02:35PM, Thursday 11 August 2016
Cllr MJ Saunders
A parish councillor who courted controversy with his comments about the on-going Cookham chicken farm debacle has issued an apology.
Cllr MJ Saunders, chairman of Cookham Parish Council’s Planning Committee, was criticised after he advised campaigners against the scheme to ensure they did not act ‘impetuously’ in pursuing the matter when the farm was discussed at a meeting on Tuesday.
After repeating his point that due legal process should be followed by protesters in their dispute with the land owner, Samuel Driver, to underline the message he added: “You could just go out and shoot him, but I suspect you would end up in a cell.”
Although there was no apparent reaction to the comment at the meeting, it quickly drew criticism on Twitter, prompting a written statement to be issued by Cllr Saunders.
In it, he said: “It is my final remark which I understand has caused distress and I wish to apologise unreservedly if this has occurred.
“As all those present appreciated, its context was clear, however, it was foolish to allow such a remark to be misinterpreted outside of this context and I apologise to anyone who heard or read the remark and was in any way offended by it.”
He added: “The need for politicians to use clear language which is easily understood is highly desirable, but on this occasion my attempt to do so was unsuccessful and I apologise for any distress it may have caused.”
See a full transcript of the letter below:
It has been brought to my attention by RBWM Officers that they have received expressions of grave concern regarding remarks made by me at the recent Cookham Parish Council Planning Committee, as reported by the Maidenhead Advertiser.
I believe these relate to the discussion regarding the ongoing challenges with the 'Chicken Farm' being established off Lightlands Lane in Cookham and widely opposed by local Residents and their elected Councillors.
A representative of the Residents Action Group reported to the Committee the latest status, in which there are now installations on the site likely to exacerbate flood and other risks and subject to planning enforcement notification by RBWM, in which apparently chickens have arrived and are acknowledged as likely to result in complaints to RBWM about public health and nuisance, in which generator noise from the site is subject to monitoring for adverse environmental impact, and in which there are ongoing concerns about damage to trees subject to or potentially subject to preservation orders and about the inadequacy and damage to the access route which crosses flood alleviation bridging.
It was acknowledged that the various relevant RBWM Teams are actively pursuing the various regulatory powers available. However, despite these coordinated actions, there is understandable and considerable frustration and anger from a substantial number of Residents and Councillors that the powers available and the lengthy regulatory processes required to enforce them may offer the opportunity for the 'Chicken Farm' to continue to expand and become established, despite apparent breaches of various laws and regulations.
As Chair of the Committee I was asked by fellow Parish Councillor, Mandy Brar, if anything else can be done, something I believed had already been made clear. I reiterated, as the Residents Group had acknowledged, that all that can be done is being done. I had explained that the landowner owns a piece of agricultural land and is legitimately pursuing an agricultural activity and that the restrictions available relate to unauthorised constructions, which are now subject to enforcement action, and breaches of environmental health and public nuisance, which are being monitored and will be acted upon, and the protection of relevant trees and ecology. I had suggested that we do not live in North Korea where the rights of the landowner could too easily and inappropriately be overruled and the landowner might even be shot; rather we live in a treasured democracy and while the authorities can pursue legitimate enforcement, the landowner is equally legitimate in seeking to argue that the enforcement is incorrect and the due process, which can very regrettably take many months, will determine who is right. I flippantly remarked to Cllr Brar that she could go out and shoot him herself, but that she would likely end up in a cell.
It is my final remark which I understand has caused distress and I wish to apologise unreservedly if this has occurred. As all those present appreciated, its context was clear, however, it was foolish to allow such a remark to be misinterpreted outside of this context and I apologise to anyone who heard or read the remark and was in any way offended by it.
It is clearly ludicrous to suggest that anyone should react to the injustices they feel, in this or any other scenario, by inflicting harm on those who they perceive are perpetrating those injustices. As I sought to explain to the meeting, our precious democracy offers protection to all, without fear or favour, and we should cherish it. The rights of the landowner and the Residents in this case have a legitimately equal voice in our legal system and deserve to be heard and judged with fairness and justice. As I indicated at the meeting, many countries around the world do not enjoy these treasured and equitable protections and my attempt to suggest how such regimes might brutally, unjustly and disgracefully handle similar situations was open to being misinterpreted outside of the context in which it was made.
The need for politicians to use clear language which is easily understood is highly desirable, but on this occasion my attempt to do so was unsuccessful and I apologise for any distress it may have caused.