Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Area Board Report
Last night, the Melksham Area Board of Wiltshire Council met in the library at the Campus. Around 25 people present - all six Wiltshire Councillors on the board, another half dozen or so Wiltshire Council staff, around half a dozen Melksham Without Parish reps (councillors plus clerk), around half a dozen community reps speaking in support of grant requests, the police inspector to give us the update on crime in our area and myself - apart from Jon, Jack and Phil who are Wiltshire Councillors and were there in that capacity, I was the only Town Councillor there, and I did not see any reps from other parishes or members of the public.
For a small meeting (and this was the smallest area board I have attended) the library with a few of the books pushed aside worked well enough. The usual complementary service of tea and coffee in the chatting ahead of time was missing - ironic with there being a purpose-fitted cafe. Where I was seated, it was hard to hear - the audio system was fine, but the sound of phone calls and discussions from the reception desk provided a noisy background. Lights directly over the projection screen weren't a problem for the simple text slides used for the most part, but had there been pictures or videos it would have been an issue.
With the departure of 18 Community Engagement Managers across Wiltshire (ours was Peter Dunford who took voluntary redundancy) and their roles being taken up by 6 Strategic Engagement and Partnerships Managers, it seems inevitable that the support for the community will be less. Richard Rogers introduced himself in his new role and I was re-assured that he has been around a long time, worked for the Melksham Area a long time ago, and lives in Potterne which isn't too far away. However, he has to service Devizes and Pewsey as well as Melksham, so that's big territory to cover.
An update from Jonathon Seed on "Addressing Environemntal Issue" usefully promoted the ClimateFest event on 2nd October - thank you, Jonathon.
I really attended the meeting to hear Phil Alford's update on Melksham House, having been involved with the project since 2011. Because of the very fact I've been involved, most of it I knew anyway but it's good to have confirmed:
* Completion "Winter '23" at a build cost of £4.2 million, but a higher total cost when you add in associated demolition. But slide said "15 to 18 months" which puts the opening into early 2024.
* To be completed as office space, meeting rooms and a hall available for public hire; a main hall with two side rooms. Part of the planning consent is that it must be public accesible / useable.
* To be done to the latest Carbon Zero profile - Phil mentioned LED lighting air source heating, insulation, photovoltaics and electric car charging points
* Councillor Seed asked what the business case was for this work. Phil Alford explained that it has been offered around, but none of the other Wiltshire Council services wanted it. It was being done to satisfy planning requirements on The Campus, and he did not expect Wiltshire Council to recoup its investment any time soon.
Published Thursday, 22nd September 2022
Regional Issues - bypassing Melksham?From Facebook Post / Bowerhill but worth a wider share and interprettation. An overview of the wider picture of the M4 to South Coast study, with objectives overall and a current cost and timeline for a potential Melksham Bypass.
* Whether to proceed with a super-douper bypass largely rests on central governemnt funding that will (only) be available if the A350 becomes a strategic road from the M4 southwards. We are told to expect a report on whether the A350 goes strategic early next year
* IF the A350 goes strategic, and IF a bypass is then built, it would not open until late 2028
* If the A350 becomes strategic, I would anticipate further proposals along the route; West Ashton to Yarnbrook is already somewhere in the pipeline, and something would (surely) be proposed to avoid Westbury Town Centre.
Freedom of Information (FOI) - from Department of Transport official. "National Highways’ M4-Dorset Coast study is considering strategic road connectivity from the M4 (between the M5 and the A34) and the Dorset Coast. It is assessing whether an alternative corridor would provide a better solution to connectivity than the A36/ A46 corridor which is the current Strategic Road Network route. There are a number of potential alternative corridors that are being assessed, including the A350. If shown to perform better than the existing A36/ A46 corridor, the study may recommend the possible adoption of one or more alternative strategic corridors and where future investment may be needed on them". The study is ongoing and is now expected to report in early 2023.
Further information is provided in the newsletter from earlier in 2022 which includes a map; newlsletter mirrored (here). Quoting from that newsletter: Key study objectives
* Provide a quick, direct route linking the M4 with the Dorset Coast.
* Reduce delays and improve journey time variability caused by congestion.
* Help ensure convenient access from ports on the Dorset Coast to the M4 for freight traffic.
* Provide opportunities for travel by sustainable and low carbon modes.
* Identify opportunities to improve the natural environment and green infrastructure.
* Be a good neighbour and improve access and environments for communities.
* Provide opportunities for walking, cycling and horse riding to enable healthier lifestyles.
* Provide a route that appropriately separates strategic and local traffic.
