Couple triumph in battle over by-pass

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The Independent Online
A COUPLE whose pounds 435,000 retirement home was rendered worthless by plans for a bypass yesterday won a High Court victory against the Parliamentary Ombudsman, in a case described as "the worst case of maladministration by a government department".

Maurice and Audrey Balchin have been seeking redress through the courts since 1986, when Norfolk County Council failed to compensate them for plans to build a road on a high embankment just 18 feet from their bedroom window.

The council spent millions of pounds buying neighbouring properties affected by the scheme, but refused to purchase Mr Balchin's home because it did not take any of his land. Loans secured on the house in the Norfolk Broads, which it had been Mr Balchin's "boyhood dream" to own, were called in. Mr Balchin lost his construction business and the ensuing saga cost Mrs Balchin, 63, her health.

Yesterday the couple won a High Court ruling that the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Michael Buckley, failed to give adequate reasons when he decided that the former Department of Transport was not responsible for their "absolutely calamitous" losses through maladministration.

Mr Justice Dyson said there was an unexplained "flaw" in the current ombudsman's reasoning which went to the heart of why the Balchins had never been compensated for the loss of their blighted home and business interests. Documents "pointed very strongly" to the conclusion that those involved with the case had overlooked the existence of the power of the county to acquire the couple's blighted house, he said.

Michael Lord, deputy speaker in the House of Commons and MP for Suffolk Central, welcomed the ruling concerning the case he described as "the worst complaint of maladministration by a government department that has come to my notice". He said: "It has been a long fight and it is not over yet. We now go back to the ombudsman and hopefully [it] can be resolved." Three years ago the Balchins made legal history when they overturned a similar ruling by the previous ombudsman, Sir William Reid. It was the first time the ombudsman had been challenged successfully.

If the Balchins, who now live in a rented home, win before the ombudsman this time they will seek at least pounds 2.5m for the loss of their house, 14 years of lost wages and the effect of the experience on their health.

Charles George QC, for the Balchins, told the judge that whether or not there had been maladministration, "in terms of personal misfortune this was absolutely calamitous".

Mr Balchin, 65, a millionaire by the age of 30, said he was "inwardly overjoyed" after yesterday's ruling. "After 14 years of waking up with it on your mind and going to sleep with it on your mind, it is very, veryhard to get excited."