A CASH-STRAPPED local authority would have to spend more than £100,000 to make a popular river ford safe again to traffic.
The information, revealed in a report by Durham County Council engineers, appears to have finally spelled the final death knell for Stanhope Ford in Weardale.
Firefighters had to be called to the ford 23 times between 2001 and 2008 to rescue stranded drivers and their passengers.
In some cases satellite navigation systems were blamed for leading motorists across the ford in unsuitable weather.
But a report by Terry Collins, corporate director for neighbourhood services at the council, says “a significant build-up of rocks and gravel downstream of the ford” has caused increased water depth levels across it, rendering it more dangerous than it used to be.
In his report to the Highways Committee Mr Collins adds: “The Environment Agency are not in agreement with removing this material, considered to be a natural deposit. The deposit amounting to thousands of tons of river bed material is claimed by the Environment Agency to play a vitally important role in preventing down stream flooding of The Butts.
“The increased river depth combined with the velocity of the river’s flow across the ford is considered to be one of the primary reasons why vehicles are becoming stranded in the river.”
Mr Collins said the concrete structure of the ford bed had been subject to a “considerable amount of erosion damage due to spate river conditions.”
He said the cost of refurbishment would cost “upwards of £100,000” but added that the erosion of the ford was not “the primary concern of the county council”.
“In this instance it is clear from past experiences of rescues that there is a continued risk to motorists using Stanhope Ford, some of whom persist in their attempts to traverse the ford during spate conditions despite warning signs,” he said.
Mr Collins will recommend to the Highways Committee that the ford be closed to traffic, but stepping stones remain for pedestrians. But local county councillor John Shuttleworth said: “The people of Stanhope want the ford to remain open. It is only the stupidity of motorists from outside the area who have caused it to be closed.”
Stanhope Ford was closed by police using emergency powers in spring 2008, following a rising number of emergency rescues on site. This was then updated with a Traffic Regulation Order issued by the county council on June 6, 2008.
Last November Durham County Council issued a statement warning that the authority was considering closing the ford for good.
At the time Mr Collins said: “We have and are continuing to work with both the emergency services and local groups and residents to try to find ways of providing a safe crossing for vehicles at the ford but it remains a very dangerous location.
“As part of our consultations we have looked at options such as electronic barriers and major works but options are limited and the site has proven to be either unsuitable or works, prohibitively expensive.
“Our highest priority is to protect the safety of the public and this commitment will be at the heart of the final recommendation to Highways Committee when this consultation ends.”