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Protesters win right to see secret BNRR clauses

SECRET CLAUSES in the concession agreement for the planned Birmingham Northern Relief Road can be shown to anti-roads protesters, a High Court Judge ruled this week.

The decision followed a challenge to the Government's refusal to publish the terms of the 53 year concession by protest group the Alliance Against BNRR. It had argued that the public has a right to examine contracts affecting the environment (NCE 28 May).

Midland Expressway, concession company for the £650M directly-tolled motorway, warned the ruling could undermine the basis of Public Private Partnerships.

A spokesman for MEL said: 'If the private sector cannot rely on confidentiality in commercially sensitive situations being upheld then this would undermine the whole basis of public private partnership.'

However, in his complex 54 page ruling, Mr Justice Sullivan upheld Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's right to exercise discretion over which clauses - relating primarily to compensation for cancellation of the project - the public would be allowed to see.

Alliance chairman Charles Bradshaw-Smith admitted that while the group was pleased with the outcome, the ruling did not go as far as it had hoped. 'The judge stated that John Prescott broke the law in not giving us disclosure of the agreement and that's exactly what we were after,' he said.

He claimed the case had established a principle for future private finance contracts following an announcement by the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions last week that it would 'place a high value on accessibility of information in all future contracts'.

Both parties have been given leave to appeal against the judgment. A separate challenge by the Alliance to orders authorising construction of the road is due to be heard in October.

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