The Tokyo District Court on Friday ordered the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to suspend its forcible expropriation of land in the western Tokyo city of Akiruno for the construction of a new expressway.

The metropolitan government was acting on behalf of the central government in securing the land for the 300-km-long Kenoudo Expressway, which, once complete, would form a virtually circular route around the greater metropolitan area.

Six Akiruno landowners refusing to sell their land had sought judicial intervention to stop their land from being forcibly taken.

In Friday’s ruling, presiding Judge Masayuki Fujiyama ordered that this process be halted until a ruling is handed down in a separate lawsuit filed by residents seeking a court injunction to nullify the expropriation order itself.

“It is inappropriate for construction (in Akiruno) to proceed without discerning how the court rules (in the other case),” Fujiyama said.

“Unless the central government can prove the legality of the project during the ongoing trial, it is clear that the residents will win.”

The latter statement constitutes an unusual reference to proceedings in a separate case.

There is no known precedent in which land expropriation tied to road construction has been suspended by the courts. While the metropolitan government responded to Friday’s ruling by saying it would appeal, the move temporarily halts proceedings and could affect the entire construction plan.

In handing down the ruling, Fujiyama said that the six plaintiffs currently live on the land in question and would be forced to leave their homes should the eminent domain plan go ahead.

“As such, the benefits they would lose (with the move) cannot be easily replaced,” he said, adding that progress on the relevant part of the expressway would not immediately affect the entire construction program, and there would be little adverse effects on the public welfare due to the suspension order.

Meanwhile, officials at the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry were shocked by the news.

“The land affected by the ruling only involves a 370-meter stretch of the (proposed) road,” one senior official said. “Although the project is expected to boost the economy by 30 billion yen annually, it’s already three years behind its original completion date.”

The land at the center of the lawsuit is in the vicinity of what is expected to be the site of the expressway’s Akiruno Interchange. The construction project itself is being spearheaded by the central government.

In September 2002, the metropolitan government’s Expropriation Committee decided to forcibly take over the land, with these procedures beginning in June.

The plans for the Kenoudo Expressway were first unveiled in 1984.

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