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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
In planning, for land south of Melksham Town
Planning - for everything and anything
HS2 phase 2 cancellation - effect on Melksham
Planning - should we have looked across the road?
How does planning work?
Planning - big consultation week
My "Update Needed" list and comment on council structure
Splash Pad - my last shift
Millenium Post. Where are we going?
(Back to top of page)
Some other pages on this site:

Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
Graham Ellis - background and • views
Philosophies of working as a town councillor
The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
How YOU can help and • Contact me
Links to other web sites and • pictures
Through April 2021, I posted most days. Thereafter (elected) you hear from me here at least once a week.

Lighting in KGV Park

The Town Council's Assets and Amenities Committee found itself between a rock ans a hard place yesterday evening as it took lighting in KGV park forward. We have decided to place festoon lights around the circuit, three lights up the back passage, and replace the light heads on the lights on the path by the adventure centre.

This has been a saga, worthy of Tolkein or Tolstoy, and we have managed to spend an incredible (excessive?) amount of our time, and that of people interested in installing lights, on looking at a whole series of schemes and options. I am emarrassed at the length of the saga and feel that the rules under which councils work make for a significant overhead which many councils, including ours, then exhaserbate by how they apply them. We have not been helped by having many and varied opinions on this project, with some councillors who didn't like the original decision working to get it reversed even after it was made. I get it, I happen not to personally wanting the circuit lit, but understand that the majority do and once that decision was made I have voted to progress the project.

Plan is that the installation will take part during the winter. I am being intentionally vague on dates still, but at least we're no longer in the middle of project planning - we're at the end of working out what we're doing an it will be "shovels in the ground" next, not that there are many earthworks!

Illustration - from the demonstration of some of the festoon lights as have been chosen for the circuit

Also KGV updates:
* Town Clerk re-assured us of proper consultation with experts prior to installation of dog agility equipment - member of the public question, written answer to follow
* EcoLoos after teething issues now working much better and much more eco than they were initially
* Sensory garden work to be undertaken largely(?) by our inhouse team

And also:
* Business case requested before we license the Town Hall for weddings
* Audit of allotments requested to ensure fair, sensible way forward for all sites
* Assembly Hall roof - quotes coming for 6/12/18/24 month fixes for the two major leaks - thanks to our volunteer for oiling the wheels and getting this moving

And finally a welcome to councillor Charlie Stokes who we look forward to seeing at future meetings too.

Published Tuesday, 10th October 2023

In planning, for land south of Melksham Town

Wiltshire Council refused planning permission for 210 new homes and a care home with 70 beds just across the road from the South Ward of Melksham Town on 27th April. An appeal has been lodged and will be heard in Melksham Town Hall from 10 a.m. on 24th October. Public welcome.

Although Melksham Town Council was not a statutory consultee, this application may be of interest to many of the residents of "my" ward being just across the main road from them. See (here).

I understand that a planning application (a lot earlier in the process) has just been submitted in detail for a primary school behind the new housing that's being built off Pathfinder way, and again this runs up to Western Way and so it's just across from Melksham Town, so once again we will not be a statutory consultee. Update Planning Application just submitted ... PL/2023/08046

The housing and care home application, refused and being appealed, is in the area indicated by the red dots on the map. The primary school is in the area indicated by the blue dot.

There is considerable merit in the plan for a primary school which is within easy walking distance of the Campion Drive / Burnet Close area; the recently added light controlled pedestrian crossing over Western Way brings the school close to home for families in those roads and the neighbouring ones. As even with planning for schools, road access for those who chose to take their children there but don't live so close will be an issue that I'm sure the planners, and Melksham Without, will look at, and it will be doubly an issue should the appeal for the next door site be upheld.

Published Monday, 9th October 2023

Planning - for everything and anything

150 people have clicked through to my "How does Planning Work" article and 180 to "HS2 - Phase 2 Cancellation" according to Google Analytics. Of those, over 80% are identified as being from the UK and that and other stats help assure me that each of those articles has really been brought up on someone's screen around 100 times. Whether they have been read is quite another question!

