Thousands missing out on blight compensation

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The Independent Online
Thousands of home-owners may be unaware that they are entitled to compensation for blight caused by road schemes because the Department of Transport has refused to issue new guidelines on eligibility.

The department was criticised earlier this week by the Ombudsman for failing to compensate people suffering because of blight as a result of plans for the Channel tunnel.

Now the Independent has discovered that the department has also failed to act on the decision of a court case it lost last June, in which its compensation scheme for people affected by road schemes was called "a shambles".

The case involved a retired army colonel, David Owen, who successfully challenged the department's refusal to pay him compensation after his home had lost value because it was near to a proposed by-pass around Cirencester in Gloucestershire.

The DoT's scheme involves only paying people who are affected by a given level of noise, and ignores loss of value to their homes. The new guidelines will have to take into account loss of value of homes and may well result in substantial extra costs to road schemes, putting many in jeopardy.

After the case, the DoT said it would draw up new guidelines. but this week, Stephen Hinton, a surveyor specialising in road blight cases, was told by a senior official of the Highways Agency, which is an executive agency of the DoT, that he could not say "when the guidelines will be published, and it would not be helpful if I were to try and guess when this might be".

Mr Hinton, who has 500 cases on his books and reckons that tens of thousands of people are affected, said: "The DoT is behaving outrageously. They are still using the existing guidelines even though these were criticised by the courts."

The Ombudsman's finding that there was "unremedied maladministration" in the way that the DoT handled proposals to build the rail link through Kent has left campaigners, who were seeking compensation, in a state of confusion. The DoT has rejected the Ombudsman's finding and it has been referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee. The committee can recommend that the DoT should pay compensation but does not have the power to order it to do so. Theoretically, the Government could still ignore the committee's finding but a spokeswoman for the Ombudsman said: "This has never occurred in 27 years since the post of Ombudsman was created."

Andrew Brice, the chairman of North Downs Rail Concern, said his members were confused over who would get compensation. "Many people who lost money on their homes have had to leave and sell up at a loss because they got a job elsewhere or their circumstances changed." He added that there were people who were unable to remortgage properties.

"We have no idea whether they will be entitled to any compensation," he said.

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