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Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary

Links in this page:
Assembly Hall - rates unchanged
Why has the station planter gone?
Assembly Hall hire rates 2023/24
Melksham Town Council - who's who
Melksham House - for SEND
Headline look ahead
Stepping back from chairing
38 years ago today, Melksham Station reopened
What it's like to be Independent
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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.

Questions to Council

UPDATE - 6th June 2023 - Answers to Rob Carter at /lib/may23_ftc.pdf

Before each meeting of Melksham Town Council, there is an opportunity for "Public Participation – To receive questions from members of the public". The opportunity is not frequently taken up - there's the occasional question asked from time to time. Typically, the chair and / or lead council officer at the meeting will promise a written response; that's perfectly reasonable as the typical request is looking for a considered answer. This not a circus of the form of PMQs (Prime Minister's Questions) for the entertainment and motivation of the party and public - it's a real opportunity for the public / electorate to reach the town's leaders and get a response.

I am delighted that question were asked by speakers both last week and this at full council.

From the (now) approved public notes on the meeting of 15th May 2023:

Mike Saunders remarked on the fact that a couple of officers have left the council who were part of the Environment and Climate Working Group. He was disappointed that the wider membership had not been advised. He asked if it was possible to have a list of officers’ names and contact details.

Terri Welch wanted to bring to council’s attention the situation with the Weir gate which is currently owned by Cooper Tires. Terri reported that the Environment Agency were not willing to take on the responsibility. Terri thought the town council should be aware as it is a key element in preventing the town centre from flooding.

Robert Carter asked some questions on responsibility for:
* Footpath clearing
* Events and carnivals, particularly the Jubilee Celebrations and the Coronation Event, asking how events were planned
* Public consultation
* The decision to cancel the Sunday (Coronation) event
* Ceremonial aspects of the town
* The union flag on the Town Hall not fitting for the Coronation, adding that it is important that the Town Hall is kept looking at its best
* The planting on the roundabout
* Weeds in the Market Place
* Decisions on weeding and trimming
* The budget spent on lights in the park
* Engaging volunteers to assist with events etc

From my notes on the meeting of 22nd May 2023:

Lisa Ellis asked, bearing in mind rumours that are rife:
1. Can it be confirmed that the purchase of Melksham House by Melksham Town Council is now off the table because of Wiltshire Council’s decision to accept their internal offer by SEND on the 14th of February 2023?
2. Can it be confirmed that the Melksham Assembly Hall will remain at its present location, with necessary repairs made urgently to fix faults?
3. Can it be confirmed that Melksham Town Hall will remain an asset of the Town Council?
4. Will the Town Council work with interested community members in an open way to help take forward the town’s assets for the benefit of our community including establishing a policy of having at least two members of the public on each working group?

Howard Jones asked
1. Through asset transfer or other means if required, would the Town Council consider acquiring the Blue Pool building in order to enhance the attached Assembly Hall with facilities such as:
• a suitable entrance and reception area
• increase the number of available men’s and women’s toilets, add an accessible toilet
• establish a museum
• provide dedicated parking to ease the strain on the parking in the Melksham campus?
• add an additional emergency exit
2. Can you include the suggestion being handed out into the minutes of this meeting so that it can be given full and serious consideration at the next meeting of the appropriate committee?
3. Can I also ask the three Wiltshire Councillors, representing Melksham, take this request to Wiltshire Council, for their consideration?
4. Why was my Freedom of Information request (mid April) passed on to an organisation that is not subject to FOI when I chased it up having had no answer in mid May?

Mike Saunders asked about the councils' real committent to the environment and climate, bearing in mind its failure to call the scheduled meeting of that working group, or to provide support for the informal event then set up by members. Also bearing in mind the officer's advice to that meeting "ClimateFest wasn’t a confirmed event for this year, due to shortage of officers to plan and organise this event. The complement of available officers and their capacity is currently vastly limited."


Although Howard's third question asked something of the three Wiltshire Councillors who also sit on the town council, only one of them was actually present. Two other councillors were also absent - so that was 10 out of the 14 of us there.

The document that Howard handed around is at http://Melksham.Town/BluePool

I do not normally name people in my blog. However, the above reports what they said in public, and they may be seen online asking these questions.

I am not going to pre-empt the written replies that have been promised at both meetings. I did ask that the minutes from 15th May 2023 be amended to include that promise to respond in writing to the official record, and that was agreed but with the proviso that the public questions are not a part of the meeting - they precede the meeting - and so do not actually form a part of the minutes of the meeting.

