Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
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• Street Cleaning - myWiltshire
• Vehicle Access to Campus
• Lovely to meet and listen
• Cafe in the Park
• Assembly Hall / Melksham House
• Town Centre Masterplan - Consultation
• Splash pad - open or closed on long hot evenings?
• Proposed updated train service
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A week in the life of ...
In answer to a question "what do you do now you are retired" I bring you a list of things in my diary for this week - from last Saturday (11th) up to and including tomorrow (17th):
11 10:00 Neighbourhood Plan public consultation
11 14:30 xx @ Home - Bus, Rail and other matters
emails - SN12 = 0; Council = 0; blog = 1; posts = 6;
12 16:00 to Birmingham Airport
12 19:30 Pick up xx arriving from Ukraine
12 22:00 Get Home
emails - SN12 = 2; Council = 3; blog = 1; posts = 4;
13 18:30 Town Hall / prep meeting with staff
13 19:00 Economic Development and Planning at Town Hall
emails - SN12 = 2; Council = 3; blog = 1; posts = 5;
14 14:30 Library Lecture - British Newspaper Archive
14 17:00 WWRUG (West Wilts Rail User Group) Committee, Trowbridge
14 20:00 Mexican meal
emails - SN12 = 1; Council = 2; blog = 0; posts = 7;
15 09:00 Zoom with some other Councillors
15 12:00 Phone Shop / SIM / Chippenham
15 12:30 Bank (appointment, Chippenham)
15 19:00 ECWG (Environment and Climate Working Group) at Town Hall
emails - SN12 = 7; Council = 2; blog = 1; posts = 10;
16 14:00 BBC recording interviews for next week
16 15:30 ECWG / xx meeting
16 18:00 Civic awards at Town Hall
emails - SN12 = 4; Council = 10; blog = 1, this, very end of day; posts = 6;
And coming up tomorrow (or "today" by the time you wake and read this)
17 11:00 WWRUG at home
17 14:00 xx at Campus - Neighbourhood Plan
17 18:00 Family Meal
Emails are numbers I have sent from firstname.lastname@example.org (personal) and my council ones. The blog is what you are reading. And the "posts" is the number of messages I have put up at the Great Western Coffee Shop forum where I am webmaster. I have not gone back and counted things like Facebook responses and posts, phone calls, messages. And there is a lot of prep for some of these things.
Picture - the latest picture on my phone. I take dozens of pictures, typically in spurts. A lot of the Melksham Campus earlier in the week; none in the last couple of days.
Published Thursday, 16th February 2023
Offer guests a futureIt's mid afternoon. I have spoken in person today with people living in the UK who were born in the USA, in Gambia, in Spain and in Ukraine.
The people from Ukraine came here, perhaps, in greatest need - refugees from war under the Homes for Ukraine scheme last year, and yet they are the folks of all the people I have spoken with today are here "in limbo", with no assurance or plan in place for what they'll do or whether they may stay hear the year after next. We have given them humanitarian refuge, and it would now be only humane for us to reassure them that they will not face an uncertain future - rather that they can plan their lives.
And so, very unusual for me, I have signed the petition on the UK Parliament Website asking "Give Ukrainians on humanitarian visas rights to extend stay and settle in the UK". And I encourage you to do the same, please. And ask friends, colleagues, neighbours ... https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/632761
Some further background - our guests from Ukraine have arrived over the past year, fled from various degrees of danger in there home country. First intent for most of them is to return home as soon as it makes sense to do so - to help to rebuild their war-torn country. "Three years" felt a long time as they travelled to a safe haven, and in the hope of there being some sort of settlement at home fairly soon. With the war grinding on, though, and no sign of any sort of political or military solution soon, the remaining time on visas seems perilously short, and the lack of a route forward should they need to be in the UK 30 months from now is worrying and is preventing them from planning their lives. If you doubt this, think how YOU would feel if you had to plan to move to a new country in a couple of years.
For readers of this who have not been involved in Homes for Ukraine at the "Coal Face", the bulk of the guests when they first arrive need significant support as they settle in here, get into "the system" and find their feet. But that changes quite quickly as they want to be useful here, and find gainful employment; instead of helping our own guests with the basics, we now find ourselves explaining Income tax, National Insurance and NEST pensions. Default enrolment in that latter makes no sense, of course, if they don't have indefinite leave to remain!
I have been asked why we did not do the same for people seeking refuge from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries. We wish we had, but there was no scheme that enabled us to do so. We can't put that wrong right now, but we can do it right this time. It's not proven perfect - of course not, but we are doing a lot of good for a lot of good people, it's no skin off the nose of our economy and it's just plain right.
