Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
From my councillor inbox - following announcements to all councillors and staff members of Melksham Town Council. I would like to add my voice to those of Patsy and Linda in thanking Tim and David for all their hard work, and wish them both all the very best for the future.
30th July 2021:
Dear Councillors and Colleagues
I write to inform you that Tim Cross, Facilities and Hospitality Manager will be leaving his role with the town council on 31 August 2021.
We are extremely grateful for Tim’s hard work at the Council over the past five years and hope that you will join us in wishing him all the best for the future.
26th July 2021:
Dear Councillors and Colleagues
I write to inform you that David McKnight, Economic Development Manager will be leaving his role with the town council on 31 August 2021.
We are extremely grateful for David’s hard work at the Council over the past eighteen months and hope that you will join us in wishing him all the best for the future.
Published Sunday, 1st August 2021
Councillor Interaction on Social MediaMelksham Bypass. The Campus. Encouraging visitors. Canal. Speeding Cars. Council expenditure. Safety, security, CCTVs. Dog Poo. Zero Carbon. KGV Park. Assembly Hall. Brambles and maintenace of paths. Double deck buses. Lighting. The Spiritualist Garden. Car parking. School drop-off congestion. Online access to Council meetings. The old fire station. Housing growth. Cycle lanes on the road. A lot of topics pass through my laptop either out of a general interest, or because of my new role as a Melksham Town councillor.
As I understand it, all parties / teams on Melksham Town council have requested that their new councillors refrain from social media discussions on the sort of topics I have listed. From their position, there's a lot of sense in that. It leaves the way clear for other sources, such as council officers and party / team spokespersons to put out a single clear message. It avoids elected members new to the job finding themselves in a flood of strongly felt (so emotionally written) views on topics on which as yet they may be under-informed, and where they could at times look less than impressive in response. It avoids alienating the electorate by publishing their own views or reasons where perhaps electors might not agree. And it avoids the risks of publishing risks (copyright, libel, etc) as well as concerns about what people may read about themselves.
All sensible, but it can leave the electorate feeling left out, and feeding on snippets of hearsay and rumours which can get blown out of all proportion. And councillors can be accused of failing to listen to their voters - a real shame because your parish (Town) councillor covers the smallest of geographic areas of any elected representative and lives (well, I do anyway) in the area they represent and they should - in my view - be available via any practical route, that availability being tempered by a practicality of the time available to someone who's doing the whole thing on a voluntary and unpaid basis.
It's either a very brave or very foolish (or both!) newcomer to council and social media who sticks his/her head above the parapet and encourages interaction - the more so if "the party" tells him/her not to do so. But, yet, so much of the authority of the councillor relates to them listening, discussing, learning, considering. Considering the silent majority as well as the vocal, impassioned minority, mark you!
I am personally in a somewhat different position to other councillors on Melksham Town Council. I am not a member of a party or team; happy to work with them and doing so, but not encumbered by "party lines" nor advised / directed by leaders who have prior experience of being elected representatives, and agendas they are following. I am not looking to build or continue a career in politics. And, though new to council, I have a number of years of online forum and social media experience which helps me handle the significant pitfalls that are there, while gaining huge benefit for myself (in keeping informed and in letting people know) and my community. I described new councillor on social media as brave, foolish or both - but with my background, I don't feel brave and I'll risk being considered foolish.
My Facebook page at Graham4Melksham is public, and open for anyone to follow up on any topic which I start. I will stick to topics which are relevant to Melksham and the role, and encourage follow up and discussion. I am happy to start new topics / share from elsewhere to trigger discussions too - sometimes I may need to be prompted to pick up a topic.
The code of conduct that I and the team at the Great Western Coffee Shop use ( see http://www.passenger.chat/1761 ) has proven to be a good one over the years, and I'm following the same principles on my Facebook page. In summary, keep it legal, keep civil, keep reasonably close to topic and don't flood post, don't get personal and you are very welcome. Happy for you to air views that are not mine. I do reserve the right to delete comments and switch of commenting, but will do so very rarely and only when the principles are broken. Where such things are broken and it appears accidental, I'll send a personal message to let you know why. People are pretty good and understanding about that (that you) - from my message box yesterday when I felt I had to 'moderate' - No problem ... I do appreciate that you won’t want to get dragged into it ... you are just unfortunate enough to be one of the few councillors who actually posts and gives opportunity to pass comment. and that answer gave me a wonderful confirmation that my social media engagement is about right.
