COUNCIL chiefs have announced a multi-million pound roads shake-up aimed at tackling a city’s growing air pollution problem.

Durham County Council traffic bosses want to install ‘smart’ traffic lights on the Leazes Bowl and Gilesgate roundabouts to cut rush hour congestion and fumes on the A690 through Durham City.

The so-called Scoot system, which would cost around £2.5m, would monitor traffic levels and flow and change signals to ease polluting logjams.

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The cash has been agreed from the council’s budget, but consultation must take place before a timetable can be agreed and works begin.

Dave Wafer, the council’s strategic traffic manager, said Scoot would not solve Durham’s air quality issues overnight but it would help.

Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Wilkes welcomed the move but said the council was moving far too slowly to tackle the city’s ‘serious’ pollution problem.

He accused the authority of having done nothing since an area of Durham including 332 properties was declared an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) in April 2011, amid concerns over rising levels of nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant derived from vehicle exhausts.

Since 2011, Durham’s AQMA has had to be extended to parts of Neville’s Cross and Elvet and a second AQMA declared in Chester-le-Street, covering Menceforth Cottages, Glen Terrace and Pelton Fell Terrace.

Also, a deadline for drawing up an Air Quality Action Plan had to be extended from December 2013 to March 2015.

However, council chiefs say they have been using the time to produce a plan that will make a real impact, rather than picking easy options.

They also stress the public should not be worried about the pollution levels.

Traffic chiefs blame Durham’s air problems on decisions taken in the 1960s and 1970s to send all traffic through Durham City, across Milburngate Bridge, rather than build a bypass; increasing car usage; and increasing use of diesel engines, which produce more nitrous oxides than petrol engines.

Around 40,000 vehicles cross Milburngate Bridge every day, two-thirds of which are just passing through rather than visiting Durham.

In the longer term, the council wants to build western and northern relief roads for the city, linking the B6302 near Stonebridge to the A691 at Sniperley and Rotary Way, near Newton Hall, to the A690 east of the Belmont exit, respectively, in the hope of cutting congestion in the city centre.