Court challenge for toll road

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The decision to build the nation's first privately financed toll road is to be challenged in the High Court by an alliance of local residents and environmentalists.

Ministers gave the go-ahead last July to the pounds 370m Birmingham Northern Relief Road (BNRR), which runs through two sites of special scientific interest and 27 miles of Green Belt. Campaigners suspect that John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of transport, approved the controversial road partly because of a penalty clause, said to top pounds 30m and payable to the private consortium building the dual three-lane motorway, if it was cancelled.

The Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, however, has refused to release the concession agreement with the road's builders - saying that it is "commercially confidential". The Alliance Against the BNRR, an umbrella group representing the resident associations along the route, have launched a High Court action to get the commercial agreement released.