Once I have the promised written answers, I will share them

Published Tuesday, 23rd May 2023

Assembly Hall - rates unchanged

Headline conclusion / vote at the Town Council - hire rates for the Assembly Hall are UNCHANGED for the next year.

The difference between expenditure and income ("support cost" or "loss" depending on how you look at it) has shrunk from a feared amount north of £140,000 to around £70,000 (target was £80,000) and hall usage has been good though patchy as we recover from Covid. The raw finances are only a part of the story - the hall is there for PEOPLE and not for its financial consequences. And we hear of staff busy with customers and looking at the bookings, we see that most of them do require a larger hall such as ours - events would simply not fit into alternative venues.

The financial success was attributed to the top management of the hall and, yes, they have kept a tight ship. But it's also due to others. To the excellent hard work done by the staff on the Assembly Hall team, and their very positive interaction and can-do attitude. To the volunteers and casual team who do so much to help with events, both on-the-day and in promoting what's going on, on line, around the town and door to door, and to those back room supporters who put the materials they use together. Also due to you, the public, who have been using the call. Good to see how, exceptionally, we've had staff on the door counting people in and out because it's so popular.

With inflation at around 10%, one councillor suggested we consider raising prices, though perhaps not as much as that 10%. This suggestion was considered and rejected after debate, with "unchanged" passed unanimously. We have been through significant storm on prices and usage over the last year, with the price setting model last summer being an untried new algorithm with little real data - just arithmetic modelling to see how it would work. The algorithm and rule were found to have some rough edges and a number of regular users walked away based on affordability under new rules. With users voting with their feet, the pricing rules have been fine-tuned (yes, I have been party to helping with that) and most but not all of the usage is back or in the process of restarting, with the model and attitude being "steady as she goes".

One of the reasons that there was such a "crash" in the finances in recent years was Covid, another the loss of our event manager in May 2021, and a third was the fact that prices had remained unchanged for a decade. We cannot get into that stagnation of income again, and next year there will be a stronger case to look at for a price rise bearing in mind inflation of our costs, raising the money required to cover maintenance, and also looking at alternative venues, competition, what the market will stand, etc.

And I mention "maintenance" there. As a headline "the hall leaks"; if it were my home, I would have been looking to get it fixed PDQ, bearing in mind that not only do the people inside get wet, but also the fabric of the building that is not intended to get wet gets damaged, and the problem rapidly gets bigger. The council HAS passed a motion allowing for the leaks to be fixed - a bit late IMHO, but it has been passed, but then these things tend to move so slowly as the council officers find time to get competitive quotes, evaluate those quotes, recommend to council, get the go ahead, etc. It's frankly frustrating and chances are than the damage gets worse as the process proceeds, with extra costs being in excess of the difference between the quotes. And the council is looking at all repairs to all of its buildings with a surveyor telling us what we need to make sure that the spending is in line and necessary and (presumably) best done as a separate job. My own view - we should use JFDI ("Just ******* Do It") in this case. At this cycle, catching up in fixing the roof is coming from a reserve, but over time it needs to be considered in the bottom line of that hall, with notional funds building up so that we don't find ourselves in a "near to breaking point" position again.

So - summary - prices unchanged; steady as she goes; roof to be fixed "urgently" and pricing and repair stability to be looked at over years ahead. With thanks to the team who look after the hall, the volunteers who support it, the people who hire it, and all those people who use it for having us in that position.

Published Monday, 22nd May 2023

Why has the station planter gone?

I have been asked why the planter at Melksham Station has been removed and tarmacked over. This planter brought a welcome touch of green to the station, which is now devoid of anything natural; the planter was also a loving memorial to Gordon Dodge who looked after it for so many years.

The first pictures are from Spring 2020, showing the planter in use and bringing a burst of spring colour to station, and helping bring us local pride and volunteers into caring for the place.

The following picture shows the planter, now with a TransWilts poster board in font of it; a useful board which is being used to show the line timetable now that GWR no longer provide a conventional timetable - though I do question why it was sited directly in front of the planter. The board is double sided for some reason, and sited abutting the planter was difficult to access and change the displayed poster in, and visibility of the poster in there was limited due to the natural growth of plants.