"How does planning work" was an interesting one and it used to baffle me - many elements of it still do, and I learn every day. And I become all the more aware that so many other elements - our entire lives, indeed, effect what we need to plan for. I wondered whether to write a whole series on planning:

1. Overview of planning
2. The National Infrastructure Commission

Then looking at the layers of general planning:

3. National Planning Policy Framework
4. The Local Plan
5. Neighbourhood Plan
6. Planning Applications

But then there are other elements linked to make the whole:

7. Environmental Planning
8. Wealth Planning
9. Population Planning
10. Transport Planning
11. Health Planning
12. Welfare Planning
13. Education Planning
14. Utilities Planning
15. Waste Planning
16. Security Planning

And a herd of elephants in the room:

A. Social Control
B. Operational Issues
C. International Matters
D. Unplanned events
E. Variance
F. Religion
G. Motivation
H. Staying at the helm

By background, I am an analyst and I fear I'm analysing things so wide here that I'm asking questions like "what and why is government" which is perhaps as far removed as I could get from my position on this page as a parish councillor.

How public finances work: [link]

National Infrastructure Commission: [link]

Image - from - under Creative Commons License 4.0

Published Sunday, 8th October 2023

HS2 phase 2 cancellation - effect on Melksham

Background: On Wednesday, the Prime Minister cancelled phase 2 of HS2 (the High Speed Rail link from London to the Midland and North) which means it is now planned to run only from London to Birmingham. At the same time, he announced the equivalent transport spend on other projects. A new body - "Network North" has been created and has had funding directed to it, including in spite of its name, some towards the South West. On Thursday, some of the other projects were withdrawn from the list, or were conditionalised so they are not certain to happen. And it became clear that some of that spend is a re-announcement of funding already in place - indeed some Wednesday schemes are even done already!

What does this mean for Melksham??

Very little obvious, but yet a great deal in reallity.

1. Use of HS2 as a transport link

Headed north from this area / constituency, we were set for a natural choice "change trains at Old Oak". Much less the case if the high speed line runs out at Birmingham - train travel to the is (and will probably remain) via Cheltenham Spa or via Oxford.

Let's face it though - from Melksham and Chippenham, headed north or to Scotland, most people drive or fly. Neither of which is good for the environment. Trains running from Old Oak to Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh at a competing speed with air, and pricable to compete because of the journey volumes, would have been a real environmental opportunity. The opportunity is not removed, but the marketing edge and competitive gain are lost - and in any case there's going to be less capacity which HS2 is really about.

2. Local works and contracts

Lots of contracts all over the county for HS2 work and that includes directly five companies based locally (in the constituency). The largest is Knorr Bremse, who make brakes for trains amongst other things; it is not clear to me yet how much cut back there will be on the number of trains to be made. Each of the other suppliers locally will have a potential impact, as will the services and suppliers down-chain to each of them. Perhaps there won't be as many people visiting Knorr Bremse to stay at the Travel Lodge and eat at the Milk Churn, or as many people working at the plant to buy local houses or their lunch at Greggs.

At one point, plans were for spoil from HS2 to be used to infill Quidhampton Quarry near Salisbury, with trains running from the construction sites via Melksham. The line, though, does not have the capacity and there was a window of opportunity for redoubling - back to where we were prior to 1967 - and with that extra capacity the side-effect opportunity to step local trains up to hourly; doubling would put capacity of trains though Melksham up from 2.5 per hour to around 12 per hour.

3. Trust in Government

Huge investment has already been made in HS2 and the government promised us high speed rail. And lots of decisions have been made and other plans made on that. They have now changed their mind and reduced HS2 to a shadow of what was planned. Readers may agree or disagree that HS2 was a good thing or not in the first place, but how sad it's been reduced to a trunk without the feeder branches. Perhaps the same mistake that Dr Beeching made in the 1960s, cutting off the feeders that in themselves were not profitable and so starving the centre core that had been.

But there's more to it than that. There is a pattern. Remember the our government was electrifying and modernising the railway from London to Oxford, to Bristol and to Swansea. But then halfway through they changed their mind. The Oxford electrification runs out at Didcot. The Swansea electrifiation runs out at Cardiff (though the Maliphant depot in Swansea has some very fine overhead electrics!), and the Bristol electrification runs out at Cocklebury Lane to the east of Chippenham, with some very fine half-built overheads and substation at Thingley a few miles north of us in Melksham.

It gets even worse. Our Prime Minister announced on Wednesday that the same amount of money would be spent on other transport projects as had been cut from HS2. Sounds good - but look carefully. "Other transport projects" includes road building, for which there is already an equivalent budget, so the net effect is to take a previously planned budget split between rail and road and skew it towards road. It gets yet worse. Many of these projects where alternative spending was shouted are making use of other funding already announced - there might have been an implication that money was bring transferred, but it has become clear that we may have been invited to draw that conclusion, but it's not the reality.

