Council ghostbusters end Willow Court tours

A LOCAL tourism operator has been left fuming after the Derwent Valley Council decided to shut the business down. Tasmania’s Most Haunted has until the end of September to stop conducting tours at the council-owned Willow Court property and adjacent buildings known as the New Norfolk Distillery.

The business has been operating since 2014 and growing each year despite the impact of Covid. Owner Sharmaine Mansfield said last year the council gave her a $3000 grant to rebrand her tours and create new ones. “By providing this grant they approved and encouraged my business to host tours at Willow Court,’’ Ms Mansfield said.

“I rebranded to Willow Court Asylum Tours offering day and night tours at the site. I employ locals and was about to advertise for more staff due to increased tours. “My business is successful and I have doubled tours in the last two years. Considering we had Covid among all this, I believe this is pretty good. “Council is stopping my successful small tourism business.

“Bringing visitors to the Derwent Valley is good for the economy as visitors spend money in other areas such as accommodation, dining, shopping which also helps other local businesses.’’

In a letter sent to Ms Mansfield last Friday, Council General Manager Dean Griggs said the council had unanimously agreed the tours should stop within 30 days. “Our lawyers note that the authorisation for Tasmania’s Most Haunted to undertake tours within the buildings occupied by the distillery requires written approval by council,’’ Mr Griggs said. “I can now confirm that council has unanimously resolved the following: “That the Council order the cessation of all tours of the Council-owned and managed areas of Willow Court within 30 (thirty) days, to be reconsidered when the Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan is approved by Council and the guidelines recommended therein can be met”.

“The Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan and Guidelines, as referred to in the resolution, which are currently in development will provide council with a clear policy direction in relation to future and permitted use as part of activation for the site. “This includes consideration of Tasmania’s Most Haunted along with other activities over the longer term.’’

“The Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan and Guidelines will be presented to the council in the coming months and will inform any future activation of the site. It will likely be the next council to be elected in October 2022 who will take carriage of this important work.’’ Mayor Michelle Dracoulis said the decision would allow for a “reset for Willow Court against the backdrop of the Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan’’. “This includes any tours done by not-for-profit groups or site Friends Groups,’’ Mrs Dracoulis said.

“Tours will be reconsidered when the Willow Court Heritage Interpretation Plan is approved by council. “Tasmania’s Most Haunted has had no formal agreement with the council in terms of use of the common areas at Willow Court which are owned by the council, and those leased to other entities, since the original (and only) agreement lapsed in October 2019.

“The New Norfolk Distillery, which is primarily where Tasmania’s Most Haunted undertake their tours, have been consulted regarding the need for Council approval for the tours to continue.’’