
The system is new, and I would caution against expecting it to run perfectly and fully from the first meeting - even if the setup itself is perfect, the folks running it are going to be learning (using it in the white heat of excitement for the first time). It may be that only parts are turned on rather than the great leap of multiple broadcast channels all at once - walk before you can run!
I am also going to caution those who questioned the decision of the previous council to choose this particular system. I personally read discussions / arguments as to whether the best choice was made, but fact is that the choice was made, and I believe to be a good system by all accounts. We should all move on and constructively help with having the new system fulfill its role, putting the arguments of the system choice behind us.
For Monday, the Zoom code to access the Full Council Meeting (with one substantive item on the agenda, relating to the Westbury Incinerator planning decision and whether your council should support a request to call that decision in) is at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87302698294?pwd=c25UU2hoaDZiNXByVHptZTZERmRhdz09 and the meeting agenda at https://moderngov.microshadeapplications.co.uk/MelkshamTC/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=136&MId=637&Ver=4 . The council's previous response to the planning application, with concerns / objections registered, is mirrored on my site at http://grahamellis.uk/mtc_incin_20201007.pdf (to save you having to go through 2000 inputs to find it.
The Finance, Admin and Performance Committee also meets on Monday and will be online via Zoom too. See https://moderngov.microshadeapplications.co.uk/MelkshamTC/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=145&MId=580&Ver=4 for the agenda pack and codes. Please note that I am not a member of this committee - as yet I am undecide as to whether to stay and listen in the public gallery, try to rush home to see most of it on Zoom, or to give it a miss as I have, perhaps, already too much on my plate.
Image - public domain from WikiPedia - I doubt you will know the people
There is much to be done to publicise links so that people know what's available for them to watch once the system is bedded it. It will also be sensible for someone to set up short links such as http://melksh.am/town for example ;-) ...
Published Friday, 16th July 2021
Consultation or consultation?There are consultations ... and then there are consultationsi. In the first case, they are designed to learn about what the public want and feel with a view to acting on it. In the second case they are designed to tick a box that a consultation has been done, and perhaps make the public feel they have had an input.
Survey or survey?
There are surveys ... and then there are surveys. In the first case, they are designed to learn about what the responders do (and cannot do and why) so that future plans can take account of their needs. In the second case, they are designed to help the public feel that their needs are being taken into account, and to add authority to a report / decisions / plan that's already in place.
Problem is, it's hard to tell the difference between a consultation and a consultation, and between a survey and a survey - but there are some clues.
Wiltshire Council's Tranche 2 cycle lanes consultation survey closes on Sunday, and I completed it today. It is at https://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/news/council-seeks-views-on-two-new-cycling-and-walking-schemes . I noted
* No potential big write in boxes
Just two one-liners on the whole survey. But then "write in"s are inconvenient to the person who tabulates replies.
* Hobson's Choice
"Which of the route option in the Hilperton to Melksham via Semington scheme do you prefer?
Route 1 - along the A361
Route 2 - via byways"
- Both these options have the same changes in Hilperton, so whichever you vote for you are supporting those changes.
- What about improving the National Cycleway 4 ...
- No "don't know" option even though there is for the Chippenham to Corsham question
* Missing options
- What about improving the National Cycleway 4 ...
"How often do you travel by car or van as a passenger?
2-6 days a week
Once a week
At least once a month
... probably between six and ten times a year for me - no suitable answer available. Likewise, same options for "how often do you travel by underground, metro, light rail, tram?"
* Questions not asked
"Would you use the new facility". "Is there any other facility we should be providing to link in with this". "Has Coronavirus changed your travel habits as surveyed here?". "Do you expect to change your travel habits in coming years due to the climate emergency, environmental concerns and changes, or for other reasons? If so, how?"
* Nearly the same question twice
"Q17.0 How often do you travel somewhere on foot at least 15 minutes' walk away"
"Q26.0 How often do you usually go somewhere on foot at least 15 minutes' walk away?"