Can it get yet worse even again? Yes, it can. Projects touted on Wednesday were deleted from the government web site on Thursday. Amongst them, completing the electrification of the railway from Cocklebury Lane, Chippenham to Bristol. Projects such as the funding of the new station at Wellington in Somerset, which has been through so many stages of business case already, has had "subject to business case review" added on. Taking HS2 into Euston, restore to the plan on Wednesday, has had "if we can get private investment to help pay for it" added on.

I DO trust that the £2 flat fare on the buses, which was due to increase at the end of this month, will indeed remain throughout next year, and I applaud that; if the next general election doesn't happen until January 2025, I expect it will be extended again. And I do expect we'll see our incumbent MP standing in front of pothole-filing machines in Melksham and Devizes telling us of this local benefit from her government. And I do applaud road repairs and affordable bus travel. Other investment promises - whether real new money, or re-announced, sorry, I don't trust our government. I will work and walk forward in hope, but I'll always be doing a "what if" worst case, especially for spring 2025.

Illustrations, clockwise from top left
- an HS2 train, brakes from Knorr Bremse of Melksham
- a list of HS2 contractors in the Chippenham constituency
- HS2 contractor map showing wider area
- planned HS2 interchange station
- Abandoned electrification near Chippenham

Published Saturday, 7th October 2023

Planning - should we have looked across the road?

Your Town Council represents resident's views on planning applications in the town. Last night we considered two major applications for care homes (yellow pin) and are submitting our views (one objection, one OK but with conditions) to Wiltshire Council. But why, oh why, did we not take a look at the 300 homes proposed just across the road from the Water Meadow (white pin).

Three hundred more homes, some less than 100 metres from the pub, are or significant interest to residents of Melksham Town. On past form, new housing to the East of the town will get transferred into the town in due course, and in my view we should have taken a look. And whether we objected or accepted for the town, we should have specified the infrastructure elements we believe should have been specified to support the new residents and other residents in the vicinity.

I am - disappointed - that neither our staff nor the chair or vice-chair of the commitee brought this to the committee, and when I asked last night discussion was refused. I note in contrast that Melksham Without consider planning applications which are just across the road from their parish and which may have significant effect on them, and I commend them for that. We do have an opportunity at the next "Econ Dev" meeting which is a few days before the deadline, and I will be asking for it to be added to the agenda, together with any other planning applications within 100 yards of the town.

Published Wednesday, 4th October 2023

How does planning work?

Yesterday, I posted four upcoming plans for new building in Melksham and I was asked "how can I express my views" and "will expressing my view make any difference". The answers are "yes, you can express your views - but in a different ways depending on what type of planning it is" and "you might be able to make a difference, but bear in mind you're starting off making an input to a well informed system that has to consider the whole wide picture and will have already done so professionally before you were invited to comment".

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

Core Strategy / Local Plan
Core Strategy - adopted 2015
Local Plan - in process / consultation open
Illustration - from the consultation, page 88 (Download here)

Neighbourhood Plan
Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan I - adopted 2021
Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II - in process / consultation soon

Individual Planning Applications
- Outline
- Full

On the various layers

The Neighbourhood Plan is required to adhere to the core strategy or local plan, which in turn is required to adhere to the NPPF. Individual planning applications are required to meet planning law and the various layers of plans.

The Local Plan - currently out for consultation for Wiltshire - recommends where new larger scale strategic housing is built. Failure to provide enough "land supply" leaves the authorities open to un-coordinated building which is likely to be more profitable for the owners of potential sites, but unhelpful to the growing community as it fails to ensure that there's good supporting infrastructure and services.

Local plans also allow neighbourhood plans to provide for additional housing below the larger scale allocations, and if a certain amount of that is provided for in the local land supply, it reduces the opportunities for smaller builds that don't have good supporting infrastructure and service too.

Both the local plan and the neighbourhood plan have called for sites in the greater Melksham area, and a massive amount of work as been undertaken at both county and Melksham level to evaluate all sites offered and come up with frameworks for the future. As the inclusion of a site into either plan can make a significant difference to the site owner and the community, this process is conducted away from the glare of publicity, with recommendations then coming to the public for their views on what the planning group has come up with for further comment, updating based on that comment, inspection by higher authorities to ensure it is robust and wellformed, and then in the case of the neighbourhood plan to a local referendum.

The Local Plan is currently out for consultation, and it would be very surprising if the Neighbourhood plan wasn't too; the neighbourhood plan needs to be a little behind the local plan as it needs to know what it has to conform too (and of course it can't allocate the same development sites a second time), but at the same time it needs to be prompt in order to help guide developers rather that have new building proposed and perhaps happening where it doesn't work well for the area.

