LOCAL authorities are forging ahead with multi-million pound road building schemes without fully assessing the dangers to the environment, according to a survey by a conservation watchdog.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) surveyed each authority's new transport plans - including 14 schemes in the North-East - and found many risked damaging the countryside and adding to traffic congestion.

The organisation is lobbying the Government to reject many of the schemes, including Newcastle's £13.4m Scotswood Road Improvement plan which will connect an industrial site at Newburn Hough to the city. Instead, it says, the council should consider extending the city's Metro system.

It will launch its findings, drawn from the tables which authorities complete when they bid for Government funding, at a major conference on bypass building in London today.

Nic Best, North-East regional policy officer for the CPRE, said authorities were allowing industrial estates to be developed on sites away from towns and destroying greenfield sites by creating new roads to them.

"They decide they want industrial developments then they build the roads, most across greenfield sites. More roads just increases car use which leads to more emissions.

"It would be better to put in a light rail link but funding is simpler to find for roads.

"If it was a bypass it would reduce traffic temporarily, but if nothing else is done it just moves it further down the line."

But the survey has drawn fierce criticism from authorities in the North-East.

Brian Ham, director of enterprise, environment and culture, at Newcastle City Council, said: "The CPRE needs to look at the real world if they are serious about encouraging brownfield developments, then they have to accept that we need to improve road links into these sites.

"That is what the Scotswood Road inquiry is all about - connecting a 200-acre brownfield site at Newburn Hough to the rest of the city."

A spokesman for Durham County Council said: "The few major road schemes that are being proposed will bring significant benefits to local people, such as the removal of heavy traffic from roads closed to schools and residential areas, as well as reductions in noise and air pollution.