A personal post from Graham Ellis
Lisa and Graham live in Melksham, Wiltshire, England

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Melksham Campus - a win / win opportunity, but a severely lacking decision process

Well - Tuesday night at the Area Board was an interesting meeting, held at Melksham Assembley Hall with a goodly crowd attending. I've started, and stopped, writing several times - so much to think and say. So has Lisa ... so I'm going to quote her words first to break the ice, and come back with further comment of my own.

A question came up about the Melksham Area Board meeting on 29th March, asking if anyone had gone, and what happened. I was going to answer, briefly, in a small forum, but I ended up writing quite a bit, and too long for that forum. As is typical when I have strong views, I usually write up my words, crumble up the paper and toss it away, not to be seen by anyone, but also not to be harboured on anymore. But this is different. I think I'll burst if I don't have my say. I have asked Graham to post this on his blog since I don't have one. These are my thoughts alone. Graham will have his own thoughts, and for the sake of an interesting debate, I hope he does challenge me on some of my views. More importantly, I hope I have the facts right.

I went to the meeting. Frankly, I was unimpressed at how the whole process went down. I long for the day when I can feel all cards are truly on the table so we can make the appropriate decision that government is asking. I fear so many cards held so closely to the chests of those actually making the decisions are doing nothing but making us all pretty frustrated. We're not stupid, we're very understanding, and we're adult enough to compromise. I just want to be told the truth. I can handle the truth.

This is my understanding: Wiltshire Council is looking to the future. It has several dilapidated and out-dated buildings to maintain. If the buildings they owned were sold, or if they moved from the premises they rented, and built a modern facility to house all the services and facilities, this would, in the long term, save the council a great deal of money (40% in operating costs, so they state). 'Saving' is not really the right word; it's money freed up they can use elsewhere. (If you doubt Wiltshire Council is all about money, then go to one of their budget meetings. I've been to three.) The council has earmarked several communities that can benefit. Melksham is the first, the pilot scheme, if you will. So, why Melksham?

Take a good look at the Google map for Melksham. Scan the areas of what's to go and the council-owned (or easily obtained) areas surrounding. Canberra Youth Centre on Spa Road, next to Melksham Hospital is a great example. Behind Canberra are playing fields •æwhat you see from the road at the front is tiny compared to the land they have out back. It's already been announced that St Damien's Surgery is looking to move to a new location on the grounds of Leekes. With Melksham Hospital's functions truncated, it's just a matter of time before the NHS is tired of maintaining it. Now, look back at the map and see how much space Canberra, Melksham Hospital and St Damiens takes up. As an owner of a business nearby on Spa Road, I have, and many people in houses around my business, have been approached by developers, of housing and of retirement communities. It's not quite nagging, but there's been strong requests, perhaps once a year on average. Our property is 3/4 acre, a minor dent to the size of the combined Canberra/St Damiens/hospital area mentioned above. Yet we could probably ask for in the region of [c2]ã800k or more if we were interested in selling (we're not). During serious negotiations before we purchased, the intention had been to erect 22 homes on this property. I did a (very) hasty estimate of the Canberra+ area and felt 150 large single-family homes, with plenty of green space, would nestle quite easily.

This is just Canberra. Melksham has 7 more properties to go. Christie Miller sits on good land. Take a look at Google Maps again. To the north and to the south are also buildings of questionable longevity, albeit not government-owned. Open up that whole strip and sell that to an interested company that would be appropriate in an industrial area. Prime real estate, lots of money can be got for selling the land.

My original question was "Why is Melksham first?" Because (I feel) the selling off of the real estate of many of these redundant buildings would generate not only the money Melksham needs for its campus, and to pay for it fully, but also to begin funding the next town in line's campus scheme. It is my understanding that taxpayers are not funding this campus, but that their budget for it consists of the anticipation of money received from the sale of these properties. You may marvel at the strength of their crystal ball in predicting that they will be utterly successful in getting the amount of money, or that the properties would even sell, especially in this economy.

Here is where I wish there was an openness, and a trust that Wiltshire Council would have in the intelligence of Melksham residents. You see, it's probable that the reason why Melksham Library has to go in with the main campus and move from town centre is that their scheme not only depends on it, but (and I am going out on a limb here) there may already have been negotiations made. I have heard rumours of similar talks that sound like foregone conclusions.

