Belgian Harry Potter theme park draws backlash from local residents

Belgian Harry Potter theme park draws backlash from local residents
Credit: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga

The Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience theme park, which recently opened in Groenenberg Park, a few kilometres southwest of Brussels, offers the possibility of a "nocturnal experience on a forest path inhabited by magical creatures and sparkling with wonders."

For local residents, however, the theme park represents nothing short of an ecological and moral disaster.

According to local resident Hugo De Greef, the theme park, with its crass containers, smelly toilets, harsh evening lighting, and incessantly loud diesel generators, has virtually destroyed what once was beautiful about the historic Groenenberg Park.

"The whole thing is completely out of proportion," De Greef told De Standaard. "[The theme park] is too big and goes way beyond what [Groenenberg] Park can cope with. It is at odds with what this piece of nature should mean."

De Greef's sentiments were shared by fellow local resident Hugo Schoukens.

"This is simply an amusement park," Schoukens said dismissively. "The nature in the park is inevitably damaged as a result... I understand the economic logic, but it must not come at nature's expense."

Should the Forbidden Forest itself be forbidden?

De Greef and Schoukens are currently petitioning government officials to have the theme park, which is situated on Flemish Government-owned territory and scheduled to run until February next year, immediately abolished.

"I am advocating that these areas no longer be commercially exploitable," De Greef said. "The natural park itself, and nothing else, should be the event."

Both De Green and Schoukens recently drafted a protest letter on behalf of several other like-minded local residents to the mayors of the nearby municipalities of Sint-Pieters-Leeuw and Lennik, as well as several senior Flemish Government Ministers.

"There needs to be clarity about what can and cannot be done in Flemish nature," Schoukens added.

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Thus far, Schoukens and De Greef's joint efforts have received a mixed reaction from government officials.

"Our experts have already investigated the theme park's impact on nature," said Hilde Groenweghe of Natuurinvest, the Flemish Government agency responsible for leasing state-owned land.

"The damage to the fauna and flora are negligible. No trees or plants have disappeared or will disappear. The containers and stalls are standing up the lawn. The other materials are placed in such a way that nature suffers as little damage as possible."

A spokesperson for Zuhal Demir (N-VA), the Flemish Minister for the Environment, offered a far more conciliatory response.

"It seems that the scale of the event has been underestimated," the spokesperson said. "This was revealed after contacts between the neighbourhood and the Flemish Government. The impact of future initiatives will be better estimated."

The Forbidden Forest theme park — the first of its kind on Continental Europe and the fourth globally — opened on 5 November. It is predicted to attract a total of 200,000 tourists by the time of its February closure. Tickets begin at €29 for adults and €19 for children.

Those attending are strongly advised to remember Professor Dumbledore's dictum that, however realistic the experience might be, "it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live".

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