* Provide a route that supports tourism, economic growth and jobs.
* Provide a safe route linking the M4 to the Dorset Coast.
Also from the same FOI request - costings and timescale for the Melksham bypass (here) - I understand this document covers purely the Melksham Bypass part of any grand scheme, and is costed around what is called "option 10C" which is for a road from just south of Lacock on the existing A350, passing over the River Avon and to the west or Melksham, rejoining the existing A350 to the south of Bowerhill but to the north of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
At this stage, the total cost estimate is £238,019,996 of which the DfT would look to contribute £201,360,500. Remaining monies would come from Wiltshire Community Charge payers and potentially other third party sources. These are current estimates; with a project currently projected for completion in late 2028 final figures will almost certainly be higher, even if just allowig for inflation.
"The Whole" is very much above the paygrade (zero - we're volunteers!) of myself as a Town Councillor(%), and indeed above the paygrade of Wiltshire Council too in that at some point a decision will be made on which route(s) are strategic from the M4 corridor to the South Coast, and Department for Trasport and Highways England investment will go into them; at the same time, traffic will be encouragd to use those strategic routes so:
* If the A350 becomes strategic, expect more traffic and a strong(er) bypass case
* If the A350 does NOT become strategic, long distance traffic will not be funnelled past Melksham
(%) - A Melksham bypass would not even pass through the town, though clearly it would have major consequences for it.
Published Tuesday, 20th September 2022
ClimateFest - 2nd October 2022In answer to "I was pleased to see a couple of good letters in the Melksham news this morning. I hope public opinion can stop this destruction of the town. I would like to see some local protests on top of the letters being sent to politicians etc. It's deeply worrying that WC and some in MTC want to destroy the town and the beautiful countryside. It makes a mockery of MTC having a climate fest in a few weeks. Because the environmental impact this would have on the town, should it go ahead will be horrendous and I would want to move out." which got 28 likes, so is not without support.
My personal view on the potential construction of a Melksham Bypass may be found at (here) which mentions my position as a Melksham Town Councillor. Wider reading via (here) . I do not believe that anyone "in Melksham Town Council" want to "destroy the town" as you put it.
Melksham ClimateFest brings Councils, groups and businesses together to inspire, inform and involve the whole Melksham community in reducing Melksham's carbon footprint and enhancing its biodiversity. And I would encourage readers of this to come along and be involved, informed and inspired. The transport "ticket" is an important one indeed, and the complexity of how best to get people and goods around (if indeed we need to do so) in as environmentally friendly a way as practical, balanced against aspects such as quality of length of life, will be on the day's agenda.
Published Monday, 19th September 2022
Hire charges - Assembly Hall and Town Hall Hire rates for rooms in Melksham Town Hall and the Assembly Hall have been updated in recent months - and by "updated", yes, in most cases I mean "increased". But an update has been long overdue, with rates unchanged for years, and with complexities and quirks for reasons lost in the fog of history.
So it's now simplified - for Autumn 2022:
* The Assembly Hall is £90 an hour for commercial hires.
There's a 50% discount for private bookings for Melksham Town residents
There's a 30% discount for private bookings from elsewhere
There's a 75% discount for Melksham Town not-for-profit organisations
There's a 30% discount for not-for-profit organisations from elsewhere
The Asssmbley Hall is let as a single entity
* The main Council Chamber and kitchen is £40 an hour for commercial hires
* The ante room is £20 an hour for commercial hires
Thers's a 60% discount for Melksham Town not-for-profit organisations
Thers's a 30% discount for not-for-profit organisations from elsewhere
The main council chamber and ante room are available for meetings only
Whilst the base prices and scales were set based on councillors's judgement, I noted that only two councillors were carrying on from before Covid, which has hit the use of the hall sigbnificantly, and no-one was able to advise with any certaintly as to the elasticity of bookings on price changes. And for that reason I proposed and it was accepted to set up the Assembly Hall Working Group to allow for things to be monitored and tuned.
The Assembly Hall Working Group, and the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (see (here) and Facebook Group which has over 200 members) are ... another story in other posts. A lot going on - my intent of this post is simply to pull the various rates from diffent Town Council publications so you have them all, as at September 2022, in one place
Published Thursday, 15th September 2022
Electric Bus Demonstration, 17.9.2022
We will have an electric bus (from The Big Lemon of Brighton) in Melksham on Saturday, 17th September, 2022, for route testing. I am inviting you to take a ride on the bus and see what the future may bring to the town.
