Victory for the blighted

Roads/ one man`s campaign
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The Independent Online
NEW guidelines on compensation for people whose homes are blighted by road schemes will be unveiled by the Department of Transport next month, opening the way for thousands of claims.

The unlikely hero of the homeowners who will benefit from the new guidelines is a former lieutenant-colonel whose court action led to the rewriting of the rules. But he himself is unlikely to benefit because the DoT has rejected his renewed application for compensation.

Lt-Col David Owen took on the department because the proposed Cirencester bypass is planned to run 150 metres from his pounds 300,000 home, yet he was refused any compensation.

The Court of Appeal last year ruled in his favour when it found that he was entitled to be bought out because his home had lost value as a result of the road. The existing guidelines on compensation, said the appeal judges, were a "shambles".

The new rules will take into account the loss of value on homes near schemes and it is expected that all people whose homes have depreciated by a set percentage will be compensated. Alternatively, a set figure for the amount of loss may be fixed. Either way, the rules will swell the number of claimants and may put in jeopardy many road schemes, as they will have become much more expensive. Many previously unsuccessful applicants will be able to put in new claims.

Under the old rules, only people within 100 metres of the centre line of the proposed road had the right to be bought out by the DoT. The department also operated a discretionary scheme for people who suffer "intolerable" disturbance as a result of a road but this has been interpreted as meaning only by noise.

Lt-Col Owen, who is in his sixties, bought his bungalow so that he and his wife could spend the rest of their days in the Cotswolds. But they did not feel they could cope with two years of disturbance. He applied to have his home compulsorily purchased but was turned down on the grounds that his house was not sufficiently affected. It was as much the way that the DoT handled his application as the decision itself that angered him. "They are absolute bastards," he says. He recalls ringing two different officials on the same day to find out what had happened to his application and receiving conflicting answers.

He says there was an inherent contradiction in the guidelines: "The Act says you are entitled to compensation if your home is severely affected by the scheme but officials tried to say that the value of the home was irrelevant. But if the value goes down, clearly your enjoyment of the property is affected." The case has caused such headaches for DoT officials that they have taken nearly a year.

Stephen Hinton, a surveyor who has acted for many people affected by blight and who advised Lt-Col Owen said : "They will probably introduce a scheme whereby people whose home loses x per cent in value will be compensated. But if they set x too high the judges will intervene and if they set it too low thousands of people will be eligible."

Earlier this month the DoT reassessed Lt-Col Owen's claim and said he was not entitled to compensation because, when he bought his home five years ago, the bypass route had been published, which meant that he had "foreknowledge". The colonel is not about to give up: "Even if we did have foreknowledge, which we dispute, we bought the house for an unblighted price and it is now unsaleable. Surely that is enough to ensure that we are entitled to compensation."