Young backs off from clash over rail blight

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Transport Correspondent

Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, has backed away at the last moment from a clash with the Ombudsman over compensation payments to affected by the Channel tunnel rail link.

Sir George's predecessor, Brian Mawhinney, had flatly refused to compromise when he faced the select committee which deals with the Ombudsman's affairs in May.

The argument centres on whether a group of five Kent households who suffered blight because of the proposed building of the rail link should have received compensation. In January the Ombudsman, William Reid, found there had been maladministration by the Department of Transport because it had refused to pay compensation. But Dr Mawhinney and the department's permanent secretary, Sir Patrick Brown, argued that he was wrong.

The Government feared that by changing the rules on compensation to pay it to these families, thousands of others would be eligible and therefore upset the financial basis of many transport schemes.

However, the more emollient Sir George now appears to be trying to get himself off the hook without creating a precedent. In a letter to the committee published yesterday he said that while he did not agree the Government was guilty of maladministration: "The Government is prepared to consider afresh whether a scheme might be formulated to implement the Committee's recommendation that redress should be granted to those affected to an extreme and exceptional degree by generalised blight."