It has been hinted to us that if we don't agree the campus in a way that council will accept, then Melksham loses the opportunity to have the campus at all, at least in the first round. I hope it's a hint, but it comes off as a threat. There might have been a very delicate house of cards built and based on the ability of all their intended properties to be sold.

You see, I get this. I think that Wiltshire Council did a huge amount of studying to even make this happen. And I honestly appreciate that. But I suspect in their studying, they also had to make a few negotiations •æyet they can't be seen as having shaken hands over anything without first taking this to the public for "consultation". It's a double-edged sword. And I have sympathy for this conundrum.

You asked what I felt about the meeting. I felt it was a done deal even before we entered the room. It was probably almost a done deal in February. The fact they asked for community response seemed really just an item they had to tick off the list of government-required procedures. The majority of the people in the room, and most of the organisations and parish councils giving prepared views, asked for a split campus, and all that seemed to go on deaf ears.

Speaking of deaf ears, an aside: Lucy from the council stood at the podium and gave an introduction and answered questions. I wasn't surprised her answers were polished. She was armed with questions ahead of time and was well briefed with what to say. Only once did she defer to her colleague to answer a question she was clearly nervous to respond to. (This was about the sale of the council-owned buildings.) What unnerved me was that regardless of how passionate everyone felt, everyone listened to Lucy. No audible mutterings, no titters behind breaths. But when stakeholders spoke, and members of the audience voiced opinions (when she was not at the podium), she and her colleague spent this time chatting to each other, and apparently saying rather funny things according to her laughter and smiles. It was quite obvious no opposing views were even being regarded. This unfortunate show of contempt was pretty much the summary of how this whole public "consultation" went.

Another aside: I'd like to give Lucy some advice for the next similar meeting she may have to give a talk in front of. There is no doubt the campus is an exciting deal and a great thing to come to Melksham. The location is a poor choice, but let's not start another whole diatribe ... this is getting too long anyway. Lucy, the town isn't against the idea as a whole. If you had come up to that podium and carried a few balloons and handed out little flags for everyone to wave, and made your presentation the way corporations do to their stakeholders "We're doing great! We're moving forward!" you would have had that audience eating out of your hand, gobbling it up and wanting more, and even accepting the Library/Canberra eventuality. Not only did you enter that room anticipating everyone was your enemy, but when you had the chance to show people you were honestly listening to them, you blew it ... and in a very insulting way.

By now you may have figured where I stand on this whole issue. But I feel it's important that I make myself clear. Firstly, I don't care how the council have to do their negotiations to get something done. But to say they want my opinion, and then not listen, is lying. Secondly, we know we're in tough times, so to get this win-win opportunity (save money yet get something brand new, nice and shiny AND good for Melksham) is fabulous! Thirdly, you win some and you lose some {shrug} but don't offer the carrot only to know you are never going to give it. That's cruel.

The carrot in this case is the Library. What was passed by the majority of the Melksham Area Board was that the campus and various services will be all together in one campus, somewhere on the grounds near Melksham Oak School. We can have a library in town, but it will have to have volunteers to run it. And depending on its success, a re-evaluation will be made in 2014 (basically after 9 months) whether or not to continue. What's not been made clear is where it will be, whether there will be any books for it and whether council will offer any subsidy for it. Reading between the lines, it looks to me like a town centre library is not, and never was, going to happen. And when the in-town library compromise dies, you're likely to hear "I told you so".

If I have not yet been contentious enough, I want to remark on the people who actually voted on 29 March. Great efforts were made by some to state they had kept an open mind and wanted to listen to the views of the town people before they made a decision. I appreciate the idea, but it was impossible. Firstly, there had been a preliminary vote made as to what the various recommendations were and they entered the arena Tuesday night with that proposal. (Some abstained from that vote, it must be noted.) Secondly, when it came time to give their opinion as to how they reached their decision based on what they heard that night, I found it contradictory that, in particular, one councillor read from a two-page typed script. Gentle reader, I swear to you, I was sitting near the front and at no time did I see him typing for that long ... or typing at all, come to think of it. Thirdly, as an excuse for not taking on board the wishes of the people who came on the night, the fact that 24,000 people did not attend was proof to some that the audience, nor the stakeholders, accurately represented the people of Melksham and what they wanted. I again stress not all councillors behaved this way. Suffice it to say it went very strongly along party lines. And I suspect much was discussed before the meeting as to how they should handle themselves. The voting did seem very orchestrated, including the addition of the transparent amendment.

