Elf and safety prevents Father Christmas riding his sleigh in Sutton
One of Sutton's best loved Christmas traditions has fallen foul of health and safety concerns.
For decades a fundraising float has toured Cheam and Worcester Park with a volunteer dressed as Father Christmas on top of it.
It has been a highlight of the festive calendar, raising more than £130,000 for local charities since it first started in 1966.
But following a health and safety assessment it has been ruled too dangerous for Santa to sit on top of the 10ft float, that travels at walking pace around residential streets in the three week run-up to Christmas.
Santa must instead walk alongside the float, collecting money from residents.
He has been replaced by a plastic Father Christmas on top of the float.
The decision was taken by the Rotary Club of Cheam who have taken over the running of the float in recent years.
The concerns are that in previous years he would stand partly submerged in a sun roof, but this year a new vehicle means Santa would have to sit on a bolted down chair.
Grounding Santa has sparked outrage with parents and children who say it has spoiled the magic of the event.
It has also caused a row with former members of club Cheam Round Table, who first set up the tradition in 1966, and passed over running the float to the rotary club in 2009.
An insurance company willing to insure the float with Santa on top was found, but the rotary club still decided to scrap the tradition.
Jeff Jones who is the chairman of Cheam 41, a group made up of former round table members, said: "The float has been going for 40 odd years and Father Christmas has never fallen off.
"I had a big row with [the president of Cheam Rotary] but I couldn’t get him to change his mind.
"I basically said it was ridiculous. Common sense has gone out of the window."
Mum-of-three Sara Palmer, 43, from Sutton, has gone every year since she was a child and said it was a family tradition of theirs to visit the sleigh every year.
She said: "Not having him on top for three weeks of the year is ridiculous. The kids were like ‘Where’s Santa?’
"It’s just taking the magic out of it and they raise so much money for charity.
"It was always the highlight of Christmas. Now everything seems to have been taken away."
The sleigh was saved by the Rotary Club of Cheam in 2009 after the closure of its former organisers, the Cheam and Sutton Round Table Club.
Peter Bright, 71, from Banstead, is an honorary member of the rotary club and former member of the round table, who still helps to organise its tour each year, said he found a company which would insure the sleigh with Father Christmas on top.
He said however the majority decision taken by the Rotary Club meant that Father Christmas would not be sitting on top.
Cheam Rotary Club president Stephen Cunningham, 52, from Wallington, who has qualifications in health and safety, said: "From our point of view it’s a serious matter. We didn’t take this decision light-heartedly.
"I work in the construction industry and I have an obligation to make sure everyone goes home safely every night.
"We have got a new vehicle this year and someone proposed we had someone sitting on a chair bolted to the roof.
"But it is very dangerous - not only for us. So we said we couldn’t do that. Another rotary club somewhere else in the country had an accident.
"From my own point of view we have found it better with Father Christmas walking as he is able to interact with the youngsters better."
Responding to the negative reaction from some ex-Round Table members and Cheam 41 members, he said: "They were doing it 30 or 40 years ago when health and safety wasn’t such a big issue. You have to adopt to changing times."
Routes the float will take in the run-up to Christmas
- Thu 13 Cheam Road area
- Fri 14 York Road area
- Sun 16 Collingwood Road area
- Tue 18 Stoneleigh area
- Wed 19 Green Curve Banstead area
- Thu 20 Wickham Ave area
- Fri 21Fromondes Road area
- Sat 22 Langley Ave area
- Sun 23 Brocks Drive area
- Mon 24 Marlow Drive area
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