Published Wednesday, 15th February 2023
Street Cleaning - myWiltshireWiltshire Council, rather than the Town Council, are responsible for most street issues in the town. Until now, they have been guided by inputs to the Parish Stward and Sparkle teams which have been directed on a monthly cycle by the Town Council, informed by councillor inputs at "Econ Dev". We also have had a general street cleaning presence, and an ability to report extra issue via myWiltshire.
The teams are currently busy filling potholes so not available for general street and path work ... and come April the staff doing these tasks will be directed only by inputs on myWiltshire.
So - please use myWiltshire to report and follow issues in future. We are told that street tidy service level needs will be monitored - so if nothing is reported, nothing will be done and the team available will shrink. It may make sense to pick up your own neighbourhood litter and weed the gullies in the road outside your home (a lot of this goes on already) but beware that if we as a community take on more of this, there will be no going back.
We are often asked "but what about people who are not online?". As you (dear reader) are reading this online, it does not apply to you - but it might to your friends and relatives. Or what about if you're stuggling. As a learning thing, please feel free to ask Town Council staff or me to help show you how. As a more general thing, there are computers you can use in the library, and during staff hours people who can give you guidance.
Finally - a "thank you" to those who have, and will in the future, helped keep our streets tidy and clean. There may be a new way in how you are directed / organsed, but we really appreciate the work done.
Published Monday, 13th February 2023
Vehicle Access to CampusI as delighted that the Melksham Campus can be accessed on foot from all side. And disappointed that there is just a single vehicle access. From early days, we on the SCOB asked for at least a one way exit from the A350 but were told (a) incorrectly that there was too much of a curve on the road (it's straight!) and (b) there could be no more accesses on that road because it's trunk (so why are they adding another roundabout in Chippenham at the moment?)
With a single access, tight between the Market Place buildings and with Melksham House still to come online, a traffic pinch point and potential problem has been created, as in addition to the traffic through the gates there, access and parking is needed for Crown House, and access needs to be maintained to the Town ouncil's buildings - the Town Hall and the Assembly Hall. I have also been asked about emergency service access, and about vehicle access and evacuation in an emergency.
It's not rocket science that there's an issue to be considered - it was rather clear to those of us, even amateurs, who made inputs to the Melksham House / Campus site design that it would need careful consideration to put it mildly!
1. I believe that there are removable bollards that would allow vehicle exit and entrance in an emergency on the north side of the site into Place Road
2. It is just a few yards from the end of Orchard Gardens into the Campus car park at the South East corner of the site. There is only a footpath there, and cars parked in the campus blocking the way, but I expect a fire engine and crew could get through if it was a matter of life or death.
3. I am not sure how access stands of the A350 now - there is a gate and track, but not sure how they could be joined to the normal public vehicle areas now.
Neither Place Road nor Orchard Gardens are suitable for regular two way access, but I suspect that inbound via Place Road (not outbound as there would be an awkward turn out onto the Market Place / High Street) and one way either way through Orchard Gardens would both be possible, but both would be very unpopular with the residents. Any changes there could knock on to reducing traffic at the current access, but whether it would be sensible to make that one way I don't know - just entry would be signiciantly safer for that traffic, but a minor contraflow for traffic coming out of Crown House could be a problem because others would not expect that traffic. No answer from me here - just noting an issue that will get all the worse when Melksham House reopens, but could get better if Wiltshire Council start charging - perhaps punitively - for parking at the Campus but not making use of the facilities on site.
Published Sunday, 12th February 2023
Lovely to meet and listenI have had a fantastic three days at The Campus meeting the public interested in the future of Melksham, as we're working on in the Town Centre Masterplan, which will support the next version of the Neighbourhood Plan.
Thank you to so many people coming along and keeping the team of facilitators busy. I am delighted to have had a chance to listen to so many views and ideas, to explore them informally in fascinating discussion. And also to have met quite a number of people who comment and otherwise react to my social media posts. I (and we as councillors and a council) thrive on inputs. You who make the inputs do not always realise how you have influenced or triggered something.
Thank you also to Melksham Without Councillors David Pafford and Alan Baines, and the clerks of Melksham Without (Teresa Strange) and Melksham Town (Linda Roberts), all of whom were there most of the time at the three general public days, and to other officers and town and parish councillors who also popped in.