I always like to finish off criticisms with advice on how to fix/change/improve. Frankly, this is not an easy fix. And were I in their shoes, I bet the same would be said about me. It's very easy to sit here and write this. It's the DOing that's difficult, and for all that I have said above, I stress that I am quite sympathetic to the mountainous jobs they have all undertaken on our behalf. But when you have a full deck of cards in your hand, please show them. And call a spade a spade. The meeting on the night of 29th march did not consider inputs from the public, consultation and stakeholder - it was a report on a decision that had been made, with various people trying to cover their arses.


OK. Personal view, not a Chamber of Commerce one ...

The scheme overall sells of 8 parcels of land owned by Wiltshire Council, which can be made more valueable prior to their sale by the council granting itself outline planning permission for housing (e.g. at Canberra) or a distributon centre (e.g. Christie Miller), and that provides seed money for the building of new facilities a mile or so from the town centre. In the process, some truely life expired facilities are replaced by purpose built, modern ones which will be much lower cost to maintain (all being on one site) and should be able to be open longer (as you'll be able to cut down the total number of staff).

There's a "win - win" here, in the headlines. Wiltshire Council gets £££ and the people of the Melksham area get sparkling new facilities for the longer term. And you have new jobs at a dirstribution warehouse, more homes and a town that's looking to the future in having enough population and work to support a thiving leisure centre, youth centre, town cente and library. And how about a purpose built cinema, too. If there are keen businesses, I say "why not" to adding on other suggestions that came up from the consultation - an Equestrian Centre and a rowing lake; despite a titter in the audience, these are no more far-fetched than a gymnastic centre of excellence, which we already have.

But the "win - win" of the headlines is somewhat sullied by elements of the process through which it was reached. I share Lisa's concerns at process. I feel that answers to questions have been wilfully withheld. Handing answers to the chair of the meeting as he arrived is technically answering questions for the meeting, but appears manipultive and left everyone wondering "What are they hiding" - and that does not form the basis of trust for an ongoing development where the support of the local community being served should be so important. And to stand up and say "they have been on the website since yesterday", but to have not emailed the people who asked to tell them this, to not be able to provide a web address, and for people in the room not to be able to find them via searches makes it look (to the more cynical) as if we were being intentionally kept in the dark / mislead / uninformed. How sad - there are a lot of friends of most or all of the proposal, and the secrecy and manoevering actually weakens their points and strengthens the hand of the people who object. With suitable answers to my questions, I could have stood up for the Chamber of Commerce and said "Yes - great - we can accept these element s of pain for the greater gain" - with no answers I had to stand up and say "No - 8 into 1 is too much, too quickly".

Let me share some specific concerns:

a) There could also be a fresh start on charges; more money to be paid for a swim in a nice new pool than a worn out old one, and there's a suggestion that parking charges may be levied (answers differ on that - depending on who you talk to!) and a question as to how many spaces there might be. This uncertainty has already caused an annual event with a turnover of £100,000 in a weekend to look for a new venue, and that new venue is likely to be in Somerset rather than Wiltshire.

b) The concerns for the library moving out of town are well known and documented. By an amendment to the Area Board's resolution, what I'll describe as a compromise clause was inserted, which provides (did I get my notes right?) for a "limited, additional, volunteer based, residual unit" to be based in the town centre until 2014 when it will be reviewed, based on how it's doing. The amendment was only introduced after the public and stakeholder discussion, so wasn't subject to questions / inputs from the floor, let alone detailed consideration by anyone except the introducer of the amendment, and perhaps others in his political part on the board, and perhaps officers who may have offered advise on a hypothetical question. So - concern - this hasn't properly been considered and consulted.