* Unable to follow up
No "can we get back to you if we wish to follow up on your suggestions"
What is the relevance of questions like "Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were assigned with at birth?". How about "How often do you travel by underground, metro, light rail, tram?"
* No "would you like to hear?"
I would have hoped for a "please enter your email address if you would like a copy of the outcome / report resulting from this consultation".
* Nothing that I noted in the survey instructed me whether to answer
- for my current habits
- for my pre-Covid habits
- for what I expect post-Covid
In spite of my cynicism, I am going to suggest you complete the survey ... at least it gets you and me thinking, whether or not the data gathered is useful or used.
Published Thursday, 15th July 2021
First two months - a bit about council meetingsIt's been a busy two months as I have learned my way into being a Town Councillor - somewhere between six and ten meetings, many of them with prior reading material of up to 100 pages of data.
Topics have been taken during the meeting at such speed that I have not felt able to think things though, and some topics came up early and their significance only became apparent after decisions were made. With 13 out of the 15 councillors new to the Town Council, others may feel the same - though 13 out of 15 councillors are members of groups / teams / parties that have clearly met ahead of time and are prepared with their views, even before they hear other councillors. "To speed this through on a busy agenda ..." said the mayor / chair.
I am very grateful to the Town Clerk and her team for setting up a day of training for new councillors last Saturday. Two months after the election results and ten meeting in is late, but far better late than never. A useful day, and something which is not mandatory - so it didn't actually have to be done. Good to see six of my fellow councillors at the training (yes, just seven of us out of thirteen newcomers made it!) and I have a number of excellent colleagues on the Town Council.
To the voters of Melksham: You elected your new council emphatically, giving an absolute majority of 8 seats to the "Together for Melksham" group. Your votes gave five of the remaining seats to Conservative party candidates. Just two previous councillors were re-elected, with more than that standing again but loosing their seats. So there's a strong new mandate (13 out of 15) for the policies of those parties, and it's overwhelming where the two groups are in agreement. You need to expect change and much was voted through in those frenetic first few meetings with what (personal view) may have been indecent haste. But you also voted me in as an independent voice, and I will continue - as promised - to look out for the interests and views of the whole electorate (and other residents) along the lines and with the direction that you gave me at the ballot box.
The majority of full council and committee meetings are held in public and it's good to see the press at some of them. I would love to see more members of the public there too, but I appreciate that sitting as observer through hours of meetings is not a big turn-on. More work is done in working groups, which are not public; I don't know much about them (yet?) as I'm only on one, and it has yet to meet. Where a meeting is public, I am happy to comment / interpret in public too if asked. Where a meeting or part of a meeting is not public, I will only follow up with those at (or could have been) at that meeting. Any follow ups from me will be in my name - sorry, no unattributable tittle-tattle to the press or in social media.
I have been involved, prior to being elected to the Town Council, in working with and informing the community - such as at the Chamber of Commerce, and with Community Rail. And I have always found it useful to explain to the community what's going on and why it's being done - with a management overview for most, and detail available for the few who want the detail. That detail is likely to include alternative views and how and why decisions were taken in the way they were. My view on this clearly differs from the view of some of your new councillors, who have expressed the opinion that once a decision is made, even in public, all personal views expressed by councillors should be suppressed, as having them still available would bring the council into disrepute. Sorry - my view as the independently elected member of the council, is that attributed public comment should continue to be available as a matter of transparency, and that any attempt to alter history by deleting / suppressing other views would to a far better job of bringing disrepute onto the council!
It is a matter of public record that the full Town Council meeting of 28th June went into a confidential session from which the public and press were excluded. And because of that, I am NOT telling you here, nor publishing elsewhere or giving outside briefings, on the business transacted during that session. Excluding the press and public is, of course, like waving a red rag to a bull ... and it would be astonishing if the press folks weren't left wondering what the story is ...
Published Tuesday, 13th July 2021
Melksham Tidy - at Station VolunteeringThe Melksham Transport User Group is the officially registered station friends group for Melksham and our (I am vice chair) members volunteer there to help keep it clean and tidy. There's a different set of rues compared to a town tidy group. I am delighted to report we're working with the Town Council to keep it tidy towards "in Bloom" judging - but it's not a one-off - it's a continuing thing.
