Repair work following a landslip beneath a road linking a north Northumberland village with the A697 could cost up to £3million.
Major damage has been caused to the B6344 at Cragend, near Rothbury, following the landslide on Boxing Day, and it is worsening on a daily basis.
On the back of a site meeting with specialist engineers on Tuesday, the county council is warning that the road is likely to remain closed for at least nine months.
And on the basis of a visual examination of the conditions on site at present, it is anticipated that the cost of repairs could be as high as £3million.
Danny Alexander MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is in Rothbury today on a visit related to rural broadband (see full story, right), but time is also being made for him to visit the site of the landslip as an appeal may need to be made to central Government to foot part of the hefty bill.
Police and the county council were first called to the stretch of the B6344, between the village and Weldon Bridge, after deep cracks appeared in the road on December 26.
They were caused by a landslide below the level of the road, in four separate sections within a 300-metre stretch at Cragend.
The road has been closed to motorists since then, but the state of the road has worsened considerably in the past two weeks.
Now the council will also be restricting access to the site for members of the public wishing to visit on foot, as the severity of the slip is such that sections could collapse at any time.
The lengthy closure means that the B6341 is now the only access to Rothbury from the east.
Coun Alan Thompson, executive member responsible for highways at Northumberland County Council, said: “We anticipate that it will be around three months until the site investigation and material testing has been completed and a preferred solution has been identified.”
The council also warned that access for the ground investigations and eventual construction works will be complicated by the unstable nature of the ground, access difficulties and the fact that the area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Rothbury councillor Steven Bridgett said: “I do not intend to paint any great illusion that there will be some sort of quick fix on the Cragend road.
“I think if we are straightforward with the public from the outset as to how serious this landslip is and continue to communicate with them regularly we are halfway to solving the problem.
“There are more slips occurring every day and I think the current estimate of £3million is more accurate than the previous amount given the severity of movement now occurring.
“The council already has limited funds given the budget cuts so may well have to make a special case to central Government for assistance with this project, and I hope by letting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury see first-hand, this may assist the process.
“I will continue to push the project forward within council, however, I am pleased to see this has already been given priority and funds already committed.”
Last week, Coun Thompson asked for patience from residents and businesses in the area, adding : “I want to reassure people that we will be working as quickly as we can to determine what work is required, and will also be working with local businesses and residents to do as much as we can to mitigate the impact of this essential closure.”
Highways teams have introduced permanent barriers to ensure that drivers do not use the road between Pauperhaugh and Rothbury, and installed diversion signs.
A diversion is in place via the B6341 and includes illuminated message signs on the A697 to give advance warning.
Coun Bridgett has highlighted the importance of ensuring that the B6341 into Rothbury is gritted in the case of cold weather as it is now the sole access into the village from the east and the A697.
He has made a request to the traffic management department for some large-scale interactive signs to inform motorists that Rothbury and Coquetdale are still open despite the road closure signs.
The council has said up-to-date information on the B6344 will be available on its website – www.northumberland.gov.uk and via it’s alerts on Facebook and Twitter.