Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Friday, 20 March 2009

Spawning fish delay ford opening

Stanhope Ford
The cost of rescues has led to calls for the ford's closure

The annual opening of County Durham's notorious Stanhope Ford has been postponed because of spawning fish.

The river crossing, where a string of motorists have been rescued after their cars became stranded or swept away, is usually open from April to October.

Repairs to its concrete pad are being carried out, but have been put on hold while fish spawn in the River Wear.

The county council said water levels also dictated the work schedule, and it was not known when the ford would open.

Warning signs were erected at either side of the crossing several years ago, but have failed to prevent some drivers unfamiliar with the area from attempting to cross when the river is swollen.

The high cost of rescue operations led to calls for the ford's closure and in 2007 it was shut throughout winter for the first time.

Stanhope Ford
The ford's concrete pad needs to be repaired

However, on 1 April last year - only hours after re-opening - two off-duty soldiers became trapped in their car after trying to drive across fast-flowing water.

The ford has remained closed since then.

In the meantime, highways engineers have found damage to the slipway, which could result in motorists sliding off into river.

A spokeswoman for Durham County Council said the Environment Agency had advised that work be postponed during spawning season.

She added: "The temporary closure will be extended beyond 1 April to allow the remainder of the work to be completed."

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