Here is some text I wrote the other day (and some pictures from the tidy yesterday) to help fill you, the reader, in.
The platform at Melksham Station is operated by Great Western Railway who lease it from Network Rail, and all tidy work there has to be done with Great Western approval who I turn are following Network Rail Rules. The Melksham Transport Use Group (MTUG) is the “Station friends group” - a member of the national "Community Rail Network” - a DfT sponsored quango who support around 1,000 such station groups - is our local vehicle and as vice chair of MTUG it’s in my area to do the various co-ordinations. All good fun and lots of supplementary comments that may not apply in the same way in other tidy areas. Offhand, I can thinks of:
1. Rail Safety - we cannot access areas that the public cannot go, in particular leading on occasions to unsightly rubbish on the track or opposite in / bordering the undergrowth where there used to e a second line and platform. We have to be exceptionally cautions even near the “working” edge of the platform - standing / being behind the yellow line that’s a metre in, as trains ca appear quickly and quietly even when one is not shown on the departure board. Diverted expresses and / or freight runs through Melksham every day.
2. Security - we are requested / required as we work at the station to keep an eye open for others who are putting themselves or others at risk, and also for devices (bomb threats, etc). To this end, the only litter bins allowed are the clear ones (clear sacks) so that nothing can be hidden in there. I do have a supply. But it does mean that the whole can’t look as tidy as we might wish.
3. Covid - volunteer work / tidying at the station to be limited to “light gardening” and litter picking, very limited number of people at present (keeps changing, has been just one at a time) and must be done when the station is quiet - in the case of Melksham, that’s in the gap between trains.
4. Doing the job - Station cleaning and tidying is the overall responsibility of GWR who employ an environmental team who go round to do such work. Care needs to be taken that local volunteers work with this team, and do not take on the work of paid GWR staff, in the interests of harmonious industrial relations. There is a fine balance here with staff sickness, and it’s also rather difficult to take on new / extra / replacement staff to cover.
5. Additional build up of rubbish at Melksham Station. A decade ago, two trains a day each way, a quiet corner. Now much busier with 9 one way and 8 the other. Furthermore, post-Covid there is a shift from commuter to leisure traffic which seems to generate more rubbish, and the opening of the cafe on station approach is definitely noticeable too. Systems and GWR staff rotas for visiting Melksham Station need to be updated to keep up - and an extra hoop bin would be welcome; people are typically good at putting rubbish in bins, but will leave it beside if full.
6. Identity. Volunteers need to identify with hiVis vests in the appropriate colour (pink; I have loan supply). Also to follow the instructions of rail staff. Five members were briefed about a year ago by GWR - back to the safety aspect where this list started.
Can get a bit complicated. Under current rulings, etc, I am checking twice a week and can and will change clear bags if necessary, but not routinely on every visit. That will include the lead up to and around bloom judging time, but is not limited just to that period - it’s ongoing
Published Sunday, 4th July 2021
Under 5 mile journey. Why not cycle?If your journey is under five miles, cycle it - from the Oxford Mail.
An excellent idea - so (here in Melksham) why do people not cycle more? I was at a Town Centre meeting on Saturday - I could have cycled, but I did not. Speaking with a fellow councillor, she had thought about cycling but hadn't done so either.
1. The security of our cycles, even when locked to a hoop provided beside the Town Hall for the purpose, concerned us both
2. Other facilities - such as keeping the cycle dry, and where to keep the extra clothes and helmet during the day
3. There are sections of the road into Town for both of us which are not cycle friendly; the pavement is pedestrian (and mobility scooter!) only and really not wide enough for cycles too, and the main carriageway takes one lane of traffic each way that backs up behid cyclists; some motorist overtake in what cyclists feel are dangerous ways (fast, close, at the blind hill brow)
We know the town ... others (and that includes many none-cycling residents) do not and in places even where there are good or reasonable cycle ways, they are not properly signposted.
