The toll road that will raze homes, ruin the greenbelt and won't even relieve congestion

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RESIDENTS whose homes will be blighted by a six-lane privately owned toll expressway, which Labour once vowed would never be built, go to the High Court tomorrow to begin a legal challenge to the scheme.

An alliance of community groups is to demand access to the secret contract agreements for the construction of the Birmingham Northern Relief Road due to run through miles of green belt land and two sites of special scientific interest.

Labour vowed in opposition that it would block what will be Britain's first privately financed toll road, so residents were angered when John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and responsible for transport, gave the go-ahead last summer.

They want to see details of the Department of Transport agreement with the contractors, Midland Expressway, and then hope to challenge compulsory purchase orders which have arrived through residents' letter boxes in the last week.

Charles Bradshaw-Smith, the alliance's chairman, said: "We have been advised that the agreement should be in the public domain, but the department refuses to make it public."

Although there are environmental objections - there is an environmental protest camp near Shenstone - residents also condemn the scheme on economic and practical grounds. Mr Bradshaw-Smith said: "The disgrace of this is the road isn't even going to fit the purpose."

Traffic figures suggested that at peak hours the relief effect would be minimal and the extra capacity would be more than consumed by growth in traffic, he said. And where the road rejoins the M6, a massive bottleneck would be created.

Mr Bradshaw-Smith also pointed to an expert report last week which concluded that new roads do not bring employment to an area.

The residents have so far raised pounds 28,000 for their campaign ,,which is supported by 10 local councils and groups such as Friends of the Earth and Transport 2000.

Gerald Kells, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The Government is disrupting all these people's lives to no great purpose. We're not going to see motorways suddenly uncongested."

At Norton Canes, there will be 12 toll booths next to a 68-acre service area. The road will border a graveyard.

Lily Jones, 60, a parish councillor, said: "I'm a Labour person and I'm absolutely disgusted. People feel very let down by the Labour Party after they pledged when in opposition not to build this road."

At Hednesford Road in nearby Brownhills, a row of homes is to be compulsorily purchased and razed, to the fury of many residents who do not want to go. Others say they would rather see their properties compulsorily purchased than have to live by the road.

Hazel Barnes, 52, and her husband, John, 53, will look down 300 metres over a junction at Chasetown, where they graze their horses. "We just can't believe it's going to happen," she said. They have already been affected with a fall in house prices, and properties are not selling. "The people whose houses are being pulled down and forced to move out are the lucky ones."

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said Labour had not promised to stop the road. The agreement with the road's builders was "commercially confidential". The department says the pounds 370m scheme is part of an integrated transport system for the West Midlands.