VILLAGERS are being urged to enter the Christmas spirit by decorating their homes for the festive period.

West Auckland Parish Council has launched a Christmas decoration competition in a bid to brighten up the village this winter.

Families and businesses in the centre of the village are asked to light up their properties to make the neighbourhood attractive for residents and welcoming to visitors.

A cash prize of £50 is up for grabs to the owners of the best decorated house around the village green or on roads approaching the village.

And the best decorated business will be awarded a trophy for its efforts.

The council, which formed in May this year, had originally hoped to use some of its £10,000 annual budget to provide decorations for the village.

But the cost of adorning each lamp-post with lights was estimated at about £1,200 to £1,500, which the council felt it was unable to justify spending on decorations.

Chairman Coun John Ferguson said: "We would have liked to fund community lights but couldn't use a large chunk of the budget to decorate the village for just a few weeks of the year. Hopefully this competition is a more affordable way of encouraging people to brighten up the village for the festive period and will help pull the village together.

"If everyone gets behind the effort it will make West Auckland really attractive which is great for community pride and the Christmas spirit.

"If a village doesn't make the effort to look good at this time of year people will drive straight through, but if it does, they may stop and use the businesses."

Decorated premises will be judged in mid-December and winners are expected to be announced and presented with their prizes in the week before Christmas.

One of the council's main tasks since it started seven months ago has been to work on a parish plan with the help of £4,800 funding from The Countryside Agency.

A committee of 14 residents and two councillors is working on the plan to set out aims for the future of the community on issues such as the environment and housing.