A recurring theme I heard over the three days was people telling me just how useful my blog and Facebook feed is in keeping them informed. I appreciate that, and I am flattered; I know that early on in this council (nearly two years ago) a number of my new colleagues were concerned about getting embroiled in public argument and suggested that social media and other internet feeds should be avoided for the most part. They suggested that the public can interact by coming along to our meetings, and by contacting them in other ways.
I can understand where my colleagues, and some officers, are coming from. It takes a considerable amount of time to write things up, to answer questions, and to put the case for what's been done (or not done) or is proposed. And my colleagues feel that the best use of their time (and emotional energy) is in doing, rather than informing. And perhaps it's a really good solution that some of us take each approach.
On the (general) informing side, I will point you to my feeds:
I will also point you to the Melksham Town Facebook feed which, as this council enhances its provision, is being far more used now to give Town information. (Thank you, Gloria)
Finally, the Virtual Hub project that should be telling you what's open every day and who to contact in all the various community groups, public transport, news, etc, has been defunded in the budget. So the Town Council will not be providing a single source to tell you each day whether the splashpad is open, what sessions are available at the Swimming Pool, the hours of the Town Hall, TIC, Friends Garden and Church all in one place - together with the weather and local road news, council meetings and events at the Assembly Hall. Sorry, folks - this has been delayed for at least a year to help keep the town's element of your council tax bill to the same as it was last year.
Published Saturday, 11th February 2023
Cafe in the ParkI am delighted to hear that the Town Council has received quite a few expressions of interest in running a cafe in The Pavillion in the park open from 1st April 2023. A number of folks have been shown around, and full bids are due in by or on next Monday (13th Feb). There will then be a two stage process - planned as shortlisting then choosing in depth between a handful, but of course that assumes there are enough to merit the shortlisting. In any case there's a first stage of checking that the bids are practical. Final decision very quickly - by the end of February.
The invite for bids is intentionally written to provide maximum flexibility to potential operators - the Town Council did not want to stifle any ideas by laying down limitations on bidders. So the evaluations later this month should be really interesting and will hopefully offer a good variety. The group of councillors to make the choice was widened last Monday evening to include councillors with catering experience through both stages of the process, as well as members of the finance committee. Good.
Also on Monday evening, drainage from the Cafe and Splashpad, and required maintenance, was discussed and given the go-ahead. There will need to be co-ordination between the new cafe operator as these works are done and completed - some are necessary even before the place opens, others cannot really be done until the operator is appointed as it would be wasteful for us (for example) to put in heaters in the wrong place and have to move them a few weeks later.
I don't know what's in the various bids, and am not on the evaluating and deciding group - so I will just say I look forward to some sort of catering operation including servicing customers in the park from this Spring. And I will post updates here as and when I get them; Lisa and I are away for March, but these days eectronic feeds mean that I should still hear some updates and will be able to signpost readers to revelant published data and sources.
Published Friday, 10th February 2023
Assembly Hall / Melksham HouseWhat future, Melksham Town Centre? What future, the Assembly Hall, the Blue Pool, Melksham House? In discussion, today (9th Feb 2023), tomorrow and Saturday at the Town Centre Masterplan consultation at the campus.
"Cluster 1" looks at the Market Place, Town Hall and the buildings behind - the Assembly Hall, the Blue Pool, Melksham House, The Community Campus and also Lloyds Bank. There is an ongoing discussion of what will become of these buildings in coming years. The Assembly Hall is very busy at times, but operating with public subsidy. The Blue Pool is lying out of use. Melksham House is undergoing refurbishment. Melksham Community Campus is brand new. The Town Hall is 180 years old, and has been in use as the Town Hall for over 100. Is the status quo the way forward - surely not completely, but there are various options.
One option suggested is that the activities of the Assembly Hall move to the refurbished Melksham House. This is NOT an opinion piece today - inputs are sought. To help you form an opinion, I have pictured the ground floor plans of the Assembly Hall and Melksham House as it will be when completed for the main hall alongside this post, with the size of the Assembly Hall (main hall) superimposed at the same scale on the main hall of Melksham House.
Please come along to The Campus (it's happening in The Campus, not in the Assembly Hall, nor the Town Hall) today (9th Feb 2023) 4 to 7 p.m., tomorrow (Friday) 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m.to midday. Display boards will remain available to view and leave comments until early March.
The Town Council (who operate the Assembly Hall) are also reviewing the consultation on the Assembly / Hall requirements / needs which ran until the very end of last year. With over 600 responses, this is no trivial task, and it's also a huge help as we work forward.