I understand that a Department for Transport official audit checking how GWR are looking after their stations highlighted the access and visibility issues, and an out of date poster in their lead to questions being asked. And as a result under health and safety concerns for the person changing the poster, the decision was made and implemented to remove the planter. I confess I am disappointed, both at the decision and the lack of any feedback to the stations friends group - it just happened. Considering that the display on the back of the board has never been anything more than a generic poster extolling community rail, might it not have been sensible to simply replace the poster with a blank panel, and leave us with our memorial garden?

Published Saturday, 20th May 2023

Assembly Hall hire rates 2023/24

Hire rates for the Assembly Hall and Town Hall for the next year come up for discussion at the Town Council meeting on Monday next (22nd May 2023). It is natural and sensible to set them annually, but I am surprised that this has come directly to the Full Council rather than giving the Assembly Hall Working Group the opportunity of review. This is in the published Agenda - item 12, pages 87 to 91 of the 172 page document that was added to the council website a couple of days ago, and flagged up to councillors. I have mirrored the pages at to make them easier to find.

"The Head of Operations was tasked with creating a proposal based on the same methodology as the previous year.

"The prices were reviewed for the last financial year and anecdotally have been well received with the addition mid-year, of an off peak rate for the Assembly Hall, to accommodate daytime shows which give the opportunity for an evening hire.

"Councillors are requested to consider and approve the pricing structure for the Halls per the attached spreadsheets. I suggest that we retain the pricing structure from the previous Financial Year."

Reports to me indicate that our two excellent "Deputy Facilities Managers" - Kevin and Bruce - are very busy. Their job involves lots of non-standard hours of work, being present to set up, during, and after events and I would like to add a huge Thank you to them - they are wonderfully helpful. We may well be moving to a situation where they / the council would benefit from extra help in addition to that which they get already in order to allow full(er) use of the hall to be made rather than being constrained by staffing.

I would love inputs ahead of the Monday meeting, and non-councillor residents are welcome to come along to the start of the meeting and ask questions relating to this or any other item on the agenda. I applaud the addition of the off peak rate - I was instrumental in some of the tuning during the year that allowed us to recover such hires as the Roller Disco and Neil Sand's Christmas show and I would like to see it better defined / documented; I don't understand whether quoted figure are last year actuals, or forecasts for this coming year.

Published Friday, 19th May 2023

Melksham Town Council - who's who

Update - 29th December 2023 There have been a number of changes and I have posted an updated list at The staff roles below should be regarded as an archive and you should contact staff or councillors on my new list for early 2024.

The staff are paid employees of the Town Council and each have their areas of expertise for which they have been selected via normal recruitment procedures. They are responsible for day to day council activities.

The councillors on the Town Council are volunteers who were voted in (May 2021) to represent the four wards of the town. They are responsible for the future direction of the council working via resolutions which give direction to the staff team through the Town Clerk.

Melksham Town is a parish within the Unitary council of Wiltshire. It looks after the part of Melksham broadly within an area bounded by Western Way and the Eastern Relief Road, and extends to include Melksham Forest and the area to the north as far as Dunch Lane. Most council services are provided by Wiltshire Unitary Council, to whom the council tax payer contributes around 10 times what they pay to the Town Council. Melksham Town Parish is almost entirely surrounded by Melksham Without Parish Council, which covers areas such as Berryfield, Bowerhill, The Spa, Oakfields, Sandridge Common, Woodrow, Beanacre, Shaw and Whitley. The Town and Without work closely together on appropiate projects.

Melksham Town Council's web site can be found at A calendar of meetings can be found (here). You can explore committee by committee from (here) including agendas and minutes. You can find how to contact individual councillors (here). Contact the Town Council on 01225 704187. Address: Melksham Town Council, Town Hall, Market Placei, Melksham, Wiltshire, SN12 6ES. Public Council opening hours are Monday to Thursday 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (closed for public holidays) and for council meetings.

