ONLY men need apply for the position of Father Christmas in a town's traditional Christmas Eve event after councillors agreed to 'politely decline' a woman's request to step into his boots.

Great Aycliffe Town Council rejected a sub-committee recommendation to allow a female volunteer, who wanted to be Santa rather than a navigator for this year's Town Tour, to take on the role.

Members heard that enough men had volunteered to fill the 14 Santa roles needed so decided not to run the risk of awkward questions from children if they spotted a woman in costume.

Leader Bob Fleming said it was important not to take the magic out of Christmas for children and called on fellow members to 'thank the lady who volunteered to do the role but we will be having only male Santas'.

Leader Councillor Bob Fleming, a great grandfather and retired primary school headteacher, said: “In my experience there is a small window in a child’s life when children are innocent, full of wonder and joy as they look forward to Christmas.

“Yes, they look forward to carols and nativity plays but most of all a visit off Santa Claus.”

All but one member supported his proposal to only let men be Santa so they do not “spoil the wonder and magic and leave parents to pick up the pieces”.

Councillor Arun Chandran supported him.

He said if there was ever a shortage of male volunteers he could be convinced to support female Santas if it meant more children got to see Santa in their street– but not for the sake of political correctness over the public’s wishes and tradition.

“This has nothing to do with equality.

“My understanding is that Santa Claus, otherwise called Father Christmas among other names, is a male role," said Cllr Chandran.

“I believe that children in particular will be expecting a male Santa and that may well reflect badly on this council if we were to deliberately introduce a form of political correctness.”

Cllr Kathy Beetham said while she did not agree Santa must be played by a man and felt it was 'blatant discrimination' to exclude women, she supported the motion as it was what the community wanted.

Cllr John Clare said it was clear residents do not want the tradition changing but that in future, as a 'modern-thinking society', it would be valid to consider whether Santa could be female, black, a rainbow or disabled.

The debate came in the wake of a public campaign to save the tours after the council became concerned about the legalities of carrying Santa on the back of a van and insurance implications.

Last month, after being reassured by Durham’s top police officer Chief Constable Mike Barton that his officers were not ‘elf and safety’ mad and the tour could continue if the sleigh travels at a safe pace, the council agreed it would go ahead.