PEOPLE living in County Durham fear the final death knell of a popular tourist attraction following a public inquiry due to begin next week.
Traffic was banned from using Stanhope Ford in Weardale, County Durham in 2008, after a rise in the number of rescues from vehicles which had become stranded or swept away.
Durham County Council wants the crossing to remain closed, but there have been a number of objections, including more than 1,200 from a Facebook campaign.
The public inquiry will start on Tuesday at 10am at St Thomas Church Hall, Stanhope and is expected to last four days.
Since 2001, 23 rescues operations have been carried out at the ford.
Proposals to keep the crossing closed have been supported by police, fire and ambulance services as well as the Environment Agency.
However, many local people view it as a convenient shortcut, as well as a popular tourist attraction.
Durham County Councillor John Shuttleworth said: “The odds are stacked against the ford remaining open, but it will be a crying shame if it is to be closed permanently.
“I believe the authorities could have done more to ensure it remained open, if there had been the will to do so.”
The council claims expensive work is needed to be done on the river bed, although objectors to its closure say the road surface has been in the same condition for several decades.
More than 1,200 people have joined a campaign group on Facebook to keep the ford open, while 13 letters calling for it to be closed – including from the police – have been sent to the council. George Jolley, organiser of the annual Beamish Safety and Reliability Vehicle Rally, which will celebrate its 42nd run in June, said the ford was of huge historical significance, as well as being a popular feature on the rally.
The rally, held every year on Father’s Day, is a re-enactment of runs held before the Second World War, when vehicle manufacturers would test their cars’ durability and performance in challenging terrain.
Until its closure in 2008, the ford was one of 14 testing points on the 155-mile rally, which now attracts 150 classic vehicles.
Mr Jolley, who said the ford has probably been a crossing point for 2,000 years, said: “It was always a popular stop-off on our rally and we never had any problems with vehicles being stuck. There was only one time in 2006 when we had to stop cars crossing due to the river conditions.
“Why spoil the experience for thousands of sensible drivers who cross without incident for the sake of a few irresponsible goons who try and cross at the wrong speed or time?”