Melksham Town Council Staff - office and admin team as at 16.5.23 / anticipated for 6.2023

Linda Roberts - Town Clerk
Andrew Meacham - Committee Clerk
Gloria Delves - Events and Communication Officer
Sara Land - Administrative Assistant
Mel Rolph - Finance Officer

Staff - assets and amenities team as at 16.5.23 / anticipated for 6.2023

Hugh Davies - Head of Operations
Kevin Farrow - Deputy Facilities Manager
Bruce Burry - Deputy Facilities Manager
Dave Elms - Amenities Team Manager
Paul Wallace - Amenities Team
Reese Coward - Amenities Team

Councillors in office as at 16.5.2023

SC - Simon Crundell - Mayor - East Ward
TP - Tom Price - Deputy Mayor - Forest Ward

PAv - Pat Aves - Forest Ward
PAl - Phil Alford - North Ward, also Wiltshire Councillor
GC - Gary Cooke - East Ward
JC - Jacqui Crundell - South Ward
GE - Graham Ellis - South Ward
CF - Claire Forgacs - Forest Ward
CG - Colin Goodhind - South Ward
CH - Carl Houghton - East Ward
JH - Jon Hubbard - South Ward, also Wiltshire Councillor
SM - Sue Mortimer - Forest Ward
JO - Jack Oatley - Forest Ward, also Wiltshire Councillor
SR - Saffi Rabey- North Ward
There is a vacancy in East Ward for which a byelection is to be held
For East Ward, your Wiltshire Councillor is Mike Sankey.
All Town councillors sit on the full council, which meets about once a month (for this year)

Detailed work is done by a number of committees usually open to the public:
Economic Development and Planning - SR, GC, GE, PAl, PAv, JO
Asset Management and Amenities - TP, CG, GC, CF, GE, PAv, SC, JO, JH
Staffing - SC, TP, PAv, JC, JO - subs SR, PAl
Community Development - CH, SR, PAv, SM, JO, JC
Finance, Admin and Performance - SM, SR, CG, JC, CF, GE, JH
In each case, chair listed first, then deputy chair, then other members
Committees usuaully meet 4 to 6 times a year, except "Econ Dev" - every 3 weeks
Committees typically have one or more staff who support them. Allocations unclear at present.

Not generally open to the public, specific tasks are looked after by working groups:
Assembly Hall - PAv, GC, GE, CG, SM
Budget - PAv GC, JC, GE, CF, SM
CCTV and Community Safety - PAv, CG, SM, JO
Joint CIL funding projects - GE, JH, PAl
Cooper Tires - TP, PAl, SR, CF
Environment and Climate - PAv, SC, GE, SM
Events - TP, CH, PAv, CG, JO, SM
Neighbourhood Plan joint steering - PAv, GE subs GC, SM
Parks - CG, JH, SR
Town Centre Masterplan incorporating Priority for People - GC, GE, CG, JO
Shurnhold Fields - PAl, PAv, SM, SR
Chairs to be decided within groups.
Note that some of these have very different characteristics!

The following working groups are scrapped or suspended:
Business Review; Canal; Community Art; Melksham House and Blue Pool Strategy; Melksham House; Public Owned Assets in Melksham; Virtual Hub.

Councillor representatives on outside bodies:
2385 (Melksham) Air Training Corp - SC, SM
Area Board - GC
Carnival Committee - SM
Melksham Adventure Centre - SM
Melksham Community Transport - GE
Melksham League of Friends - JC
Neighbourhood Plan - canal link group - CG
Neighbourhood Plan - climate issues group - GE
Neighbourhood Plan - design guides - CF, SC
Neighbourhood Plan - housing - PAv, SM
Neighbourhood Plan - heritage - GE
Neighbourhood Plan - local green space - GE
Neighbourhood Plan - proposed A350 bypass - GE, JH
Neighbourhood Plan - town centre - CG, GE, GC, JO, SR
Rachel Fowler - SM
Riverside Club - JH
Melksham Transport User Group - PAv
Wiltshire Association of Local Councils - JH
Wiltshire, Swindon and Oxfordshire Canal Partnership - CG and GE
West Wiltshire - Elblag - Twinning - PAv

The text above is from the best of my notes from the evening of 15th May 2023. Please let me know of any errors that you spot.

Some of the above is highly coded - a few letters hiding a great deal going on. Please ASK me for further explanations.

Pre-released for error checking, 16th May 2023.

STOP PRESS - Draft minutes on the Town Council web site at

Published Thursday, 18th May 2023

Melksham House - for SEND

It would appear that Wiltshire Council decided in February that their Special Education Needs and Disabled Department was the preferred future occupant of Melksham House, but the news did not reach the council and people of the town. Have we been wasting our time considering MH's use for the town these last three months?