On 17th, the bus will leave Melksham Station shortly after the arrival of trains at 10:00 and 11:30 (from Swindon and Chippenham) and at 14:30 (from Trowbridge and Westbury). It will also leave from the Market Place at 10:15, 11:45, 13:45, 14:45 and 15:45. Pictures and map at http://option247.uk/mkm16.html
RSVP - Please email to let me know:
1. Which service (from the Market Place or Station) you would prefer to ride on.
2. Whether you will be bringing a guest or coming along alone.
Our proposal for the near future (what we are testing) is for a scheduled public bus service to run hourly from the Railway Station via the Town Centre, Sandridge Road, East Melksham, Pathfinder Way and the Bowerhill and Hampton Park Industrial Areas to the Police Station, with the bus to arrive at the railway station to connect to and from trains, and to serve the industrial areas just before and after work (shift) times. There will be extensions to Asda and to Berryfield.
* Journeys on 17th will only pick up passengers at the Market Place and Railway Station
* Pre-booking necessary and capacity limited.
* There will be more space available on afternoon journeys.
* We will endeavour to run on time, but please bear in mind these are test journeys
* Test journeys include extra stops and will be slower than routine service.
ClimateFest (on 17th September) which this demonstration and route testing was scheduled to coincide with has been postponed to 2nd October, and the Melksham Transport User Group and Option 24/7 will be there too, to promote and answer your questions on public transport. We understand and agree the reason for postponing ClimateFest; our route testing proceeds, in muted form.
Published Tuesday, 13th September 2022
Passing of Queen Elizabeth IIRecording the passing of Queen Elizabeth II yesterday afternoon.
A very great deal will be written and spoken over coming hours, days and weeks and I will not presume to write of her in detail as others are more qualified to do so. I will see, though, add an admiration for the dedication and commitment of the lady herself, carrying on far beyond normal retirement age. And that admiration transcends our view of monarchy and the position on the role.
Rest in Peace, Your Majesty.
With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, we enter a period of mourning. There and many protocols to follow in her honour - to express grief at her passing, to share her memory, and to remember and celebrate her life. As I write this, I don't know what will happen locally over the next few days and fortnight - today and perhaps into the weekend it will become clearer.
I understand that flags on the Town Hall will be flown at half mast, and the church bell will toll one time for each year of her reign. Meetings already called - such as Economic Development next Monday - will be opened and closed (I suspect business will be suspended). What happens with other working groups I know not, nor other meetings that are in diaries for the following week but have not yet been called. According to protocol, Her Majesty's funeral will take place on 18th September, but being a Sunday I question that date. I am awairing guidance from the organisers of ClimateFest on 17th.
Wiltshire residents are invited to share their thoughts and memories of Her Majesty The Queen in a special online book of condolence. The book is available until the day after the funeral. There will also be books of condolence set up in all Wiltshire Council libraries.
Published Friday, 9th September 2022
Melksham and District LinkLink is a charitable organisation run by volunteers and is part of a countywide Good Neighbours scheme that helps local residents get to medical appointments when they have no other way of getting there. Melksham and District Link operates in Melksham and the surrounding areas to help those who need it the most.
It was good to meet some of the Link team at the Food and River festival over the weekend, where they were looking to both let people know about their service, and to recruit additional volunteer drivers, co-ordinators and administrators. Read more on their website at https://melkshamlink.com
Published Sunday, 4th September 2022
Where should we spend your money next year?I have read comment that your (Melksham) Town Council hasn't really progressed on various fronts in the last year. And it certainly true that "big ticket" items that have been in the works for a while have slowed. That's part of a natural cycle with a new council on which only 2 councillors were re-elected and you have 13 of us new - big projects aren't instant. We have delivered on the Neighbourhood Plan, taken on the Friend's Garden, combined the roles of leader (chair of the council) and mayor (ceremonial and public representative) and reduced our senior staff / expert headcount by two. We have also been learning and planning, and are now looking ahead to our budget for next year - what we plan to do, and how it will be funded.
Here are upcoming major expenditure
• Up to £80,000 was approved late last month for a sensory garden in KGV park, on the higher ground under the trees alongside the A3012 Calne Road (pictured) ; multiple expect companies will be asked to design and bid based on consultations and ideas already mapped out.
• The maintenance shed in the KGV park, where the Town Council stored all its equipment, needs to be replaced and we've been told to look at a £200,000 demolitions and rebuild cost, with major extras on top of that for design, planning, project management and inflation.
• The Cricketer's [Cafe] was closed all summer, with catering in KGV limited to a van. A consultation is underway and realistically we're looking at a major spend there if we re-arrange and re-do the place in a big way - let's take a guess at £100,000. Hard to put a price on that until we know what's wanted, and the question has been asked as to whether we should be working with the Melksham Adventure Centre (charity no. 276692, with whom we have been engaging informally) and / or looking to a linked project with the maintenance shed.