The Facebook feed is far from the only place you can reach me or indeed your other councillors. We are all on email, for example. Our meeting are public for the most part, and most of them have a public participation before they start. A system through which meetings can be attended on Zoom and watched via YouTube is coming in (some issues which I hope are teething ones at present). My home address and phone numbers are well publicised too. I have taken a strategic decision not to dilute my time by having a continual monitoring of LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or other social media; better to do one or two (Coffee Shop and Facebook) well than try to do have a dozen and do them all too thinly.
Published Saturday, 31st July 2021
Picture Melksham - MAPGThe Melksham Amateur Photography Group ( Facebook Private Group ) met outside the Town Hall a couple of day ago. They meet every Thursday for 2 hours of photography in towns, villages and countryside in the area and when it's practical by public transport, cycle or walking I go along. No quality-of-photography pre-requisites, as you'll note from my contributions.
I've not been going long, and Thursday was the first of their meetings I was at within Melksham. And how much that confirmed to me:
a) What a lovely town and hidden gems we have
b) What lovely people are here about
c) How being a parish councillor is a 24 hour 'job', and I can't walk around without people stopping for a chat - I love it, and it helps keep me informed, and it helps me inform you.
Topics: The commercial economies of running a cafe (two having opened recently - the Cricketers and the Melksham Hub). What's needed and how to set about applying for a license for a cafe (elsewhere). Whether or not the canal will actually be built. Noisy "boy racers" late at night. Future prospects at The Avon / Cooper Tire / Goodyear. Noise and vibration from the A350. Improving the path from the cemetery gate parallel to the A350 that's behind the bund to encourage cycling. Blocking of footpaths. The farmer's bridge over the river to the north of Murray Walk. And one lady (PLEASE call me!) who parked up to catch me, but wants to talk away from the High Street where we were.
If you want to see your local council in action, we're now back meeting in the Town Hall and virtually on Zoom. You can also watch on YouTube. Please come along on Monday to the Economic Development and Planning Committee. I have links to the agenda (short cuts) at my http://melksh.am page which is set up to help you get places quickly.
There's public participation at the start, where any residents can make statements and raise concerns. Questions raised will not be answered right away (the councillors don't know what will be asked, nor will they be able to debate an answer), but they will be noted and followed up as appropriate. That's followed by typical business - taking a look at planning applications to Wiltshire Council and highways issues, and perhaps making local inputs to each of them. Then other business such as (on Monday) noting Wiltshire Council Gambling Statement of Licensing Principles, and the Wiltshire Council By-pass Consultation where there will be a presentation by Steve Wilson, Major Highways Project Engineer, Wiltshire Council. If there is substantial public presence on an agenda item, it was traditional under previous councils for such items be moved up the agenda as the meeting starts, but that swap around is not guaranteed
Published Saturday, 24th July 2021
My personal short cutsIf you are looking for Melksham Town Football club - see ((here))
If you are looking for Melksham Town Council - see ((here))
This article will be updated as new short cuts are added.
Added and Update, 6th September 2021
These links take me (and you) to other web sites.
|http://melksh.am||This Index Page|
|http://melksh.am/climate||Consultation / Wiltshire Climate Strategy, to 17.10.2021|
|http://melksh.am/fomah||Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (web page)|
|http://melksh.am/@fomah||Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (Facebook)|
|http://melksh.am/a_2021_08_09||Council Agenda and pack for 9th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/AH_accounts||Assembly Hall Accounts for 9th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/z_2021_08_09||Zoom for 9th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/myhall||Assembly Hall - my blog article and personal comment|
|http://melksh.am/bypass||Melksham Bypass - Consultation to 8th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/wc_bypass_dropins||Melksham Bypass - Library dropins 30.7 and 6.8.2021|
|http://melksh.am/mybypass||Melksham Bypass - my personal view|
|http://melksh.am/town||Melksham Town Council|
|http://melksh.am/without||Melksham Without Parish Council|
|http://melksh.am/mtug||Melksham Transport User Group|
|http://melksh.am/trains||Melksham trains (current running)|
|http://melksh.am/timetable||Melksham trains (timetable)|
|http://melksh.am/graham||Graham Ellis - home page|
|http://melksh.am/blog||Graham Ellis - Councillor Blog|
|http://melksh.am/coffeeshop||Coffee Shop public transport forum|
|http://melksh.am/museum||The Well House Collection (History and Museum site)|
|http://melksh.am/server||Web server status page|
Published Thursday, 22nd July 2021
Your representative within your communityYour parish councillor is uniquely informed to represent you. Higher level authority representatives (your Unitary Councillor, your MP, and in the past your MEP) are elected by the geographic area, then spend a lot of their time, rightly, away from your area to work for you, for which they are paid an allowance. But your parish councillor lives in (or in some cases near to) your community and meets and represents you there. And your parish councillor differs too in that he/she is an unpaid volunteer - giving his or her time freely to represent you.