c) Following on from (b) ... I am personally concerned that a town centre branch library (was the term "library" even used - I wrote down "unit") will lack genuine support from the Wiltshire machine. Will it have any books? Will the volunteers have to raise money to pay rent? Will they have to maintain the building? How will their success be judged? Will they find themselves limited in hours to the time the council caretaker is on site? This process has been one of "lies, damned lies and staistics". The consultation didn't ask the public any questions about a town centre facility, and yet 227 out of 285 who wrote ANYTHING on the "other comments" box brought it up - yet one of the deciding councillors measured that 227 against the 12,000 questionaires sent out and described it as a "tiny proportion". Hmm - I wonder if he studied statistics on a degree course, as I did! With this lack of support ... is there truley the opportunity for a town centre facility, or does it simply give the Council a further year to find a buyer for the site? And does it mean that they're now going to be OK on the statutory duty to provide library facilities where people can get to and want them?

Notwithstanding concerns. Notwithstanding a process that was been far from perfect. The Campus can still be a "win - win".

I came away with a form on which an expression of interest in joining the "Shadow Community Operations Board" is sought. I'll be consulting the officers of the Chamber of Commerce to ask if they feel that business should be represented (and if we're the right organisation, and who we should nominate), and I'll be emailing and tweeting this question widely - seeking other Chamber member's views. Personally, although I question some of the elements of system and procedure, and I worry about some things, I think now is the time to take a positive view and move forward. I took great care not to walk out on the process as at least one local group representative did.

We can do great - really great - things for Melksham.

• A community campus that's the envy of other areas, built with local inputs to the next stage of planning so that it's served by the right transport links, open at the right hours, with the facilities that people need, and provided to them at a cost they can afford. And attractive so that they want to go there too!

• A town centre community centre (TCCC), sponsored but not run by the council, which provides for meeting places for people shopping in town, information, internet accees, loaning of books, perhaps a cafe. And that TCCC can be at the bastion / leading edge of such buildings - after all, we're going to be the first town of our size in the UK without a main library in the centre. And let's make it attractive so that people want to go there, too!

Now - should we be setting up separate, town centre, user-lead group to oversee and drive the TCCC? - I'm quite happy to pass on emails to introduce people who are interested, and (if the library service can't) provide an opening meeting venue.
(written 2011-03-31)

 
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
Z405 - Melksham Campus
  [4423] Campus - about the logos / way marks you have been choosing from - (2015-02-11)
  [4418] Melksham Community Campus - which of these potential signs do you like? - (2015-02-07)
  [4399] The Campus in Melksham - name, logo, and livery choice - (2015-01-18)
  [4311] Melksham Campus - how is it going - October 2014 - (2014-10-06)
  [4103] Questions from children about Melksham Campus - (2013-05-26)
  [4048] Art, Catering, Transport - Melksham Campus Elements - reaching local experts - (2013-03-19)
  [3901] How much parking should there be at Melksham Campus? - (2012-10-21)
  [3888] What a difference a year made - Melksham Campus - (2012-10-12)
  [3812] The Melksham News - July 2012 - Part 1, Campus and Chamber of Commerce - (2012-07-22)
  [3748] Not everyone has a computer - 9 more ways to learn about the Melksham Campus - (2012-06-03)
  [3741] Low carbon and other environmental lessons for the Melksham Campus? - (2012-05-23)
  [3736] Abstraction - (2012-05-19)
  [3735] A walk around Melksham this morning. Can you place all of these? - (2012-05-17)
  [3520] Quintessentially English - scenes from our Wiltshire town - (2011-11-14)
  [3518] Melksham House / Melksham Campus - Seniors Input Sought - (2011-11-12)
  [3503] Melksham House - a community facility - (2011-10-31)
  [3500] Campus Shadow - a great responsibility - (2011-10-30)
  [3481] Some thoughts in answer to some Melksham Campus questions - (2011-10-14)
  [3325] The Olympic Torch, and Melksham House - (2011-06-14)
  [3279] Letter to The Editor - (2011-05-06)
  [3277] Between a rock and a hard place. - (2011-05-04)
  [3246] Melksham - the way forward. 26th April, Well House Manor - (2011-04-13)
  [3225] Campus - answer to business questions - (2011-04-01)
  [3214] Melksham Campus - any last minute inputs from Melksham businesses? - (2011-03-26)
  [3193] Melksham Campus - what, why, questions, concerns and how you can input - (2011-03-04)