Wiltshire Council have been looking for a future for Melksham House, which they bought from Copper Tires a decade ago to include in The Campus, but they then pulled back on the campus plans resulting in a smaller new-build facility on the site, and Melksham House being left with them without a future use. As is normal with surplus buildings and accommodation, Wiltshire Council cast around internally and asked if any department had a use for the place.

This is where the story gets a little complex and perhaps strange. Strong encouragement from last year from Wiltshire Council staff, and from our Wiltshire Councillors, has had Melksham Town Council looking at the possibility of purchasing Melksham House ... and yet at the same time, Wiltshire Council had an expression of interest from their own SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabled) department.

My thanks to Councillor Hubbard for this "gem" from Wiltshire council. He winkled it out through a Freedom of Information request, but was then told it was/is standard public data, so there was no need to FOI it! It would seem, however, that the original was so buried it went un-noticed in Melksham, or perhaps the coded decision was worded in such a way its significance was missed.

But this does start to explain some things - like:
* why the Town Councillors have not been able to view the works and make suggestions on tuning the fit out to consider our potential use
* why the closure of the Assembly Hall (to be replaced by Melksham House ?) has suddenly gone off the agenda with joint town/county councillors all now professing their commitment to the Assembly Hall

It also as me wondering things like:
* why on earth we went through the consultation for "Cluster 1" without the knowledge of this planned use
* why there was a need for an extraordinary meeting of the Town Council to decide to bid for Melksham House when the decision had already been made
It could be that these continued activities are of benefit to Wiltshire Council in helping their internal asset team maximise the internal payment for Melksham House - very much like in selling a house a seller might keep multiple irons in the fire. Rather like raising the price at auction. How appropriate is this behaviour between multiple branches of the public purse?

We are short of staff resources at Melksham Town Council and in my view it's very sad that so much time has been wasted on looking at a none-available Melksham House when the team could have been doing other things usefully - though of course it does help the profile of the people who are on both councils to have been seen giving Melksham "every opportunity".

This is a developing story - I suppose there is a possibility the the SEND deal will fall through, though seeing as it's an "inside job", I doubt that will happen. Much of my posting is to help the public understand what's going on. In this case, I fear I don't fully understand myself and the story at the moment is at a confused intermediate point. No doubt the fog of confusion will clear in time.

There is, no doubt, a need for SEND services and they need to be based somewhere. Melksham, situated midway between Chippenham and Trowbridge and with a quiet yet central location, with good bus access, probably makes sense.

Published Wednesday, 17th May 2023

Headline look ahead

And so looking ahead to the next year ... key outcomes from last night's annual Town Council reshuffle:

* I was delighted to see four groups of public participants at the Town Council's annual meeting last night, with good questions from the public prior to the main meeting. In each case, the clerk has promised a written answer (it would be amazing if random questions could be answered off the cuff) and I hope I may see and be able to have those published. Few surprises in the questions (to me) and I will continue to address some on my blog and elsewhere.

* It transpired during the meeting that (as I read it) Wiltshire Council as given "First Dibbs" on Melksham House to their own SEND department (in February!) so I am sitting here this morning open mouthed and wondering what the heck has been gong on with us looking at it and deciding to put in an offer for the last couple of months. This is an early story to be explored further.

* We come out of the meeting with the same mayor (Simon Crundell) who had near-full support; just one councillor failed to back him. We have a new deputy mayor (Tom Price) by the narrowest of margins (7 votes to 6, with one abstention) and a new chair of the Economic Development and Planning Committee (Saffi Rabey). I wish both of these new appointees well in their roles; both have a strong projection that may help them progress things along their visions. In both cases, they are younger replacement for retirees who perhaps have been softer in their approach, but have had the luxury of plenty of time to undertake their voluntary roles. Sue Mortimer remains as chair of Finance and Admin and I'm delighted that she'll be carrying on looking into Town Council finances and helping the rest of us understand them; I also look forward to continuing to see her around the town as one of the ones with her heart in the town, and time to be around and represent/explain the council too.

* Personally, I emerge happy from last night. I remain one of the town's representative on the Neighbourhood Plan steering group and some of their task groups - technical but important work. I remain a member of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, where I can now make my inputs (and yours) without the frustration of trying to lead with minimal support and bouncing along on long term stuff without a vision. And I remain on the Environment and Climate working group, though sad that only three other councillors see this topic as being important enough to put their time into it. I also remain on the Assembly Hall Working Group and perhaps with the Melksham House news just above, and with Sue looking at finances, we can now get on and FIX THE ROOF (image above) ...