Melksham Town is a parish council. As a larger (population) parish, it's divided into wards (areas), and I have been elected to represent the South Ward - one of four councillors with an electorate of 3,841 - that's 960 potential voters per councillor. That's a lot of voters compared to many other parishes - Pewsey has 21 councillors for 3,062 electors, for example - that's just 146 voters per councillor. There are other urban wards in Wiltshire with around 1,000 voters, but "my" South Ward is pretty close to the upper limit.
I am delighted that Melksham Town Council organised a new councillor induction day on 10th July, and a session with Prof Colin Copus on 16th July to help us appreciate the various roles. I attended both and found them very useful; if I have any criticism, it's that both sessions should have been run soon after we were elected on 6th May, and not after half a dozen meetings at which there was an awful lot of business transacted which will echo through the next four years and beyond. Part of me worries about whether this was indecent haste, but then the leaders of "Together for Melksham" and the Conservative group on the council hold 13 of the 15 seats between them, and are both experienced representatives, and they were aligned for their groups on the decisions. So these changes are, in essence, made by the people you (the voter) have chosen to represent you. Every ward in Melksham had an election in May - in each case, more candidates than seats - and as such that shows a strength of interest, and also gives those elected a greater authority than they would have if they were "only ones who stood".
"You'll no longer be able to quickly nip down to the local shop for a pint of milk - people will stop you and want to talk. You will become public property and people will contact you, knock on your door, phone you at all times of day and night. People will know you, even if you don't know them. Things will feel very different." warns Colin Copus.
Yes - on much of that he is right. And more so, I think, in my particular circumstance. I am one of only two councillors on the Town Council (Colin Goodhind is the other), who live and attend town council meetings all in the ward we represent. I walk to town council meetings through my ward. Not that residents limit their interaction to contact within the ward - walking along the Kennet and Avon canal last week, a cyclist stopped to ask me questions, and I was chatting with folks in KGV park - in the Forest Ward - last Sunday.
No - things do not feel different! I can appreciate that they would for many people, but I am used to it already from ... being President of the Chamber of Commerce for a number of years ... running a customer facing business in the town and appearing on "Four in a Bed" on national TV ... campaigning for and supporting improved public transport in the area for many years. So I have come in with my eyes open and I love it.
If you see me around, please feel free to come over and make contact. And please feel free to initiate contact in other ways too. Please do note, though, that I have a lot going on and I may have to have just a quick chat as I head for a meeting - but I can and will get back to you, either with a pointer to the appropriate person, or with a substantive answer or discussion. I really want to hear your views.
Published Wednesday, 21st July 2021
Melksham - Within and WithoutFrom the May 1927 directory (complete document (here) on The Well House Collection site) (census data updated over the last few days). The Well House Collection is Lisa's work; huge amounts on the site for you to explore.
Did you even wonder about the origins of Melksham Town and Melksham Without parishes?
Who was on the Town Council in 1927?
What were the sizes and populations of Town and Without?
What schools were there, and was there a bus from the station?
Published Tuesday, 20th July 2021
Burning our waste in WiltshireMelksham Town Council has asked our mayor to add his signature to a letter that's going from many Parish and Town Councils to the Secretary of State asking him to call in to review the decision by Wiltshire Council to grant planning permission for a waste incinerator to be build within the urban area of Westbury, and alongside a food production and processing factory.
The planning application itself was decided by the top level planning committee at Wiltshire Council, and so cannot be appealed on local grounds. However, there is concern that it breaks council and wider policies, and should not have been passed - which was on a "party" vote with all Conservative councillors present voting in favour, and all others against. The request to the SoS - from ourselves and from many other councils and organisations - is to have their experts take a look at the decision and technical data, and ask if it was the right decision for a waste incinerator (with all the effects it brings) to be built in that place and to those plans.
Only seven of the 15 town councillors elected in May made the meeting earlier this evening - Pat, Sue, Colin and myself seem consistent in attending formal council meetings, committees and briefings / training sessions at which we are invited participants. And we voted six to zero, with one abstention, to have the mayor sign the letter.