• It is proposed to build a new East of Melksham Community Centre as a facility for the newer housing that largely comprises the East Ward, and estimated for that were a little over £800,000 taken from similar costs from Melksham Without for their new Berryfield Hall, but will almost certainly rise from that with planning, surrounds and inflation issues.
• If we choose to buy free parking for blue badge holders from Wiltshire Council, it will cost around £15,000 per annum, or free parking for all would be around £150,000 per annum.
I will now look to paint a broader picture, picking up figures from this year's budget
Staffing costs for this year are estimated at £225,000 for the central (Finance, admin and performance) team and £300,000 for Assets and Amenities, including parks and amenities; those are pure salary and National Insurance and pension contributions and a further £123,000 is spent on Town Hall costs ranging from accounting and insurance to computer hardware and licenses to gas, electric and rates. There's also about £150,000 of amenities costs - ranging from grass cutting to maintaining play equipment, leasing a depot while the maintenance shed is out of use, and so forth. While looking at this year's expenditure to see what other "continuance" items there are for next year, the council paid out £62,000 in grants to other organisations, £10,000 on community development projects and £54,000 on Economic Development, including CCTV, Floral displays, and highways projects.
Other major items in the current year's budget but which are not necessarily annual include: Play equipment maintenance £50,000; Assembly Hall maintenance £12,000; Skate Park Extension £10,000; also expect £34,000 to be paid out for the ecoloos to be installed soon in KGV park.
Total - £2,104,000 (or £2,219,500 allowing 12.5% inflation)
indications are an overrun of around £80,000 each on maintenance shed and east of Melksham village hall, bringing us up to around £2,380,000 allowing for inflation
What income can we anticipate?
From figures for the current year - budget figures
£966,204 from the precept on Melksham Town taxpayers
£82,250 from Assembly Hall bar, food and snacks
£45,000 from Assembly Hall Events
£38,500 from solar farm project
£38,000 from Assembly Hall Lettings
£13,000 from property rentals
£7,500 from Melksham Without towards cost of Market Place toilets
£5,000 from allotment rental
£4,000 from amenity services
£1,500 from letting KGV pavilion / cafe trading rights
£1,000 from Town Hall bookings
£1,000 from Melksham Maker's Market
Total income £1,203,000
I will comment further on these income levels in a further post.
Roughly a million pounds shortfall - however, £800,000 relates to the East of Melksham Community Hall where CIL / Developer funding brings in much of the funding and only the difference needs making up, and that will be income in the year in which the build is done. Our thanks to Melksham Without Parish Council who actually collect this CIL money (as the development was in their parish when planning permission was granted), but have formally agreed to transfer the money to us as the developments to the East of Melksham have now transferred to the town.
Income v Expenditure - projection from 2022/3 budget
As a council, we are here to provide a service to our residents and the town, and not run a business for profit. It is, however, instructive to look at each element of our activities and look at what they cost the council tax payer. (The cost per precept column tells you how much you pay if you are a Band D council tax payer)
|21600||7500||-14100||£2.47||0.38||Market Place Toilets|
|2500||6000||3500||-61p||2.40||Art House Cafe|
|1700||6900||5200||-92p||4.06||31 Market Place|
|733000||197250||-535750||£93.71||0.27||Assets and Amenities overall|
Published Saturday, 3rd September 2022
Is there a conflict of interest?A question was asked about comments made by councillors in the Melksham News, concerning the future of the Assembly Hall. We should remember that both the Town councillors quoted (ref Councillors Alford and Hubbard) are all unitary (Wiltshire) councillors too. And as they are unremunerated in their town roles, but receive public money for fulfilling their unitary roles (rates at the end of this article). It is reasonable to ask where their interests lie when the two roles do not align.
Melksham Town / Wiltshire Unitary
And there's a difference of interest between Wiltshire Council and Melksham Town Council - although they often work in parallel, they are not the same authority and have different mandates and objectives, and different ways of working towards their objectives which sometimes conflict. I am very concerned about individuals of any political colour who are on both councils, especially where the hold significant positions on one of them. Are they bound to have a conflict of interest?
From a Wiltshire Council viewpoint, it would be excellent news if the Town Council were to lease Melksham House from them, and sell the Town Hall and Assembly Hall, combine it with the Blue Pool site and have that new combination redeveloped for residential use by private new owners.
