NESTING songbirds are to receive priority protection as a city's multi-million pound park and ride takes shape in coming months.

Main construction starts soon on three sites around the outskirts of Durham as part of the plan to ease traffic congestion on city centre roads.

Preparatory work has involved diverting public utilities and cutting back hedgerows near the proposed park and ride interchanges, at Howlands Farm, on South Road, on the southern entry to the city, at Sniperley, off the A691/A167 roundabout to the north-west, and at Carrville, alongside the A690 north-eastern approach.

But surveys have revealed birds nesting at two of the locations, so a decision has been made to leave hedges undisturbed until the fledglings have safely flown the nests.

Chris Tunstall, the county council's deputy chief executive, said: "Because of the timing of the work, we have taken steps to protect any birds resident on the sites.

"The surveys have shown a song thrush nesting at Howlands Farm and a blackbird and chaffinch at Sniperley.

"They won't be disturbed during the construction works and the hedges will be left in place until the young birds are safely away, and the nests are empty."

The £9m park and ride scheme is part of a traffic management masterplan for Durham, which includes on-street parking charges and the country's first congestion toll charge, successfully reducing traffic levels on the narrow roads of the city centre peninsula.

During the park and ride construction, traffic management will be in place, including a temporary 40mph speed limit on the A690, near the Carrville site, and on the A167 and A691, around Sniperley.

Mr Tunstall warned that some disruption is inevitable and motorists should allow extra time for journeys.

"We will, however, be working closely with our partners to ensure any unavoidable disruption is kept to a minimum and that traffic can flow freely past the sites."

Work is being carried out by Balfour Beatty and Cumbrian Construction.

Each park and ride site will be linked to the city centre by shuttle buses every ten minutes from Monday to Saturday, between 7am and 7pm.

It will add 1,100 car parking spaces and is expected to be in operation before Christmas.