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New president of the Essex county branch of the CLA

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Jonathan Douglas-Hughes is the new president of the Essex county branch of the CLA (Country Land and Business Association). He follows John Norris who has presided over the branch for the past five years. Senior partner with Chelmsford legal practice Gepp and Sons, Mr Douglas-Hughes lives at Gestingthorpe, Halstead near his family's 300 acre arable and livestock holding run in partnership with his son James. As former chairman of the branch and through his legal work, Mr Douglas-Hughes is concerned with most aspects of rural business life and well aware of the constraints ahead for the countryside, especially with the government's cost-cutting programme ahead. "We shall have to work hard to try to ensure that rural areas are fairly treated and not put at a disadvantage compared with their urban counterparts," he says. The CLA is one of the members of the new Rural Coalition, a group of organisations which has been formed to represent rural interests. One of its first actions has been the publication of 'The Rural Challenge' which has been billed as 'a blueprint for delivering the Big Society in small places'. "The report sets out sets out detailed proposals for taking on five key challenges facing the countryside – meeting rural housing need, building thriving economies, delivering good rural services, creating flourishing market towns and, in particular, helping local communities take charge of their own lives," explains Mr Douglas-Hughes. "This could be by developing and providing innovative local alternatives - community ownership of shops and post offices, for example, broadband hubs, sustainable energy and local community transport. "We are also making a plea to government to take proper account of the impact of public sector funding cuts on rural areas before the Comprehensive Spending Review in October is finalised." For over twenty years Mr Douglas-Hughes has been chairman of the Essex Boy and Girls Clubs which provides support, guidance, training and events for over 100 youth clubs throughout the county as well as the adjacent London boroughs. Some twelve years ago he led the team taking over a 200 acre adventure centre in Upminster which has raised over £1 million to improve the facilities available to thousands of young people every year. He also chairs the Cirdan Sailing Trust which is an organisation dedicated to giving disadvantaged young people a chance to go to sea and experience the discipline and excitement of sailing a sea-going vessel. He was honoured to be awarded an OBE for his services to young people. Mr Douglas-Hughes is Under-Sheriff of Essex and has served for the past 23 years. In the late Nineties he had to deal with the protestors opposing the A130 road scheme at Rettendon. "The only way to handle such matters is to be scrupulously open and impartial," he explains. "We were going to get nowhere if it all descended into conflict."

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