Z950 - Purely Personal
  [4739] A year of changes for Lisa and Graham Ellis, and Well House - (2017-05-27)
  [4735] Revisiting - should I stand for Melksham Without Parish Council in May? - (2017-02-24)
  [4734] Thoughts on the new Blackmore Ward of Melksham Without Parish - (2017-02-22)
  [4728] Visiting Los Alamitos Bay Yacht Club - (2016-11-23)
  [4714] The technical article feed continues - personal updates more proactive on Facebook now! - (2016-10-30)
  [4698] Lisa writes - on the referendum vote today - (2016-06-23)
  [4669] Buses - how did we get into the situation we are in? - (2016-04-02)
  [4658] The end of competition on a bus route - the effects from then end of the 234 - (2016-03-02)
  [4657] Rumours of bus changes by First in Wiltshire - what we know and suspect - (2016-03-01)
  [4625] Where does Wiltshire bus subsidy money come from? - (2016-01-19)
  [4600] A big change in August - (2015-12-25)
  [4489] Election results - what if we had a party list system? - (2015-05-08)
  [4485] Misusing statistics? - the seedy side of election campaigning - (2015-05-04)
  [4476] Upcoming election - Chippenham Constituency - the major candidates compared - (2015-04-29)
  [4308] What can you and I learn from online quizzes? - (2014-09-27)
  [4286] Reaction in Radstock to new First bus prices - (2014-07-12)
  [4281] A different vision for the future - (2014-07-09)
  [4275] Eurpoean Elections, and other elections ahead. Some thoughts on campaigns and policies - (2014-05-08)
  [4235] Sharing my personal best of 2013 - (2013-12-31)
  [4221] Celebration of the fruits of LSTF, and of the people who have helped and are helping - (2013-12-15)
  [4201] Looking to the future at Melksham Station - (2013-10-26)
  [4187] Not treading water, but not risking the ship for a 0.5th of tar either - (2013-10-06)
  [4165] Improving travel advise information in Wiltshire - (2013-09-06)
  [4157] Wedding Photos - Kim Ellis to Kyle Londors, 22nd August 2013 - (2013-08-23)
  [4111] Zigzag bus - forward for the future, or decaying service? - (2013-06-09)
  [3905] How should we choose our Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner? - (2012-10-27)
  [3711] Kiss - (2012-04-28)
  [3602] Emerging proposals for land to the east of Spa Road, Melksham - (2012-02-03)
  [3566] Initial thoughts - response to GW Rail Franchise Consultation for Wiltshire - (2011-12-31)
  [3556] Aeryn at 1 - (2011-12-19)
  [3511] Melksham has a heart - have your picture taken and support the defibrillator appeal - (2011-11-06)
  [3450] A threat in the post? Poor marketing practise from Smiletrain? - (2011-09-19)
  [3413] If its Sunday, must it be Weymouth? - (2011-08-30)
  [3298] Quiet Monday in - (2011-05-23)
  [3283] The juggler - (2011-05-08)
  [3240] Melksham Town Council - vacancy in the Spa Ward - (2011-04-10)
  [3108] My First Christmas - (2010-12-26)
  [3055] Zyliana Kyrei Cox - (2010-11-16)
  [3037] Looking back and forward personally - 6 years each way - (2010-11-08)
  [3034] Birth Notice - Aeryn Cassandra Ellis - (2010-11-07)
  [2982] Travel, Transport and Tourism - A vision for Melksham, 2026 - (2010-10-03)
  [2886] Congratulations, Kimberly - (2010-07-25)
  [2698] Ruth Davis, 1916 - 2010 - (2010-03-28)
  [2547] The great thing about snow .... - (2009-12-23)
  [2195] A two day gap - first time in five years? - (2009-05-24)
  [1051] Too busy to blog it - but it's great (mostly) - (2007-01-24)
  [1014] Christmas Season Piccies - (2006-12-30)


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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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