PRODUCTION at Nissan's Sunderland car factory has been temporarily halted costing the company thousands of pounds.

Staff returned from the annual two-week summer shutdown to be told maintenance work had taken longer than expected and the press shop, which produces body parts, was out of action.

The problem, which came to light on Monday, has resulted in the biggest unplanned shut-down in the plant's 30-year history.

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Every day, up to 2,000 cars are made at Nissan Sunderland, the biggest and most productive in Europe, but bosses admitted that car making on both of its lines would not restart until next week.

Some of the factory's 6,700 workers have been given the option of booking lieu time or holidays until the work is completed, or carrying out other jobs.

A spokesman for Nissan said: "We can confirm the production schedule has been temporarily suspended at Sunderland Plant following scheduled maintenance work in our press shop.

Panel production is being transferred to an alternative press line for vehicle assembly to resume in the coming days.

"Following the repair we will return to full production on both lines, so customers can be reassured there will be minimal impact on their orders."

The spokesman added: "Production is continuing in some areas, for example our Sunderland Plant supplies other Nissan and Renault plants with electric vehicle batteries and cylinder heads. Staff in mainline shops are supporting the repair, taking on other assignments and taking part in training activities.

"We expect this to be a short-term issue and to recover any lost production following the completion of the repair."

The company declined to speculate on the financial impact of the problem.

Prior to the planned summer break 365 workers who were employed on temporary contracts at the plant lost their jobs, following a dip in demand.

The recent setbacks follow a succession of record-breaking years at the factory which produces more cars in a year than the entire output of the Italian car industry.

Nissan has added 2,000 people to its North-East workforce in the past two years to support a £1bn new model investment programme and deliver record sales in Europe.

This year, the company expects to make more than 500,000 cars in Sunderland for a third consecutive year.

Investment in the North-East Sunderland factory, which includes an expansion to include production lines for sister brand Infiniti, is going ahead as planned.