More to come on these topics - headlines today, further write-ups and answers over coming days. Although it appeared to some of our public yesterday that we're separate at times from our community, in my case (at least) I do try to listen and inform, and will be continuing (environment, equality, information) along the same strategy for the next year.

Published Tuesday, 16th May 2023

Stepping back from chairing

I don't plan to promote myself for chairing positions of any formal groups within Melksham Town Council at the annual reshuffle on 15th May 2023 ("this evening" when I publish this)

It is just possible the meeting will ask for background. Whether that happens or not, here are my reasons:

1. As chair of "Economic Development and Planning", we need to look ahead and have a longer term strategy, but we have been waiting for that council vision to be completed since summer 2021. Over the past year, officers have been out of the office or if in the office have failed to progress projects. I need to be in a role I feel I can fulfil and be proud of what is achieved in common goal within a team [of staff and councillors], or if need be to have support to build the team, and that has not been the case. I feel I can do better without the constraints of being chair.

2. In the last year, I have chaired 6 grievance appeal panels. Of necessity, the details of these is not in the public domain, but I can tell you of many hours of meetings and many days of reading and following up. At times some of the individuals involved in the cases have overstepped norms. This is important work, but not at all what I signed up for nor what I enjoy, nor (most important) what I do well.

3. I have getting older and slower. And with my deafness in one ear I am unable to tell who is speaking and reducing sight also means I am no longer easily able to pick up everyone raising their hand in the room. I would like to thank officers for their assistance over the past year, but in listening to their concerns over the loads put on them by councillors, feel that now is the right time for me to stand back from chairing activities, and step back to let them get on with their proper role.

This is a decision for one year. I believe I can do best for the residents of my ward, for my family and other interests, for the load I put on other councillors and staff, and my own sanity by being an ordinary councillor. Things change (though my age cannot) and the balance of decision may differ next year; it's even possible that some overwhelming argument could be put this evening.

Background ... this should not come as a shock when you see how others have refactored or been refactored. Councillor Lewis had resigned, citing bullying. Councillor Oatley has joined a political grouping, stating his belief that it will help further what he can do. Four permanent members of staff have left or are working their notice in the last three months.

* The working environment at Melksham Town Council is alien and feels toxic to me. I can look back to time working, including managing and volunteering at Well House Manor / Consultants WHC, TransWilts, Railfuture, Megatek, CGL and First Alternative. They have usually but not always happy times, but they have never been like MTC.

* Everyone seems so much in their own positions and defence of it that there's no duty of care and little thought for working as a team. Personal or other interests are prioritised to the detriment of the role and in doing so hurt others around. No "how are you doing" which could make such a big difference.

* Some of the procedures, systems and practices in place are not appropriate for Melksham Town Council in 2023. Some need modernising to work best with modern technology and others were accepted earlier in our working lives, but we should shudder with embarrassment at them these days.

I refer to the last year, but some of these things are much older - they are inherited situations (as I hint at in my reference to summer 2021) and it's not a secret that some of the grievance material predates Covid.

Solution for the Town Council's woes? I'm given to understand that the staffing committee have much in hand, and as this takes time to pull back, I offer them my support. It would be good if the five councillors who have been working on that task can continue to do so.

I'm planning to be a useful voice for the community, and a useful interface and information provider and explainer, on the Town Council for the next year. And to look after myself too. And projects remain public transport, the Assembly Hall, and Melksham.

Published Monday, 15th May 2023

38 years ago today, Melksham Station reopened

Melksham Station closed in 1966, and then re-opened on 13th May 1985 - 38 years ago today. For most of the early years, there were two trains a day during the week - to Swindon in the morning and back in the late afternoon, with a number of short-lived experimental extras.

From 2013, a train was allocated to the line all day and run up and down, giving a service about every 2 hours. At first, it was a single carriage train but that got so busy it could not cope. These days the train is two or three carriages long, and it needs to be. Our line is no longer the "lemon" of GWR and the flow of passengers to and from the station for almost every train is a sight for the sore eyes of those of us who have promoted it for many years. At the same time, the service remains sparse / poor. A huge THANK YOU is due to the people who have helped us get this far, but it's still very much a project in progress ...