The solitary Conservative councillor who made the meeting (brave person!) spoke of the need for us not to export our difficult (not recyclable) waste to third world countries - though when I asked what proportion of Wiltshire's waste goes overseas, he was only able to muster up a UK tonnage figure, which without the context of a total waste figure did not answer my question. 0.1%? 1%? 10%? - I still haven't a clue. He has a good point that we should not be exporting a large proportion of waste "to be picked over by children in dumps in third world countries as you see overseas", but there is good reason for shipping specialist waste between countries where a recycling plant per country would be inefficient; we was talking export, but may I mention import - with the UK bringing waste to Windscale, for example.
But that issue looked like a valiant defence of the party line. The question being asked is "is Westbury, in the built up area, alongside the dairy, and with lots of road traffic coming in the right place to recycle" and not "should we ship our problem far away". I am not being a NIMBY (Not in my back yard); there could be a much more suitable local site. I look at our neighbouring authority and the Severnside Energy Recovery Centre (Seabank Power Station). "Delivery of waste is primarily by rail" and set amongst brownfield sites which will take decades to redevelop, near a barren and damaged seashore. Sounds a much more suitable type of site that Westbury (though, good heavens, Westbury is close to the railway) and I could make other suggestions. And, yes, I'm aware that Wiltshire Council initially bought Woolmore Farm on the outskirts of Melksham with a view to using it as a waste processing plant ...
The maps that support this post show a one mile radius from the proposed Westbury site, and the Seabank site. Note that Seabank has the railway, major trunk road, motorway right there ... in a pretty desolate area. The Westbury map shows where the railway is close by but not planned to be used, and an absence of trunk and motorway service. Lots more housing too - and the map is old; more has been built between the two railway lines since it was produced.
Watch the Town Council meeting - and see the discussion for yourself - at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUsP4eTnDOU .
Published Monday, 19th July 2021
Please continue to wear your facemaskAs from 19th July 2021, the wearing of face masks on public transport (including on GWR trains) in most of England becomes the choice of individual rather than a legal requirement. In Wales, in Scotland, on Transport for London services and on Transport for Wales services that cross the border into England, the use of face masks remains mandated by law.
Most public transport operators are requesting that you continue to wear face masks on their services and at their major enclosed stops and stations.
Frome Bus, who run the Melksham Town service, have the simplest (and simple is good) message: We are asking all passengers to continue the wearing of face coverings unless they are medically exempt. Other bus operators (including Faresaver, who run our inter-town routes) are quoted (here) and rail operators (here) includes a poll of members.
I add my voice to those requests. Please continue to use your masks (and wear it properly!) on public transport and in other enclosed places, especially if they are busy. It may no longer be a legal requirement, but it still makes huge sense - you may be double-jabbed, not in one of the most vulnerable groups, and willing to take the risk of being unmasked, but others around you are not so fortunate. Even if you are taking the risk for yourself, please take the social responsibility that the Government has chosen to delegate to you and wear the mask where appropriate for the protection of others around you.
* Public Transport in the form of buses and trains is a "common carrier" with operators required to provide travel to all comers (a few exceptions). In England they would be on difficult legal ground if they tried to make facemasks mandatory on their services without a Government requirement, and they are also concerned for the safety of their staff in the face of strongly objecting customers. Airlines, shops, sport, medical and entertainment venues are not constrained by common carrier laws and may (and many will) refuse entry and service to anyone now wearing a mask without medical exemption. Turning potential customers away is a huge decision for businesses, but many will be doing so - which is an indication of just how seriously they take this matter. There is also a perverse business interest in them doing so - by choosing to turning away those who have chosen not to wear masks, they are making their business safer and more accessible to the very large number of people who are vulnerable, and who are much safer in a maximally masked environment.
* This message covers Great Britain only. Please check elsewhere if you are travelling internationally, to Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, etc
* My advice above is written on 18th July. How long the rules stay as they are and the advice remains relevant, I simple can't predict. It is also written to the best of my personal knowledge, and you should check locally / with official sources if in any doubt as to what the rules are.
Illustrative picture - myself at Swindon Station last September, as part of a Department for Transport team helping to remind people who were coming back to public transport after the first wave that they should be wearing masks, and to help guide them though the modified ticketing, information and access arrangements at the station as a result of Covid. Most people who arrived at the station were more than happy to be reminded (and we had a stock of facemasks to hand out), with failure to follow the rules as they arrived largely due to this being new to them, rather than being a deliberate flouting of the rules.
Published Saturday, 17th July 2021
Online from next Monday 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.
Town Council public meetings
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