Melksham's neighbourhood plan steering group comprises around 10 voting members - 2 each representing Melksham Town and Melksham Without councils, and the others (making up a majority) of community representatives some with specialist backgrounds such as environmental and transport. We are aided by the Town and Parish clerks, their admin officers, and specialist consultants who guide us through and advise on this complex process. Please feel free to ask me questions as I'm one of the town reps. A massive amount of excellent work has and is being done by the folks involved - I have to admit to personally having come in during the process and being rather lightweight, but I will commend the outcome to you personally when that's all in the public domain, and express my thanks and admiration to the active key players.

On individual applications

Application are submitted to Wiltshire Council and uploaded to their web site and appear in weekly lists. "Statutory Consultees" are contacted and they include the local parish council - so Melksham Town heard about the care homes, but not via this route about the 350 homes proposed across the road from the Water Meadow because that's in the next parish.

Anyone can make comments to planning applications. The Town Council's committee that looks at the meets every three weeks so that we can be sure to cover everything in time, but please note that we are purely advisory and whilst our view carries some weight within our Parish, Wiltshire Council make the decision.

Decisions are usually made by the specialist planning officers at Wiltshire Council, but an individual councillor may "call in" an application in his ward, asking for it to be taken to a panel of councillors in a public hearing. Recommendations from the officer go to that panel, which in most cases decides on the officer's suggestion anyway.

Decisions look at a wide variety of factors, including the planning strategies described above, to which they must conform in all but a few unusual circumstances. Everything must be right for permission to be granted so - for example - if the building design is excellent but it creates a risk of flooding, it won't be allowed, and this is why you'll often see applications hanging around for a long time. The applicant can insist on a quick decision but it's likely to be "no" unless everything has been looked at.

Decisions can be appealed above Wiltshire Council and we do have instances where Wiltshire have refused but "Whitehall" has decided otherwise.

Published Sunday, 1st October 2023

Planning - big consultation week

Next week is a big week, especially in the East Ward of Melksham.

On Tuesday, the Town Council considers two planning applications for care homes in the ward. The Town Council is a statutory consultee. This is your opportunity (19:00, Town Hall) to make your inputs to our committee to inform our input, which must be on planning grounds. You also have (or have had) an opportunity to make inputs direct to Wiltshire Council under the reference numbers given here. Link to meeting aganda, including links to the full applications

PL/2023/06725 – Full planning permission
Address: Land at Longleaze Lane, Melksham, Wilts, SN12 6QJ
Proposal: Construction of elderly care home (Use Class C2) with associated access works, landscaping and drainage. Improvements to site access and Longleaze Lane/Snowberry Lane junction.

PL/2023/06976 - Full Planning Permission
Address: Land at Verbena Court, Melksham, SN12 7GG
Proposal: Construction of a care home (within Class C2), parking, access, hard and soft landscaping and other associated works.

Also in the planning consultation cycle at the moment - public input sought, tgough Melksham Town Council is not a statutory consultee because it's outside the town (just outside our boundary from the Water Meadow)

PL/2023/07107 - Outline planning application
Address: Land South of Snarlton Farm, Snarlton Lane, Melksham, Wilts, SN12 7QP
Proposal: all matters reserved except for two pedestrian and vehicle accesses (excluding internal estates roads) from Eastern Way, for the erection of up to 300 dwellings (Class C3); land for local community use or building (incorporating Classes E(b), E(g) and F2(b) and (c)); open space and dedicated play space and service infrastructure and associated works

On Wednesday from 4 p.m. there is a local consultation at The Campus on Wiltshure Council's local plan. I am not going to attempt to tell you all about it here but you can look for yourself at (here). Consultation open from 27th September until 22nd November - though I suspect that if you say something that forces major changes they'll be pretty miffed at having to rework it!

On Thursday, the East Ward by-election takes place with four candidates who I have been reading about in the Melksham News. When personally campaigning and working towards a goal, I find it very informative to read what is being written for consumption elsewhere, and the piece in the Melksham News this week featuring each of the four candidates for Town Council in the Ward is no exception. One quote from each of them, in no particular order:

"Our current town council has been lax in having the will and execution to deliver on projects"

"Our town council seem to argue among themselves, rather than try to make a difference to residents’ lives"

"It’s time for action – I have the experience ..." ...

"If elected, I have the business management experience, with time and enthusiasm to make a positive difference to Melksham."