We have moved up from 2 trains each way per day to 8, and in passenger journeys to / from Melksham from around 3,000 per annum to around 75,000 - but that's 75,000 journeys where people have to make a significant adjustment to their travel plans to co-inside with a train. Move the frequency to a train each way every hour, so that there's always a train within 30 minutes of your ideal travel time, and passenger journeys will grow in three years to over 300,000 per annum. Add to that through journeys from Westbury and Trowbridge to Chippenham and Swindon (Melksham has the benefit of sharing its trains with those other towns), and you've got around a million journeys a year, and a service key to the economic life of the whole area. With added freight traffic, there is no longer reliable capacity on the line for this extra service, and with the long single line section, it would require a step up from one train shuttling up and down to three, with a layover in Swindon (or a useful extension to Oxford with a fourth train) for it to work, or the addition of a loop of double track to the north of Melksham Station.

From 21st May (2023), we have some service changes. A significant extra new service in the late evening is added - 21:15 from Westbury and 22:30 from Swindon - meaning that for the first time in many years, Melksham will have an almost "all day, every day" service. That service runs every day in the summer, but sadly not - yet - on Saturdays in winter. Daytime Saturday and Sunday services are evened out; slightly fewer trains but that should aid reliability. We loose the early morning train (at 05:33) to Swindon, but since it was introduced in 2019 that's really been more run to get an empty train up to Swindon that to be a mass transit conveyance.

New timetable sheet available for download (here)

The early work to re-open the station and then support keeping it open and was undertaken by the Melksham Railway Development Group (MRDG) - predecessor of the Melksham Transport User Group, aided by the Save the Train campaign for a number of years from 2005. As that campaign bore fruit, we formed the TransWilts Community Rail partnership to work with local government, central government and the train operating companies to regain and retain an appropriate service. I am proud to have been a founder of "TransWilts" and their Community Rail Officer for the period up to the summer of 2018 as we regained the service and grew it until we had full (and over-full) single carriage trains.

Over the last five years since my departure, TransWilts has moved on from being a local support group to being an organisation accredited to the Department for Transport and concerned with future rail development across Wiltshire, and with engaging with groups in the community who need extra support when interfacing with the railway. Both excellent pieces of work, but in my view leaving a gap in day to day promotion and supporting passenger use, and loosing the independence that they used to enjoy; I was given the choice of staying in my Community Rail Officer role (as in effect a civil servant), or retaining the independence to express my views and act as the passenger community wanted. And I chose to retain my independence. In practise, that's usually in line with the Department for Transport - though I noted without surprise that when the Department for Transport decided to cull the popular through trains from Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge to London, TransWilts was unique amongst local and regional passenger and community groups in not even offering words of support when asked.

The current chair (who moved me on) has done a very great deal of excellent longer term planning and engagement, setting up reports and potential schemes - getting them on the table - for the future. He retires this month - THANK YOU for all your hard work, Paul. Perhaps we can look forward to new stations at Wilton, Corsham and Devizes from his legacy over coming years, and an extra platform at Westbury and a passing loop near Beanacre to help as we move from the current poor service at Melksham up to the appropriate one I describe above, with four times the passenger numbers on two times the number of trains.

We have other work to do in Melksham.

* It was pointless running a bus to the station prior to 2013. But in 2023, a town bus dropping people off at the station prior to each train call, then carrying people back to the Town Centre, residential areas to the East of Melksham, and business areas of Bowerhill, makes sense. The temporary "rail link bus" while the car park was extended in 2014 rapidly grew, but wasn't properly funded and council priorities moved what little funding was available.

* TransWilts are seeking a new chair - I have copied the advert and linked to the job description at . It is unclear to me whether this is just a "form" advert and they already have a successor in mind, or a genuine casting out for a successor looking for an outsider to come in and guide them forward. I have taken a look and won't be applying - although I believe I'm much better qualified than most, there is no way I could achieve all that's asked of their new lead in the 7 to 10 hours per month that has been specified, nor would I be happy to be a puppet of local and central government.

* The station remains unstaffed. Not an issue for regular users, but for occasional users and enquirers, and at times that the service is not running "clockwork", this would make a huge difference. The cafe across the road from the station opened at a very unfortunate time early in covid and has never really taken off for the benefit of rail passengers; it closes this month. As a volunteer staffed enquiry desk, with simple and quick catering (drinks, packeted cakes and biscuits) in could meet both the staffing and the refreshent need.

