By Liz Bell and Keith Platt
A PUBLIC meeting organised by the Save Our Briars protest group and attended by about 200 people has called for the Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience event to be moved away from the wildlife sanctuary.
Pressure for Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to relocate the months long nightly event away from The Briars wildlife sanctuary continued this week with protests at Tuesday’s council meeting at Rosebud.
Louise Page said the protesters wanted answers to some of the missing details around the secrecy of council’s decision to back the event.
“Why was The Briars master plan – which states that wildlife sanctuary is a place for “quiet reflection”, walks and animal observation – not adhered to?”
However, it is believed shifting the venue at this stage could see the shire sued for breach of contract by the event’s producers, Warner Bros. Discovery Global Themed Entertainment in partnership with Fever and IMG.
Possibly the biggest single event ever held on the peninsula, the shire says Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience “will unlock significant lasting benefits, both for The Briars and the Mornington Peninsula more broadly” (Potter sequel at the ballot box, The News 29/1/24).
The shire’s website also provides links to buy tickets.
On Monday morning a petition at change.org calling on the shire to not hold the event in The Briars sanctuary contained more than 20,600 signatures. A councillor, who did not wish to be identified, said “40,000 to 50,000” tickets had been sold for the Harry Potter show.
The mayor Cr Simon Brooks was almost shouted down when he told last week’s public meeting at Mornington Yacht Club that councillors had not seen the fine details of the contract with Warner Bros and could not reveal what they did know because of the confidentiality agreement signed by most councillors.
Brooks said confidentiality clauses were common in council matters that included intellectual property, and particularly when commercial in-confidence was required.
He said community unrest over the Harry Potter event being held within the fenced wildlife sanctuary at The Briars had seen some councillors pushing for a “review” of the shire’s events approval process.
“I share your frustrations with the way the conversation has occurred,” Brooks said, in reference to the secrecy around the contract.
He also said that when council officers considered the proposal, financial benefit had been the “elephant in the room”, because council had to consider “new and innovative” ways to ensure the sustainability of The Briars.
The 3000-person a night event is expected to be a financial windfall for the council, despite councillors apparently not being privy to those details.
Mornington MP Chris Crewther told the meeting he believed it would be a great event but was being held in the “wrong” location.
Peninsula environmentalist and newly awarded OAM recipient Gidja Walker doubted that 3000 people a night would not lead to visitors straying from the paths and causing environmental and ecological damage.
She also questioned the legitimacy of any ecological assessments done before the contract was signed with Warner Bros, given that the short turnaround between the council being approached mid last year and approval being given by the end of the year.
“If you want to remove vegetation and get a proper ecological assessment done, it takes about a year, sometimes more,” she said. “I can’t see how this can have been done properly”.
The event requires 18 sheds, two kilometres of cabling for lighting, sound effects and electronic figures, a portable toilets and generators.