Realistically, even with all these things sorted, cycling is not always the solution. Many people are not able to cycle - it could be age, it could be young children, it could be medical. At times, there may be more to carry than you can manage on your cycle. And it might be unattractive in the cold (or heatwave) and wet, or be a journey that you need to make by car more quickly. You might be tired, or under the influence of alcohol.
But, I think we could do better in Melksham.
Published Monday, 28th June 2021
Town Visioning Day - initial reportA big "Thank You" to the town staff team who all gave up their Saturday to help organise and attend yesterday's town visioning day - an informal get together / discussion at which we (staff and councillors) were all able to think - throw out ideas and look to thinking about what we might do, and how we might do it. We were guided by a professional facilitator from outside (thank you, Bob) and by the text of the previous (2017) document; also in my personal case (at least) by my thoughts and "manifesto" of my election campaign.
I wrote yesterday morning of elements I had picked up from the 2017 document where update or additions might be worthwle or needed - the world has changed in 4 years, and with 13 out of 15 new councillors views will be somewhat different too. I was heartened to see very positive, highly supported hopes for KGV and the like - re-assuring to me, though I appreciate that the closed session nature of the day (to allow us all to put out whacky ideas as well as sane ones, without them being held against us) means that I can only pass that on in generallity.
Personally - and I can talk here about what I said and has been taken forward - we are setting overriding values. They're a strategy against which we will evaluate all of our decisions as a council to ensure we're moving in the right overall direction. On each of the committees, each value will have a champion. The definite amended values are:
* The Environment and Climate - previously missing completely
* Diversity - previously given very limited consideration indeed
* Communications - understandle openness in what we do - previously patchy to say the least
Other values may be "codified" such as respect.
Values are too important to be assigned to any one committee - Objectives and aims are reasonably assigned. There have been five committees in the recent past, and it looks like the outcome of the day as it's written up will remain at five. The staff committee, and the finance and oversight remain to the side of objectives and aims. Three more commitees, worked from a clear sheet but remarkably similar to the old ones in many ways, remain/takeover/created:
* Community [Development] Committee - "Looks after what we do for people"
* Asset Management Committee - "Looks after what we own and run"
* Economic Planning and Development Committee - "Looks after where we are headed in the future"
A slight element of concern - in some ways it's sensible to reduce the size of the committees - talk was that a committee should have a maximum of 7 people on it so that it doesn't command a majority of the full council - i.e. to allow full council to overrule. Good in theory, and helpful to avoid councillors being too stretched by being on "too much" - but I would be unhappy to loose even the one committee place I have, which is on the committee looking to the future. I think I can bring something to the party there ... having said which, I appreciate I may not have helped myself yesterday by raising all sorts of issues - very conscious that after the Mayor, I spoke more than any other councillor. Tried to do so in a positive way, but conscious that at times it's much easier for the political groups to plough on with their agendae.
A huge amount of data gathered - including the other points I raised in yesterday's blog; we'll see how we go on those. Measureble objectives to be set (so that you, our electorate) can evalaute how we get on - a mixture of easy-to-deliver and ambitious items. And we concluded the day by asking ourselves "what would I like to have achieved in a year" and "what would I like to have achieved in 4 years".
Published Sunday, 27th June 2021
Town Visioning Day - upcomingI go into the "Town Visioning Day" in a couple of hours ... setting the scene / strategy for coming years. There's is a natural need to update the previous 2017 plan. Is there also a look for change - two former mayors stood but not re-elected?
Items I have picked up where we should consider update
* 1. Digital
As per Colin Goodhind / perhaps "all comms physical, broadcast, printed and digital". Yes, but concern to add and not to require mobile phones, etc, of anyone?
* 2. Climate - MISSION
As per Graham
a) That future decisions should consider their climate friendly consequences, and this should be signalled loud and clear in our vision.
b) That the Environment and Climate working group be (re)started at the earliest opportunity, looking both at how we as a council can be "greener" (if you will excuse that simplification) and how we can encourage and facilitate people in the town, businesses, and also wider area authorities in this direction.