There's no secret that Melksham Town Council has issues - and the first two tell us what's wrong with us. The third suggests we are wrong and hints at putting them right. The writer of the last one has spoken of working with us, and I could not find criticism of the current council in his writing, though very much committed to helping us move forward. I look forward to working with whoever wins. I wonder if any of the four will come along on Tuesday to start working with us by informing us, as members of the public, on their thoughts on the care homes.

Published Saturday, 30th September 2023

My "Update Needed" list and comment on council structure

Two related items in one today. Jump ((here)) to read my "update needed" list and read directly below for comments on council structure

A discussion deep in the bowels of a Facebook thread the other day erupted when a comment suggested that we dispense with parish and county councillors and let paid managers get on with doing the job. The commenter, as I understood it, suggested that councillors have their own agendas and don't really represent the people who elected them. And that (paid) professionals would do a better job. He raised an interesting set of points (here):

"The system of so called local government which extends from County down to the lower parochial levels doesn't work. It isn't just Melksham that is experiencing the incompetence, and self serving nature of this system, you can find countless other examples spread across the whole country. Time for a root and branch change. This current system is not democracy and so there is no loss to replace it with paid professionals that answer directly to the community and both do what is best for it, rather than best for the so called representatives, and also have the skills and experience to effectively and correctly perform that function. But I don't see the turkeys voting for Christmas anytime soon, too much much personal investment for that to happen."

There is a strong argument in the present system to suggest that it is over-managed by elected councillors. At times it feels micro-managed - when I read in minutes about elected members discussing cut (large) cakes or cup (individual) cakes for an event in November, I find myself asking "is this the best use of everyone's time"?

There is also a strong argument to suggest that the representatives often have a conflict of interest or are serving multiple masters. Some of these things have to be formally declared, but others such as a paid role as a representative at another council level, or a political or union allegiance, or self promotion towards greater career things, do not. Some of those things, mind you, are not easy to define.

We already have paid professional managers with many of the skills we need, and indeed there is a project under way to review staffing (it's in public - staffing minutes, 7.8.2023) which will be brought to full council. We have some good people there, and a lot going on well and quietly behind the scenes. And we and that team have the opportunity to call in consultants and contractors to bring us skills that we don't have in-house - done quite a bit already.

The question remains, though, that is much more is done by those managers, how are they directed - not managed, but directed. And that direction could and perhaps should come from a far less micro-managing set of councillors. You still need something. To the original questioner - you overlook (or have not answered) how the tasks of the paid moguls are set, and how they are evaluated and tuned / altered over time. And that's where I'll differ from you as I think we not only want but need some form of board of directors, selected by the people of the area. Call it an elected council.

Locally, we have a huge pool of skilled volunteers which we should and to some extent do use in both the day to day operation and long term changing of our town. Some of these volunteers are councillors, others members of the community who have no desire, not enough time, or don't feel robust enough to take on the role, or have stood in the race for election and have come in with a creditable return though not on top. Any revised system should cherish and make best use of those volunteers. Those volunteers should be members of the team and they are so at times, but in a very patchy way, at present.

Almost all of your councillor volunteers do things on the side to help the staff team, but I can only thinks of a couple of instances where that has been working alongside staff in the same roles on the ground, and there is more scope for that - perhaps making good use of time released from micro-managing. There are also situations where volunteer or potential volunteer members of the community are offering to help; often highly skilled but the barriers and other obstacles placed in their way are discouraging, frustrating and sometimes come across as insulting of the skills held and work done in the community as a whole.

When I ran a company here in Melksham, I didn't have all the regulations to follow that are there on the public democratic sector. But my role was three-fold. Firstly, it was to provide the support and help for the customers and the staff we employed to work for us; in most cases I should have known the jobs and been able to stand in on occasions. I did so, and indeed we were set up with a team just a fraction of the size of MTC to answer the phone and respond 365.25x7. Secondly, I was there to project us forward developing what we provided for our customer base, encouraging the planned growth of that customer base, and ensuring we continued to provide what made them and our staff motivated in all the time they spent with us. Thirdly, I was a technocrat giving IT courses and writing and maintaining software and putting systems together, looking after our own IT systems that typically informed and encouraged customer and helped make all of our jobs so much easier over the years. Fourthly - not really my role - to enjoy what I did and to look forward to working with all the marvellous people encountered on a day by day basis.

This is an answer to a poster who suggested that we should replace the Town Council with paid professionals, and my writing in thinking it through got out of hand.

