The leader of Marlow Town Council has said he and fellow members are 'taking legal advice' after receiving 'libellous abuse' for their perceived support of a multi-million-pound film studio project. 

Chris Funnell, who was mayor of Marlow in 2018/19, said in a Town Council meeting yesterday (April 16) that Sarah Ashmead, the deputy chief executive at Buckinghamshire Council, had cleared himself, deputy mayor Colleen Stapley and head of the planning committee Richard Scott of Code of Conduct breaches following public discontent over their communications with the developers of Marlow Film Studios.

Over 200 residents gathered in the Shelley Theatre at Court Garden House on April 8, where parish members voted near-unanimously that they had no confidence in Cllr Funnell, Scott and Stapley, nor the planning committee or the town council itself.  

Last year, Cllr Funnell apologised after several councillors engaged in a ‘secret vote’ in support of the studio development, which would technically fall under the remit of the Little Marlow Parish Council if approved by local planning authority Buckinghamshire Council later this year.

Bucks Free Press: Marlow residents holding no-confidence votes in the town council during a parish meeting last weekMarlow residents holding no-confidence votes in the town council during a parish meeting last week (Image: NQ)

Cllr Funnell admitted that the submission, which was made under Cllr Scott’s name, had been “misleading” in that it represented the view of individual councillors rather than that of the local authority as a whole.

A subsequent Freedom of Information request into communications between councillors and developers by Marlow FM director Tim Ashburner uncovered email exchanges including Cllr Funnell asking why a local committee member who was “likely to be an opposer” had been included in a site visit.

READ MORE: MP 'deeply concerned' about Marlow river after 'horrifying' pollution results

Speaking during yesterday's meeting, Cllr Funnell reflected on the “unprecedented swell of anxiety” he had seen from parts of the community over recent months.

He thanked residents for their “passion” for local issues but warned against a growing trend of “unpleasant abuse and harassment” directed towards council members, especially via the “poisonous” medium of social media.

The leader said an investigation into councillor conduct by Buckinghamshire Council had concluded that “no issues of integrity, accountability and openness were answerable” and that town polls calling for himself, Cllr Scott and Cllr Stapley to resign would not be carried.

Bucks Free Press: Councillor Chris Funnell was mayor of Marlow between 2018 and 2019Councillor Chris Funnell was mayor of Marlow between 2018 and 2019 (Image: Marlow Town Council)

Adding: “We have been advised that some comments made are potentially libellous. For that reason, I don’t want to report any further at this point because we are concluding, as members, our own legal advice.”

Speaking to the Free Press after the meeting, Cllr Funnell said councillors had dealt with the developers “in the same way as the public (has)” and pointed to “one or two members of the community” who have been “hellbent” on stoking local vitriol.

“We have no objections to parish meetings, but when people weaponise systems to attack us as a council body, I think that’s a poor show.

“To be absolutely transparent, it’s great that (this situation) has been clarified by the Returning Officer, who said ‘there is nothing to see here’.”

A town poll on whether residents want a development of Marlow Film Studio's size and scale on local Greenbelt land will go ahead, with more information to follow.