* 3. History
4.1 - Make it accessible to residents and visitors - not just look after conservation area (limited preservation is a very limited goal)
* 4. Diversity - MISSION
3.1.3 - Is this enough? Not only access to services but a town as a whole.
LGBT+ / Race / Religion / Age / phyically or mentally restricted
* 5. ADD - Welcome tourism - beyond just the Melksham Link
* 6. ADD - Make the very best for the town by influencing wider area plans, including but not limited to local benefit for residents and businesses in the town.
* 7. Should we be including "safe"
* 8. Do we consider accessability and transport enough? Integrated public transport network - phyical, informational, fares
?? - Community group access / KGV and Art House. Work with Campus to ensure spaces are available for activities without overprovision or competing with viable businesses.
More follow up tomorrow ... at which point I can report on what else was changed, and which of the above garnered enough support from your other councilors ;-)
Published Saturday, 26th June 2021
Moving forward - assets and amenitiesI am disappointed, but sadly not surprised, to read of disquiet and disagreements over different interpretations of plans for the likes of the old fire station and King George V park between the direction the previous Town Council was taking, and the way the new Town Council is headed. But I celebrate the fervour and enthusiasm shown all around for the assets and amenities of our town - that's a strength which sets us up well for the future.
The Town Council's Assets and Amenities Committee, which makes the decisions that are causing concern, comprises 9 members; none of them was on the previous council, and all of them were elected under either "Together for Melksham" or Conservative banners. Within that party-like structure, you have many excellent thinking and bright people motivated for the good of the town. But you do have party / group politics too, and that's what the electorate has chosen. You may argue at the whole system, but that's a story for another day and probably another place.
Against the flow, (and I'm honoured) I find myself as the only independent (1 of 15) on Melksham Town Council. I am only on one of the five committees that look after areas of responsibility, and that is not the assets and amenities one, so I am something of an observer here - no vote, and only able to speak to this perhaps just one notch of influence above the public. But early experience is already showing that working with the bright and motivated people I mention above, and our staff team again excellent in general, much can be achieved. After the structural changes take effect, I have every hope and some confidence that everyone - including volunteers and councillors (who are also volunteers), and staff, can work as a team. Pragmatism will be required at times where differences of view, opinion, or party policy mean that full agreement is not possible.
Published Tuesday, 22nd June 2021
Melksham Town Council, Environment, Climate
Edit - RESULT - Interim - Now on agenda for inclusion in policyShould Melksham Town Council be considering the environment and climate change in its work and policies?
Next Saturday, Melksham's Town Councillors (who give their time, unpaid, for you, remember!) are having a "visioning day" - taking the 2017 document from the previous council, and updating it as appropriate for the term of the new council.
Much has changed in four years. One of the "Together for Melksham" team has proposed an update to reflect the "digital world" and access to technology for all, with which I agree. There is already some mention of diversity in the document, and that needs bolstering and repeating perhaps more in deed and consideration than in the words. Where it lack is that - like so many other documents and policies that are four years old - it does not consider the enviroment and climate.
None of the words "climate", "warming", "zero", "global" or "carbon" appear anywhere in the document or suggestions (totalling 22 pages). The word "air" does occur but only in a "Royal Air Force" context. "Sustainable" is there in relation to sustaining three of the town's activities (Cinema, Riverside Club and Assembly Hall) and one bright spot in reference to the Wilts and Berks Canal. "Clean" three times ... in right acknowledgment of keeping the town clean, rather than clean air.
I am proposing that Melksham Town Council's vision should include a commitement to looking at what it does, and how it encourages local activities, in relation to the future of the enviroment - ranging from local noise and dirty air issues right though zero carbon to climate change. Not a zealot's approach, but careful consideration and knowledge about what we do, and with choices being made with the environment in mind. I admit to being shocked that the council chose - without even calling councillors who wanted to speak up - to put its enviroment and working group on hold at the first full meeting on 17th May; it was voted on in a package and in hindsight I should have registered a vote against, not that would have made any difference. I am proposing next Saturday and/or at the next opportunity that this "hold" be released - and the very least, we should signal to our electorate that we care and consider the environment, rather that the "not important enough to even consider" message from the suspension of the group and lack of anything at all in the draft vision.
