A CRUMBLING work of art is to be demolished just six years after it was built at a cost of more than £300,000.

The Civic Heart Arch, in Chester-le-Street, has been fenced off for the last six months after hexagonal briquettes covering the surface began to come loose due to weathering.

Engineers said the cost of fully repairing the controversial structure, built in 2007 as part of a £2.5m redevelopment of the town’s Market Place, would top £280,000, with a further £5,000-a-year bill for maintenance.

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A public consultation exercise carried out by Durham County Council found a massive 94 per cent of people in favour of demolishing the arch - leaving the authority to find almost £48,000 to knock it down and reinstate the site.

Kevan Jones MP, whose North Durham constituency includes Chester-le-Street, said: "I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are concerned about the huge costs, quoted in the consultation, for repairing and maintaining the arch, and I have written to Durham County Council on this matter.

"I firmly believe the only sensible option is to remove the arch, which has always been a monstrosity and which, in its current state of disrepair, is a real eyesore in the centre of town".

The arch cost £334,000 when it was built by the now defunct Chester-le-Street District Council. Created by artist Jo Fairfax, it was designed to represent the town’s Roman heritage.

But structural problems brought on by the winter weather left hexagonal briquettes coating the surface loose and the area has since been fenced off, with security around the site costing £300-a-month.

The arch was designed by artist Jo Fairfax, who said:  "It is extremely upsetting. As you can imagine, a lot of work went into it.

"It was nominated for several architecture awards and appears in books on European architecture and it seems a huge shame that it ends like this."

Mr Fairfax, who is known for his public artworks, said a lack of maintenance was to blame for water getting into the structure, which has caused damage particularly over recent harsh winters.

He said the design brief was to create something unusual, and it could have lasted for decades if properly maintained.

Coun Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said: "The feedback we have received from the consultation gives the clear message that residents and businesses in Chester-le-Street believe the best option for future of the town centre is the demolition of the arch.

"In line with our promise to the public, now that we know their wishes we will waste no time in taking action to remove the arch and make good the Market Place."

The council said that, weather permitting and subject to approval, demolition would begin at the end of February or beginning of March.

More than 900 people took part in the six-week consultation exercise, which ended on Monday.