Key rural challenges for Norfolk’s CLA chairman

New CLA Chairman ED Buscall. Picture: Matthew Usher.

New CLA Chairman ED Buscall. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A drive for better broadband and more affordable housing are priority issues for the leader of Norfolk's landowners.

Ed Buscall, who follows in his father's footsteps as chairman of the Country Land and Business Association for the next two years, is the latest to be running the family's estate at Carbrooke, near Watton.

The Buscall family has links with tomorrow's Wayland Show, which is staged tomorrow just outside the town, stretching back to the days before the first world war. His great grandfather presented the Buscall Trophy for prize-winning produce.

He is much more concerned with key challenges for rural businesses, especially as government demands more and more information on-line. 'We have terrible broadband. It is a constant refrain at CLA meetings – all these promises, promises. We do have to keep pushing,' he said.

As a new board member of the country's largest provider of affordable rural housing, the Hastoe Housing Association, he wants to make a difference on the ground. He argues too that landowners are often best placed to help deliver practical solutions. 'I feel very keenly on the affordable housing issue.

'I think it is an incredibly important issue when it comes to sustaining local communities and keeping local businesses alive. I'm beginning to bang that drum. It comes at a time when the CLA is putting together a pretty good housing policy. We can see that landowners can really help with this; we obviously have the land.

'I think landowners and farmers understand the importance of keeping a local community together and how it benefits them as well as benefitting the community as well. It benefits schools, medical services – it ticks all the boxes if younger people can live and help to make a more vibrant and active community.'

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'I'm not talking here about huge developments. I'm talking about small projects which will help the local community and allow landowners to keep their businesses thriving because there will be a younger workforce from which to draw from.'

Mr Buscall backed a scheme at nearby Saham Toney, prompted partly by falling numbers of children. 'The number of people with young families living in rural areas has dropped significantly over the past decade,' he added.

Opportunities to provide housing for people with strong local links had to be encouraged. This was one of the strengths of Hastoe, which has become one of the biggest in the field of affordable housing for local people and has more than 5,000 homes in south-eastern England.

Other items on his action list include promoting sustainable fuels, protecting property rights, promoting local foods and services and working with local authorities on green energy initiatives.

'Representing the owners and managers of land and rural businesses of all types, I have a very wide remit,' he said. 'There are so many demands on the countryside, coming from all directions; nonetheless, I am very much looking forward to the challenge.

'I have had the opportunity to follow a wide-ranging career encountering a huge variety of people and situations. I like to think this will set me in good stead over my two years in office.'

He has run the 850-hectare estate since 2004 when he took over from his father Bob. Before that he worked at the BBC as a foreign reporter and, ultimately, as head of current affairs for the BBC World Service. He is also an editorial adviser to the BBC Trust, which governs the BBC. 'I do quite a bit of work with the BBC in London and sending files takes an awfully long time,' he said.

Cropping on the mainly arable estate includes wheat, barley, oilseed rape, sugar beet and peas and it has been in entry level environmental stewardship for the past eight years.

With about 30 houses on the estate, income has been diversified in a number of ways including residential lets and the recent purchase of a significant part of nearby RAF Watton, where he is returning much of the land to agriculture use, selling the concrete and tarmac for construction and letting out other hard standing areas to local businesses.

'I think it is very important to try to make the local community aware of the countryside around them and what it does,' he said. A parish councillor, untl recently, he was a trustee of the East Anglian Children's Hospices.

Norfolk CLA vice chairman, Sir William Cubitt, who retired from the Army in 2011 after 34 years' service, now runs his family's estate near North Walsham. The 730 ha comprise an in-hand arable farm with grazing on an 18th Century Humphry Repton park, let farms and cottages.

Conservation is a high priority and the farm is in countryside stewardship at the higher level.