I was up in Marlow yesterday - out for the riverside walk from Henley - and I noticed this "please switch your engines off on layover" sign. Very small starter example, but that's exactly the sort of thing which we should be encouraging here too. I clean the train timetables for MTUG at the railway station and Market Place. The ones at the station only get a bit dirty. The ones at the Market Place result in a filthy wipe every time, and that's the sort of thing you don't want in your lungs.
Published Sunday, 20th June 2021
Cleveland Bridge, Bath - and what it means for Melksham Meeting - Wera Hobhouse (Bath MP) online "discussion" 18:00 on 17th June 2021 - really a lecture with questions asked via chat - everyone except the speakers and facilitator required to keep muted, video off, only input via Chat and only to the host.
The Cleveland Bridge is Bath is a Grade II* listed structure in the outskirts of the City which carries the trunk A46 / A36 road and considerable local traffic too. There is no easy alternative route, and through traffic on the trunk has to dogleg in and out of Bath to get over it. The bridge was strengthened and certifies to 18 tons in 1997, but is now required to carry HGVs up to 44 tons. It has deteriorated and is in urgent need of significant repair. Because of the location of Bath in the valley bottom, there are significant clean air issues.
1. BaNES has already put restrictions on the bridge area (clean air zone for vehicles larger than private cars, and (?) weight limit). At about the same time these restrictions came into place, residents in the Melksham South Ward close to the A350 reported a noticeable increase in HGV traffic "shaking their houses"; I noticed that it's noisy and the air feels heavy in residential streets close to the A350.
2. Short term: BaNES Council is putting up scaffolding on the bridge, with total closure except to pedestrians, cycles and emergency services planned from 28th June for a period of at least three months. Total works at least six months. Actual total closure may start later due to covid shielding of contractors that has just had to start, and may run for longer depending on what they find. Alternative signposted routes within Bath for lighter traffic (to Windsor Bridge) and from M32 junction 1, A4174 and A4 Keynsham Bypass, through Saltford and Lower Bristol Road to A36 for HGVs. Note - this takes them through the CAZ.
3. Long term: BaNES Council and MP would like to permanently remove HGVs and through traffic from the bridge and indeed from London Road too. They also stated that they have countryside around that brings lots of tourists / visitors and that should be protected too.
BaNES have some very real problems in dealing with this bridge - it and its approaches are not adequate for current traffic, around a which a quarter (of 17,000 journeys a day - so that's between 4,000 and 5,000 journeys) are through - not for Bath at all. Pre-covid, pre-CAZ data. That's one vehicle every 5 seconds passing through the whole 24 hours, with one every 20 seconds just passing through Bath. These, circa 4,500 vehicles, have to use alternative routes. I have very great sympathy for the problem.
On the short term:
However, the meeting highlighted and continued an ugly misunderstanding or standoff between BaNES and Wiltshire, with Wera Hobhouse (MP for Bath) and Michelle Donelan (MP for Chippenham) both saying they wanted to work together but clearly there was no line of communication, invites ignored or not received, and so on. Similar comments from officers and local councillors suggesting that all were willing to work together but to date had not been able to do so, the blame for that lying with the other party.
Result - only signposted diversion heavy vehicle diversion at present is from Warminster to M32 at Filton (as above) which is a very long way around indeed, and traffic headed eastward on the M4 is likely to find its own alternative. BaNES blame none-cooperation of Wiltshire for lack of a signposted route through the county, and suggested this is unfair on Wilts residents. Frankly, whether signposted or not the traffic WILL come through Wiltshire and I suspect signage would add to the traffic / noise etc close to the Semington Road roundabout and through North Melksham and Beanacre (and Westbury), even if it reduced it on other potential diversion routes such as A46, A363, B3108 (via Winsley Bypass) to A36.
