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£200,000 bill for ignoring new road laws

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A NORFOLK couple last week won £200,000 in compensation after the county council and Department for Transport (DfT) failed to implement new road laws.

Norfolk County Council refused to buy Mr and Mrs Balchin's home in 1992 after it was blighted by plans to build a new highway close to the property.

This was despite a change in the Highways Act in 1991 which required it to do so.

Last Wednesday the Local Government and Parliamentary Ombudsmen published their investigations into a complaint from the couple. In July 1987 the council announced plans to build the A1151 Wroxham/Hoveton bypass. These were later scrapped in 1996.

The proposed route abutted Mr Balchin's self-built home but did not encroach on his land. Initially there was no legal requirement for the council to buy the property, so it refused.

Mr Balchin used the £435,000 house as security for his building company. But when the value of his property fell by 50% the bank froze all the couple's accounts and denied them further loans.

The change to the Highways Act in 1991 gave the council new powers to buy houses affected by road schemes where purchasing the property would alleviate hardship.

Mr Balchin repeated his request for the council to buy his house in 1992. By then he had been forced into rented accommodation as his wife was ill with stress. The council again refused.

In 1998 Mr Balchin sold his property for £240,000 which was only enough to cover the couple's debts after the collapse of his business.

Norfolk County Council agreed to pay the suggested £100,000 for the impact on the Balchins.

The ombudsmen ruled that the DfT was equally at fault for failing to highlight the changes to the Act to the council after it rejected the purchase request in 1992. It also agreed to pay the couple £100,000.

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