Published Thursday, 9th February 2023
Town Centre Masterplan - ConsultationPlease come along
* Thursday (9.2.2023) - 4 p.m to 7 p.m.
* Friday - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
* Saturdays - 10 a.m.to 12 noon
In the Cafe area and "Party Room" at The Campus
How do YOU want your town to develop and change, or stay the same, over the next 15 years? The Neighbourhood Plan II is in production, with the steering group and various task groups putting a very great deal of time in. It'll give us some continuing degree of legal influence over future developments, though our policies need to fit within national and county (Unitary) policies and it will replace Neighbourhood Plan I which came in a while back, but now has a short shelf-life.
The Town Centre Masterplan will be an integral part of our new neighbourhood plan, and we are seeking your views. We are not asking "what do you think of the plans we have made" but rather "what would you like to see" - a real consultation before we right things up, and not a rubber stamping exercise after we have decided. Please come along to The Campus over the next 3 days and tell us!
We are looking at the whole town centre (and while we are at it, heritage assets and green spaces right across Melksham Town and Melksham Without), with especial reference to three clusters:
Cluster 1. The Market Place, Town Hall, Assembly Hall, Blue Pool, Melksham House and Melksham Community Campus.
Cluster 2. The Old Library, Lowbourne, the Labour Club, frontage to Bank Street
Cluster 3. The whole riverside, including but not limited to Cooper Tires - from the bypass bridge through to Scotland Road bridge and right back in north Melksham as far as the railway station.
There are display boards to look at, maps, response forms (also available online), and informed Neighbourhood Plan group members to facilitate your visit - answer questions and talk about some of the possibilities and what could be done. Personally, I will be there on Thursday (though perhaps not at the start as I rush from another meeting) and most of the Friday and Saturday time. If we are quiet, I will be working in the Cafe on my laptop but somehow I hope not to have that chance. Come along and see us.
Illustration - Tuesday evening, meeting with businesses and landlords in the town to discuss their views, aspirations and concerns
Published Wednesday, 8th February 2023
Splash pad - open or closed on long hot evenings?
Some Town Council News from Monday night: Splash Pad opening 2023 ... proposal to open from 7th April to 3rd Septemeber EXTENDED back to 31st March (for start of Easter holidays) and may be extended to cover some further weekends in September.
Opening Hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.(?), subject to weather. The report to council the agenda was not included in the proposal (a surprising omission in my opinion) but then suggested by the author of the report during the meeting.
I asked for the Splash Pad to be open later hours in high summer in fine weather. Sunset is after 9 p.m. in June and on those long summer evenings, when Mum and Dad are home from work, it seems crazy to have the Splash Pad, in which we have invested for the town, closed. "We will look at it and see what we can do" was the answer I got, and on that basis I abstained from supporting the proposed hours ... I had gotten the same answer when asking for an evening opening of the Town Hall when we reduced public days from 5 to 4 days, and that evening opening has never happened.
For what my view is worth (very little!), I will wholeheartedly support the opening of the Splash Pad as proposed if in fine weather in high summer (June to August) it extends to 7 or 7:30 ... a decision made, perhaps, for each week on the previous Friday with a look at the weather forecast ahead.
In my view, it would be crazy for the Town Council to have spent all that money on the SplashPad then have it closed on long hot summer evenings when it should be of maximum value and use.
Illustrative picture - Splashpad empty. It's lovely when full of children enjoying themselves, but these days people don't want pictures of the kids taken and published
Published Tuesday, 7th February 2023
Proposed updated train serviceDraft train times Swindon - Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge - Westbury
Draft train times for services from 21st May 2023 are online from the industry's open data feeds, and generally accessible via web sites such as Real Time Trains. At this stage, some of the times are still under negotiation between GWR, Network Rail and the Department for Transport. There is also a very brief opportunity for us to highlight issues which we can see could be improved from our local community viewpoint.
Attached picture is my reading of the timetable - may not be perfect as I have had a lot of correlation to do. Please click on the image to see it larger and in a new window.
* Train times will apply unless otherwise stated from 21st May to December 2023. Trains marked "s" are only shown as running until 9th September 2023, the implication being that they will change at that point but there is no data as to how.
* Times shown are public timetable departure times, except for Swindon northbound and Westbury southbound, which are arrival time. Trains usually stop at stations for 1 or 2 minutes.
* Connections are very important but I have not shown them yet. Trains are likely to be adjusted across the network by a few minutes and that will make a big difference to how well this will work; see some comments below
QUESTIONS to the readers of this article
* How does this timetable look for YOU?