From a Melksham Town viewpoint, we have a significant resource that's a massive benefit for the town - and we need to look at the way forward with only due (not total) regard to what will be convenient for Wiltshire Council but perhaps not for the Town or Town Council.
May I suggest it would be a good idea if our three (volunteer) town councillors who are also (remunerated) Wiltshire councillors were to declare an interest and recuse themselves from this matter; the total remuneration between the three is over £60,000 per annum - no small change.
We were fed three options at the meeting last month - "Status Quo" at the Assembly Hall, A move to Melksham House, and a new build on the Library site. There ARE better ways for Melksham - a community that thrives on its spirit and volunteers, and we can (and I hope will) make a real success of the hall within the community, as per examples in Frome and Devizes and those options need to be investigated and offered; those of us who are Town but not Unitary councillors owe it to our voters not to tricked into chosing one of three options when a fourth could be better.
Unitary Councillor allowances: From https://cms.wiltshire.gov.uk/mgGeneric.aspx?MD=Members%20Allowances
The Basic Allowance
The basic allowance is intended to recognise the time commitment of all councillors, including such inevitable calls on their time as meeting with officers and constituents and attendance at political group meetings. It is also intended to cover incidental costs such as the use of their homes. Allowances are set following recommendations by an Independent Remuneration Panel.
The basic allowance for 2021/22 is set at £14,075 per annum. Up to the end of the period 2024/25 the Council has adopted the annual pay award to council staff as the index by which annual adjustments will be made to the basic allowance.
Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs)
As specified in Appendix 1 of the Allowances Scheme Councillors holding specific roles will receive an additional allowance to recognise the significant additional time commitment and responsibility required in undertaking those roles. With the exception of the Group Leader Allowance, no councillor may receive more than two SRAs.
Cabinet Member - £21,112
Other allowances include travel and subsistence allowances as detailed in Part 13 of the Constitution.
"Councillors do not get paid a salary, however they do receive an annual allowance which reimburses them for time they have spent on council duties, as well as telephone and other office expenses"
"Councillors are generally taxed and pay National Insurance on their allowances. Travelling expenses and other expenses incurred as part of a Councillors duties, including mileage and subsistence allowances are paid to levels agreed by the Council and are not taxable."
Published Thursday, 1st September 2022
Car Parking - Campus, Blue Badge, etcA. ON CHARGING for parking at THE CAMPUS
B. ON CHARGING for parking in disabled bays with a blue badge
C. ON CHARGING local council tax payers to let blue badge holders park free
D. ON HOW YOU CAN STILL PARK FOR FREE, Courtesy of Melksham Town Council
Feedback from Wiltshire Council is that the have taken the authority to be able to charge but won't be doing so unless people abuse the system. However, there was no note to that effect (that I could see) in the 70+ pages of data we had for last night's meeting which talked of charges that WILL be charged from 1st September (WILL, not might). If I were cynical, I would be worried that someone's waiting for an opportunity to slip the charges in. There is still no definition of what they mean by people abusing the system. Is it ...
1. A few people are observed parking there and not using the Campus
2. People are parking there and not using the Campus to the extent that Wiltshire Council are loosing significant income from other car parks
3. People are parking there and not using the Campus to the extent that there isn't enough parking available for legitimate Campus users
Charging for parking in disabled bays will start on 1st September. The question has been asked as to whether the provisions for payment are legal under the equalities act of 2010 - the machines are mounted high, not easy for disabled people to access, etc; over to Wiltshire Council, who's car park it is.
Melksham Town Council has been offered a "buyback" on the disabled spaces. The cost quoted is almost £20 per year for each residential property in Melksham Town; we could of course ask surrounding parishes such as Melksham Without to contribute, as it seems perverse for payment for parking to be paid by the residents who are most likely to walk or cycle because they live so close. At that sort of price, and not budgeted by the Town Council, this has been referred to full council next month.
News! Many people do not realise that you can park for up to two hours "for free" in Wiltshire Council car parks in Melksham. You pay at the machine, get a second part to your ticket which you take into a local shop in the scheme, and get your money refunded. The shop claims back from the Town Council. Of note:
1. This is open to ANYONE, not just blue badge holders
2. There is money in the Town Council budget to cover this
3. The budget will cover the raised rate from 1.9.2022 in full - still free
4. The cost to council tax payers in Melksham Town is tiny compared to the cost of buying spaces back - you could say that Wilts Council are looking to charge us a lot more for a lot less in their space leasing offer.
Pictured – parking stubs from my car. The fact I don’t have a Melksham one rather confirms that as a town resident, I don’t actually park in our town very often – though I do walk there multiple times every week.
Published Tuesday, 30th August 2022