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Department of Transport guidelines by which civil servants consider applications for compensation by people claimi...
Department of Transport guidelines by which civil servants consider applications for compensation by people claiming they will be seriously affected by roadworks were fiercely criticised by a London High Court judge on Friday (November 26).

'To put it mildly they are inept and a complete shambles,' Mr Justice Latham said. 'Whoever drafted them in the Department of Transport did not apply their minds to what is contained in the 1980 Highways Act,' he added.

'There seems to be a mismatch between what was expected from applicants by the Department of Transport to come within the guidelines and what is actually contained in the Act.'

The judge was commenting during Judicial Review proceedings brought by retired Gloucestershire couple, David and Barbara Owen, aged 64 and 65, who are seeking a declaration that their home will be 'seriously affected' by the construction of the A417 Cirencester by-pass.

They claim the Department was wrong to refuse to purchase their bungalow close to where the by-pass will cut through the countryside. The couple claim their home near Cirencester in an area of outstanding natural beauty, which they bought in 1991 for £175,000, has become 'virtually unsaleable' since the true picture emerged of what the roadworks will entail.

Their counsel, Mr Ian Glen, earlier told the court that 'the full horror of the scheme did not transpire' until after the Owens' had spent nearly £300,000 purchasing the property and then extending it and acquiring adjacent land.

As well as the by-pass, the works, which are expected to last two years, will entail the construction of a viaduct, a bridge, and the excavation of a landfill site just 200 metres from their home, the court heard.

The couple are both suffering from 'stress-related illnesses' and are 'under pressure' from their mortgage lenders, the Chelsea Building Society, who are concerned that the property may now be in negative equity, the court was told.

They both wish to move away from the area so that Mr Owen, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Cheshire Regiment, can start his own agricultural machinery business, Mr Glen said.

David Elvin, counsel for the Department of Transport, said the ministry had 'bent over backwards' to find a way of compensating the Owens'. 'Regardless of whether or not the guidelines are unlawful, the decision-maker also looked at many other factors going beyond the policy before finding that he had no choice but to refuse their application for compensation,' Mr Elvin said.

'I accept that the guidelines have not been drafted as well as one would like but in this application they are an irrelevancy.' He added that the Owens' should have known what the roadworks would entail before they purchased the property.

'There seems to have been a complete absence of anyone doing a sensible exercise and finding out what the by-pass would involve,' Mr Elvin told the court. The couple are seeking Judicial Review ofdecisions by the Department of Transport on December 3 last year and April 20 this year refusing to purchase their property at Ashgrove, The Whiteways, Baunton, near Cirencester.

Mr Justice Latham reserved his decision and said he hoped to give judgement on Thursday (December 2).

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