* What do you like?
* What do you not like?
* Do you have any suggestions for change?
Please email (email@example.com), phone (07974 925928), message or let me know anyhow
NOTES and personal comments / thoughts
Monday to Friday
1. The 05:17 Westbury to Swindon is WITHDRAWN. This service was added in December 2019; not one we had requested and we understand it was a train coming off depot it Westbury to start a service in Swindon. Although I have found it useful personally on a number of occasions, it has never been busy, and as there may not be a depot transfer any longer, sad to see it go but I understand why.
2. The train I show at 07:05 from Westbury to Swindon is NOT in the online data - but I think it will appear. It's a key commuter trains to Swindon and then a key schools train on the Stroud Valley. Furthermore, in the current online data a train disappears from the platform at Salisbury at around 06:30, and I suspect it's this train. If this train does not run (or nothing within a few minutes) from May, many of our commuters would not be able to get to work in Swindon or at connections beyond.
3. The 07:45 Westbury to Swindon is about 10 minutes later than the current train. This will probably be welcomed by school traffic to Chippenham. If, however, neither the 05:17 nor the 07:05 run, this would be desperately late for the first train of the day. If the 07:05 runs, on balance this is a good change.
4. The 20:45 Swindon to Westbury becomes the 20:13, and an extra round trip at 21:16 from Westbury and 22:26 from Swindon is added. The extra train is brilliant - opens a whole market that has not been addressed. There may be some concern at the 20:45 moving earlier.
10. Loss of the second morning train to and from Swindon. Probably not a big issue as people are not all that time dependent on a Saturday and will prefer an early start for day trips
11. The extra mid afternoon trains (which swapped trains between Westbury the Stroud Valley) are no more. Leaves a 3 hour gap each way. Not really a problem, as this is the quietest time of the afternoon.
12. The evening 21.17 from Westbury and 22.12 from Swindon are welcome and make for full days out. At last there's a train that lets people get home after a day out on a Saturday and I would ask that these trains and the morning 08:45 from Swindon are not just summer only. They extensions to / from Weymouth might be seasonal.
20. The service as a whole looks good and sensible for all year operation
21. We note a wait of 1 hour in the evening for passengers returning from Weymouth, even though there is a good connection to Weymouth in the morning.
22. We appreciate that on some Sundays there will be engineering works which replace trains by buses and on those days if there is not a through (bus) at Chippenham to and from Swindon, please ensure a good connection both ways for passengers between West Wilts and Swindon
DRAFT TUNING AND CLARIFICATION REQUESTS to GWR in order of importance
a) Please confirm the 07:05 (Monday to Friday) from Westbury. Without it, you will have taken the heart out of the service and cause a serious loss of traffic with all the hardship that brings to regular users.
b) Please check and tune the timetables for reliability of service, including connections, and not for speed of service.
c) We applaud the extra later Monday to Friday train. Please adjust it to connect properly (not just 1 minute) with the 22:25 arrival from London - so leaving Swindon after that train has left for Gloucester / Cheltenham. We understand this will place it about 5 minutes later into Westbury - also an improvement as it will be very clearly NOT a connection onward to Frome, rather than having people take their chance late at night.
d) We applaud the through train to Weymouth and from Weymouth on a Saturday. Please confirm that this train will operate year round between Westbury and Swindon, where it provides vital early and late services on the line
e) A major traffic flow from Melksham is to / from Bristol. Please consider connections at Trowbridge and at Chippenham, with a couple of minutes adjustment to the trains through Melksham if need be, to make for short but reliable connections. Of most importance here - connections to Bristol in the morning, and from Bristol in the afternoon and evening.
e) If you could reduce the wait at Westbury on Sunday for connecting passenger from Weymouth, that would be good, but we appreciate that you're extending the Swindon services to / from Frome to give them an hourly train, so this may not be easy.
This article / question does NOT address issues away from the trains. Having buses that run to the station and connect with the trains is subject to other ongoing work, as is improvements to the underpass between the station and the town.
Neither does this article address questions beyond 2023; services are currently limited by capacity of the line, and the available train. Service has moved from an unusable service a decade ago (with 18,000 journeys a year) to a thin but useable service today (with around 190,000 journeys a year - 10 times more). With an hourly service, analysis suggests that passenger numbers using Melksham station - served only by this line - would be 3 to 5 times higher with just twice the number of trains.
Feedback on the above article would be welcome by 10th February as we have a very limited timeframe in which to make fine tuning inputs for May.
Published Friday, 3rd February 2023