A SOFA fly-tipped into the River Skerne has prompted the Environment Agency to call on the public to report possible flood hazards as winter draws in.

The black settee was dumped into the river close to Darlington's centre recently and left there for days, despite members of the public alerting the authorities.

Darlington Borough Council initially refused to remove the object, saying the flow of the river rendered conditions too dangerous for its workers.

In emails sent to one person, a council representative said that the water was “too deep and too fast flowing” and the sofa too far from the riverbank for its team to risk retrieving it.

They added: “The safety of staff is paramount and we would not put any member of staff at risk to remove this.”

The council's response prompted criticism from the woman who reported the problem, who criticised the authority for "sending mixed messages" over its zero-tolerance approach to littering by leaving the sofa in situ for days.

The authority claimed it had contacted the Environment Agency in relation to the object but the agency’s policy is to only remove items if they are obstructing the flow of water and presenting a flood risk.

After assessing the problem on Monday, a spokeswoman for the EA said the sofa did not present an immediate risk but would be removed during upcoming maintenance work as it could move and cause a blockage.

Later that afternoon – shortly after being contacted by The Northern Echo - it was removed by council workers assisted by staff from the town’s fire station.

In light of the issue, the Environment Agency urged members of the public to report any other items in the river that they believe could cause flooding.

The EA spokeswoman said the sofa could have been carried downstream to become a blockage causing the build-up of debris and an increased risk of flooding.

She warned that flood risks could worsen in winter months, adding: “We assess reports of obstructions in rivers on a case by case basis.

“We would remove items which pose an immediate risk of flooding but any fly-tipping of rubbish in rivers is the responsibility of the local authority. We would urge the public to report any blockages in main rivers to our 24-hour hotline.”

To report river blockages, contact the Environment Agency on 0800 807060 or to report fly-tipping, call Darlington Borough Council on streetscene@darlington.gov.uk or 01325 405111.