Santa’s Christmas Eve Tours will continue in their usual format, after Great Aycliffe Town Council revealed the police and their insurers have confirmed the tours are safe to go ahead.
The local authority has confirmed Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable, Mike Barton, and the council’s insurance firm have OK’d the tours in their usual format – and ‘Santa’ can ride in the back of the vehicles providing they’re driving “at very low speeds in residential areas”.
The council has also admitted due to the “unprecedented public response” to the issue, it has “really brought home to the Council just how valued the Santa Tours event is by the local community”.
The council is also appealing for volunteers – Santa’s and drivers – to offer their services.
In a statement issued today, the town council said: “First of all, the Council wishes to make it clear that it has never had any intention of cancelling the Santa Tours and the spirit of Christmas will prevail, as it always has, in Great Aycliffe.
“The Council also wishes to make a formal response to a misleading post on the Facebook page of a local media outlet over the weekend which misinterpreted the Council’s intentions in regard to our Santa Tours event.
“This has led to some very negative press in the local and national media and also on social media.
“With the combined efforts of the staff, volunteers and the generous donation of vehicles, the Council has over many years overcome many operational issues such as a lack of volunteers, shortage of vehicles, a growing town, anti-social behavior towards volunteers, and severe weather.
“Despite this it has always continued to provide this much loved event.
“Following last year’s event, it was brought to the Council’s attention that it may not have been complying with the requirements of the Road Traffic Act when transporting Santa, on public highways, on the back of his sleigh.
“Clearly the Council needed to take these concerns very seriously as it, and indeed Santa himself cannot break the law, or put our volunteers or staff at any risk. Should there be an accident, the Council would not only be putting the volunteers at risk of death or injury, it would be breaking the law and raising the risk of prosecution and the invalidation of the Council’s insurance cover.
“Therefore Council Officers and the Council’s Events Sub Committee having been investigating these concerns and recently considered a report identifying possible options for ensuring that this much loved and long running community tradition can continue to be provided in a safe and legal manner.
“It is also important to point out that this is absolutely not about budget cuts. The Council has not cut a penny from its Events Budget either in the current year or next year’s budgets.
“As the local community is aware, the Events Sub-Committee recommended to the Council’s Recreation Committee that the tours continue to be provided, but that they are instead potentially changed to have the tours stop for a set period of time at a number of preset and advertised locations on each route.
“Following a meeting of the Events Sub-Committee on 3 October officers and members addressed the situation to try and find a suitable format for the tours. Councillor Bob Fleming, as Leader of the Council, and Councillor Malcolm Iveson as Chairman of the Events Sub-Committee, together with appropriate officers, took the decision to contact the Chief Constable at Durham Police for some clarification on how the Road Traffic Act requirements would be interpreted and applied by his officers.
“Whilst it is confirmed that the Council would be in breach of the main requirements of the Road Traffic Act in allowing Santa to travel on the back of a vehicle on a public highway, the Council is pleased to report that the Chief Constable has stated in writing that the safe use of floats and similar vehicles has some protection under Section 40A of the Road Traffic Act and he has used his discretion to confirm that, as long as the vehicles are travelling at very low speeds in residential areas i.e. at walking pace or below, then his officers would have no problem with Santa travelling on the back of the sleigh.
“However, he has also made clear that Santa must travel in the cab with a seatbelt when travelling at higher speeds than walking pace.
“This intervention and clarification by Durham Police has also helped to reassure and satisfy the Council’s insurance company, who have since confirmed that they would be happy to insure the event on the basis set out above i.e. that Santa only travels on the back of the sleigh at walking pace in the residential areas of the town.
“Subject to agreement at the Council’s Recreation Committee tonight, and the sourcing of enough volunteers and vehicles, the Council will be able to continue to provide the Santa Tours event in almost exactly the same way as it always has done.
“The unprecedented public response to this issue in recent days has really brought home to the Council just how valued the Santa Tours event is by the local community.
“If there are any members of the public or local companies out there who would be interested in loaning vehicles for the event or volunteering as a Santa, navigator or driver, please get in touch with the Council, and help us to spread the Christmas cheer in Great Ayclliffe.”