There has been - in my view - scant attention given to traffic generated outside the Bath area by the Bridge works - it has to go somewhere. One officer (in answer to a question) indicated they had modelled out as far as Box and did not predict any traffic increase there (well - they probably wouldn't - Box is not any of the major alternative routes mentioned already!)
Whole thing has the smell of being political where everyone's looking after their own interests and no-one wants the traffic in their back yard. And it's good for them to show their local residents that they are standing up for them. In the short term - 6 months to a year, shall we say (this may overrun) adjustments may be possible when we see what happens with the bridge totally closed, but realistically there will be lots more traffic on diversionary routes, signposted or not.
In the longer term:
There seems to be an accepted view that there will continue to be lots of North to South traffic passing through the area. And BaNES would like to keep the Cleveland Bridge closed to "heavies" and probably discourage other traffic that's just passing through.
Wera Hobhouse was about the only one present to voice the questions about how much traffic there will be in the future - post Covid changes, zero carbon, etc. Some of that is a reduction of private vehicles and a move to public transport, cycling and walking, but it was also noted that van traffic is up by 33% in Bath since the start of the pandemic, driven by online ordering and deliveries.
The potential for designating the A350 as a trunk route and potentially de-trunking the A36 and A46 was raised - the DfT is doing a study and consultation said to be published next year.
The alternative of linking the A36 and A46 across at Bathampton / Batheaston was raised, but we were told this required heavy engineering of a viaduct right across (and spoiling) the valley, or an even more expensive tunnel, and would be unlikely to be funded. The argument is marred by the comment that river, railway and canal need to be crossed - not necessarily the case as the Batheaston bypass crosses the river (twice) already - and I suggest there might have been an element of looking for excuses rather than at the real potential in the answers given - ruled out because it's not what they want, but in practise (height differences not withstanding) quite do-able at a sensible price, especially if we could stop major road building which generates more traffic and move to the greener alternatives.
In spite of the Wiltshire / BaNES friction above, the vibes I got were that they are in agreement that they want the A350 trunked, and looking at it through the Western Gateway SnTB. Statements that it will be a "central government decision" seem to suggest that this would be convenient for local polititians all around as they can say they fought but got overruled for the national good.
Conflicting answers given as to whether the Cleveland Bridge will fully re-open to all weights of traffic after the road works are complete; it feels that BaNES would rather it did not.
Question as to whether traffic would only be redirected to the A350 from Bath once suitable bypasses at Melksham and Westbury were completed was read out in a batch of others, but not answered. Some irritation that "we are here to talk about Bath and seem to have spent just as much time on Wiltshire"
Talk on dirty air too ... opinion that it's really bad in Bath (yes it is) and a feeling that fixing in there by exporting some is just redressing the balance.
Conclusions, views, thoughts
Conclusion was that Wera Hobhouse and Michelle Donelan should liaise with a view to setting up better relationships. For immediate stuff, recommendation is to keep in touch via the BaNES website which will have a regular update on how things are going.
Personal conclusion - decision has probably been pencilled in already way above our pay-grade that the A350 will be the main route - north to south through traffic solution, and that it'll need Melksham and perhaps other bypasses. By being strategic, it means a very "full" solution will be provided - i.e. Wiltshire will get funding for a long bypass solution funded centrally as it's trunk which is the plan ... best for Town Council is to pragmatically work with what's done on that base (which is outside the neighbourhood plan's remit) to get the best advantage for the town.
For the longer term - ,000 question - do we really need major road build? There's a whole industry specifying, designing and building roads and it's difficult to avoid the feeling that at times things aren't biased towards them - sometimes more that a feeling when you look at base data and algorithms.
Edit to add at least four people now concerned that their typed comments / questions were misrepresented in how they were put to the meeting. So the whole should be much more characterised as a rally / lecture than a discussion. And I now know even less who - if anyone - to trust. A few things are lining up, mind! Sad, as we need to work together. Still a very useful evening.
Published Friday, 18th June 2021