I am a one of your turkeys. And I would far rather be on something operating as a board of directors than as senior (or even junior) management. Then I could enjoy my Christmas. I wrote above of running a 24x7 operation here in Melksham. What I didn't tell you was that we had systems in place to run and manage unexpected happenings and to keep everyone informed. Add to that the confidence and trust we had in our team, the understood delegation to them, and the lack of competition between team members, and Lisa and I could go away for a week or two secure and happy in the knowledge that things would not be held up or go against policy in our absence. Help the team change to give me that confidence, and ensure that the public really knows what's going on, and I will/would cheerfully step across into that board of directors of holding company role which, ironically, is I suspect the intent of the system and what does happen in some places.

But in the meantime, I am an elected councillor and I said when I stood for the role that one of my three overriding philosophies was to keep people informed. And there are far too many things - little and large - where I feel uninformed myself. Stop me in the street and ask on any of these and I may not have a complete, or adequate, or in some cases any, answer.

Monday evening's Full Council meeting added a regular agenda item to our "Finance Admin and Performance" committee to provide an update on all current projects. This is no different to what's already there - "Monitoring the performance of the Town Council in meeting its obligations, Action Plan and internal objectives" - in the terms of reference. Next meeting of that committee is 20th November - feels a long way away, but this allows good time for the Town Clerk and her team to work on this and provide the updates.

I am working on this list still - 29.9.2023 - and will update as I work through things. It may change over the next day or two - to be frozen at the start of October

1. Action Plan
Where can I see it?

2. Yellow lines on Waverly Gardens
The request for yellow lines, in particular to prevent cars parking there as the drop off or collect school pupils

3. ISO14001
ISO 14001:2015 helps an organization achieve the intended outcomes of its environmental management system, which provide value for the environment, the organization itself and interested parties. Consistent with the organization's environmental policy. Clerk to investigate. What happened?

4. Clackers Brook improvements
Project to rewild, last update was for work to be done August 2023

5. Tree Planting
Competitive bids received and one selected. Missed spring planting - to be done this autumn?

6. Staffing update and issues
Questions asked by Councillor Hubbard at full council on 17th July confirmed there are outstanding issues. Is this still the case, when will they be resolved, and what load is this putting on other staff and what reduction of their availability to do other work?

7. Staffing review
Commissioned by decision of staffing committee - from public minutes of 7th August. Stated to be coming to full council. When?

8. New date for informal staff and councillor meeting
Meeting on 20th September was cancelled at very short notice - or was it postponed? If so, what is the date of the new meeting?

9. Remarking coach parking in Kings Street Car Park
Request was to be passed through to neighbourhood plan. Can you confirm this happened and what the outcome was? Did the NP tea accept this as a valid input of is it really something that should be taken up through LHFIG?

10. East of Melksham Community Hall
It appears that Verbana Court will not be available and we are not happy with the site at the extreme south end of the East Ward. But we have funding set aside. Where are we on this project?

11. Lighting to The Forest Centre
I understand that the residents nearby are being formally asked. An update in due course would be appreciated.

12. Our Teams system
One intent of the software "Teams" system we have is to allow councillors to check on all the various things in this list and see how they're doing without lots of repeated and inefficient enquiries from multiple councillors. However, it's not working at present. When will it or an equivalent system come back to life?

13. Neighbourhood Plan
OK - no questions from me on this one as I'm deeply involved; others may have questions and you'll read a lot more in coming weeks.

14. Remembrance
15. Christmas Market and lights
Both of these two going along well as far as I know - I am not on the committee / working group for either and trust to them running properly along.

16. AHWG
I am chair of this - astonish having to chase up the next meeting which on 1st August was offered for 2nd October but no agenda published and I suspect it won't be happening.

17. VAT on Assembly Hall bookings for events
There was confusion on this last year resulting in the taxman being paid twice - once by the Town Council and once by the booked act. Whilst wrong, I don't expect the taxman will object. We had a long technical meeting a few months back but I have not seen an outcome instruction and confirmation that we now have it right.

18. Visioning for the Town Council
We had a visioning day a couple of years ago - time given up by all councillors and staff - to look forward to our four year term. What happened to the outcome? There may have been reports to / within "Together for Melksham" and the Conservative group, but I didn't see them, I don't think. A very useful day none the less but I have it listed as "open project" and I don't see the data it should provide when we come to looking at following years budgets - we stumble along year to year.

19. Improved public information
The Virtual Hub was a good idea that was due to go live a year ago. Project stalled, now defunded; we're doing a bit better on social media these days but it's still very hard to find what's needed, even if it's published, and to know if it's up to date.

20. Progress on environmental considerations
We have a spread sheet but it needs updating. ECWG meetings have stepped up but environemntal issues cross right over council work and we could do with much more support. I can tell you that admin progress is being made - as to action, we do some things but really we are not doing or considering enough

21. Sensory Garden
I recall funding has been voted for this ... I am somewhat out of date on what's happening - not on the relevant committee or working group.