* Access to the station is limited to Station Approach. Plans that have been in the offing for YEARS need to be brought to fruition to provide a walkway and cycleway via Foundry Close allowing shorter, safer and more pleasant "green" connection both to north Melksham, and across the river via Scotland Road to the whole of Melksham Forest. Re-instatement of the steps to the Bath Road would substantiality reduce the walk to Scholar's Way, Southbrook Road, and the new up yard development which has gone through planning and will bring 112 new home close to the station.

* Continued promotion of all public transport is needed to help ensure people are aware of what's available when they wish to use it.

Using the train today

* Services run from 06:36 on Monday to Friday, 08:00 on Saturday and 08:37 on Sunday, last trains at 22:55 on Monday to Friday, 22:37 on Saturday and 21:59 on Sunday - up to 18 trains a day, alternately to Chippenham and Swindon, and to Trowbridge and Westbury.

* Tickets can be bought online ahead of time, or at the machine at the station. If you want to pay in cash, or require a ticket that's not available from the machine, you can pay the train manager.

* The Station is a 10 minute walk from the Town Bridge, and cycling along that route is good. There are free pick up and drop off spaces in front of the station. There is also a paid station car park if you want to park at the station while travelling.

* Some sample fares
- day return to Swindon £11.90 (£8.80 all day at the weekend, and after the 08:02 train on Monday to Friday)
- day return to Westbury £4.70 (£5.40 if you leave Melksham on the 06:36)
- day return to Bristol Temple Meads £14.00 anytime
- day return to Clifton Down £14.20 (£11.90 off peak - also valid to and from Temple Meads)
* Railcard fares and groups of 3 or more adults after 10 a.m. - 66% of these fares
* Children - 50% of these fares

* All trains that call at Melksham are wheelchair friendly (the train manager will help you board or leave the train) as are the stations at Melksham, Chippenham, Trowbridge, Westbury and Swindon.

* Trains are operated by Great Western Railway -
* I suggest you buy tickets direct from GWR, but you are welcome to ask me to suggestions if you help working out which ticket(s) are right for your journey

Published Saturday, 13th May 2023

What it's like to be Independent

You'll be told that we leave politics at the door of the Town Hall in Melksham as we (councillors) work for the good of the town. We may well be free to vote as we wish in the council chamber, but we sure as heck face the consequences outside when we make the opposite choice to our group's view.

Our Deputy Mayor, Sue Mortimer, was elected on a "Together for Melksham" ticket in May 2021. In the latest Melksham Independent News, she writes: ""If I decide to stand for Melksham Town Council Forest Ward in two years’ time it will be as an independent candidate as I was taken off the WhatsApp group of Together for Melksham in May 2022 for presumably losing the non-existent whip during the mayoral elections for an independent decision I took at that meeting.""

She carries on ... ""It sometimes has been a lonely place being an independent councillor. No more so than when the motion I put to Melksham Town Council to provide some free disabled parking spaces in the Church Street car park failed to get a seconder but I was under no illusions being a councillor was going to be easy and with the support of the residents and most times like-minded fellow councillors, I will continue to work hard for the benefit of our residents to get a fresh start that the town still desperately needs.""

Couldn't have put it better, Sue. It can be lonely, and it can feel pressured as we (I am an independent too) face the enthusiasm and drive of other councillors to promote their views and objectives. I was told by one of the sharper group members to "Check my Moral Compass" over a suggestion I made - I did, and I found myself clean, indeed far more so than I feel some are. Others might like to ask themselves the same question. The grapevine (yes, indepedents do talk and partner with other councillors) says I have been described as "dangerous" - hmmm, proud of that too if there's a danger that I may make one or two of my fellow councillors stop and think, or sway the occasional vote in a direction I feel right for the town, and as informed and guided by views I hear on the street. And, yes, on occasions that means being a lone voice.
Graphic - the changing composition of Melksham Town Council from election '21 to date.
Blue - Conservative
Maroon - Together for Melksham
Yellow - LibDem
Green - Independent
Grey - seat vacant

There are 15 seats. As on your voting paper in 2021:
8 - "Together for Melksham"
5 - "Conservative"
1 - "Lib Dem"
1 - "Independent"

And as we go into the 2023/24 Council year:
6 - "Conservative"
5 - "Together for Melksham"
2 - "Independent"
1 - "Lib Dem"
1 seat vacant

Published Thursday, 11th May 2023

Thank you for voting Graham Ellis onto Melksham Town Council

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