22. Lighting in KGV
The latest is a demonstration of an option in the park and a survey in the MIN; all sorts of options come and gone - not clear on where we go from here.

23. Demolition of Maintenance shed
I hear that all the reports and authorisations are in place within the last few days and we are awaiting a contractor to tell us when. I am not clear as to how the site will be left.

24. Blue Pool and Assembly Hall Structural Survey
Funding voted for this is June for work to be completed and option survey written in time for report

25. Happy to chat / PB memorial bench
My request of 17th January 2023 et seq. Latest update request to David Elms on 14th June who I was told now looks after this. Progress report would be appreciated.

26. Rivermead School Parking
I've heard there are issues / I am not "in the know" but this should be added to the project list and with answers available to councillors.

27. Cycle maintenance station at the Pavilion
Park of a project with one at the Town Hall (installed May 2022) which has been a huge success. Latest I hear in November this year (2023)

28. Dog park gates
The second gate opens onto drop onto a grassy slope and not onto the hard surface inside. Bizarre and to be altered, but when? Second page is unsprung and can be left open. Apparently a spring was not part of the spec. What is happening with the new almost-enclosed area that was created under the cherry trees?

29. Dog park water
What has happened with this?

30. Priority for People
This was a very useful project that has massively informed transport and town work. Where did we end up with taking if forward or terminating of has it lapsed? Where has forward looking planning for people gone?

31. Communications Policy
Council Agenda 17th July, written by Town Clerk, not reached. A proposal for an electronic communications and social media policy which (IMHO) needed work. A useful things to do but had undue restrictions in it in some parts, and in other parts left holes. I sat down with Town Clerk to go through these things in August. It has not re-appeared at the recent council meeting nor have I seen feedback on my concerns. I understand that the Town Clerk has not been able to take it further - guess that's due to workload?

32. BMX track
Updated 25 October - Committee Clerk has looked at overview lis of possible alternative locations.

33. Wedding Venue
Investigation into setting up the Town Hall as a wedding venue - first stage would be licensing. What's come of this?

34. Bingo
Plan was to start quiz nights in the spring - done and bingo in the Autumn - what's become of that?

35. Town Hall hours and evening opening
Hours reduced to 4 days a week on the condition that one extension - probably Monday when staff are around anyway for meetings - was looked at. What came of that? There was to be direction to the TIC for ticket purchases etc on Fridays - what has happened to this?

36. Assembly Hall roof works
There was a massive quote for fixing the roof and staff were looking at making urgent fixes with the same contractor. This has been going on for ages and we seem to not have got anywhere

37. and 38. High Pavement and Union Street
Latest look at railing and something to slow traffic down?

39. CCTV
40. Speed detection devices
I'm getting lost ... other councillors more expert on these. Status update on what we have and where it is in use and what's being changed / added when would be appreciated.

41. Maple Close / Sandridge Road
The corner of the path from Maple Close onto Sandridge Road is to be widened - I thought this was all agreed and funded but I am not sure where the project is

42. Booking of Comedians and other acts
How have a good program this autumn and I am delighted to see Rich Hall as an act there. Comedians are popular - what actions are we taking to encourage other acts wider that the tribute acts which while they bring in a lot of guests to the hall do not have the width of attraction that we should have?

43. Pavement stones - "Temporary" tarmac in Town Centre
When will it be fixed?

Missing from the list above - a great deal; it is not a complete list - it is just a list of where I would wish to be able to look up an update.

Published Friday, 29th September 2023

Splash Pad - my last shift

Shared from Facebook - here for the record. It has been really enjoyable and I'm open to accept an invite to help again next year. It has also been useful - helping keep me informed as to what's going on and meeting our residents and staff - and people who come into Melksham to use the park and other facilities too. The role is to some extent like that of a babysitter - long periods of sitting around and then a few minutes where attendance is vital, and those long periods used, as I am now, for other thing such as writing. Fitter (and younger!) staff on other days have a whole variety of Park Ranger tasks to get on with during the blank times.

Open today - Thursday 28th September 2023 - and Friday, Saturday, Sunday too - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. then closed for the winter. It's a cool morning, but set to get warmer this afternoon.

This is my final shift - I have enjoyed doing the the job one day a week, meeting people, helping ensure the Splash Pad is open and running sweetly and safely. I have enjoyed working alongside colleagues who have been doing an excellent and largely unsung job, rain or shine - and have been doing much more that me around the area with other resposibilities like loos and litter - big THANK YOU to them.

As a Town Councillor, you are welcome to pop in for a chat today or to get in touch at any time. Community input helps inform discussions and decisions and gives me real strength; perhaps especially so in my case without party or group affiliation, though working with all staff, councillors and other volunteers for the town.

I hope than over the next weeks - before we summer staff forget the detail - we'll have a wash-up to help the council learn and perhaps tune for next year. 2023, in spite of significant challenges early in the year, has been enormously better and more reliable than I understand 2022 was - and we can help pass on our experience to help the 2024 team do well.

Numbers in the SplashPad at any one time may not be massive (when they are, they challenge the water cleaning system) but it brings lots of people into the park to enjoy all the facilities we have here. Perhaps 15 in the splashpad - but another 30 with them as parents, guardians and siblings and another 50 in the dry play area, another 50 picnicing or enjoying the cafe. It makes the park as a whole substantive enough to be a destination.

Published Thursday, 28th September 2023

Millenium Post. Where are we going?

1000 days ... from 1st January 2021, which is the baseline for this blog. So today's post is something of a test - waking up on 27th September 2023, I am checking in real time that the blog software I have written works with 4 digit day numbers as well as 3 digit one. I don't expect problems, but I know (or by the time you read this, knew - past tense) that I needed to check.

The supporting image show John O'Groats and the north east tip of Scotland showing some very long distances to places. I looked at various "starting line" images but many that I have show the start or races. But getting things right - be they Melksham or wider - is not a race; it's a long term thing and it's more imporantant to get to the right place than to rush to be first.

Most of us councillors are looking as a Town Council at being where our people want to be, which involves looking after the good we have, and moving things forward to reflect changing wants and needs too. There is no point (and a frustration) in taking a very long time to get to where we want, but at the same time we have to manage risks and plan and get things right as we progress to destination and it will often take longer than we wish.

We need to define, though, "where we want". On 26th June 2021, our then-new coucnil held a visioning day where all of us looked forward to the next four years, but I'm struggling to see the outcome documents which correlate and filter all the ideas and give us a vision. And this has been such a very long time that the intent to set the scene for four years has gone and we proceed along without that rudder that would help steer us. The lack of a rudder also means that a lot of short term projects are on the books, clogging our systems and without an overarching strategy that makes it obvious which way we need to proceed.

The Joint Melksham Neighbourhood Plan II is one of the "works in progress" and should be coming to a public consultation later this Autumn. Whilst it must conform to the Wiltshire local plan / core strategy, it will allow us in Melksham to have a greater influence in where and how our town develops. I note this morning that there is social media discussion on a planning application just to the East of Melksham, with various critical comment about the lack of supporting infrastrucure; JMNPII won't stop the critical comment nor the growth mandated by Wiltshre Council, but it will help make growth better planned and supported by compleimentary infrastructure. Help us define "where we want".. Meeting tonight and I am deputy chair (excellent chair!) and it's a pleasure to have everyone pulling in the same direction on this one, including Town and Without councillors who have been briefed and staff who have put a lot of time in.

However - there's an elephant in the room - the environment and the climate change element of it. We as a race have pushed the natural balance of our planet to, and perhaps over, its limits of stability. At the very least, we are in for a rocky ride. And there's a very strong possibility - a probability if dramatic habit changes are not only signed up for but also really implemented - that we are changing the world in a way that's irreversible and catastrophic.

The previous Town Council adopted an environmental policy in June 2019 and a get together of the Environment and Climate Working Group members last night took a look through it in review; really good stuff in there an we should be (and need to be) acting on it wider. Our own council operations are not going to change the planet's future directly, but the example we set in our little way can help establish a framework that others can follow.

The environment is so important that our "ECWG" has stepped up to meeting formally every three weeks - ahead of the Economic Development and Planning meeting in order to be as efficient as possible in town council staff time. And additionally we get together informally at the same time in almost every other week. That's a big step up from where we were a year ago and it's a direction to b maintained - not (please!) for the joy of another meeting but to have the environment at the heart of our agenda. Appreciation of how important the environment is does grow, but I still see "Environemntal Impact - None" on some of my fellow councillor's proposals. Well - our environment is everything and the impact of decisions all effect it.

To close - two maps that were presented at Melksham's ClimateFest earlier this month. Both are distorted - one to show the world by its carbon footprint, and the other to show the world as it's currently being impacted by climate change. You may argue detail of how the numbers are reached but the overall picture is bleak.

Published Wednesday, 27th September 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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