THE City of Whittlesea will not introduce any fireworks to council-run events in 2021-22, as it refocuses its festival and events program under the possibility of lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions.

In December 2020 council resolved to undertake a review of its festival and events program, involving extensive community consultation.

The final report recommended the 2021-22 program include more smaller, localised events, with outdoor spaces as a major focus, and one large annual community festival using Plenty Ranges Arts and Convention Centre, PRACC, the municipality’s only purpose-built arts and convention centre.

The program will include: five small events with a geographical spread across the municipality; a Carols by Candlelight event in December 2021; a one-night walking event, similar to Walking Thomastown; and continued online presence through the Whittlesea Arts website to support greater access to the festivals and events program such as livestreaming performances.

Ongoing coordination and/or promotion of council and partner events, such as Whittlesea Country Music Festival, Whittlesea Show and libraries events program, will be established through a Whittlesea dates of recognition calendar, which captures other key dates including Sorry Day, NAIDOC Week and Refugee Week.

The report found fireworks could drive public attendance at events and played an important role in many Asian cultures, but were increasingly contentious as anti-firework sentiments skyrocketed following the 2020 bushfires.

Community consultation on the arts and festivals program asked respondents to identify what they would like to see at community events, and the 10 most common responses were music, street theatre, craft activities, sports activities, cultural dancing, carnival, food and food trucks, outdoor cinemas and Indigenous.

Of the 437 respondents, 23 people, or five per cent, selected fireworks.

“At this point in time, council’s festival and events program isn’t proposing to include any fireworks in the 2021-22 program,” City of Whittlesea director of community wellbeing Kate McCaughey said.

“However from time to time we get requests for community-run events to use fireworks, and the process for approval of that is to go through Fire Rescue Victoria because they need to issue permits and licenses.”

Historically, council has delivered two annual events with fireworks: the Australia Day celebrations in January and the Whittlesea Community Festival in March.

The Community Festival changed its operating hours in 2018 to be a daytime-only event, from 11am to 5pm, and council decided to cease delivering a public event on Australia Day in solidarity with Indigenous people, meaning council no longer has any designated events with fireworks.

Fireworks applications continue to be a part of large community-run festivals and events, with both Whittlesea Country Music Festival and Vivid Diwali making annual applications for a firework display at their community events.

Administrators agreed they should be conscious of waning enthusiasm for fireworks, and that focusing on smaller events was the right step given the unpredictability of the pandemic.

“I personally strongly support the provision of the five smaller events across the municipality,” chair administrator Lydia Wilson said.

“The night walking event, obviously the previous event was a major success in terms of take up and neighbourhood connection and also a major community festival.

“I also really particularly support the dates of recognition calendar, which picks up on really important dates festivals and events such as obviously NAIDOC WEEK.”

The total cost of the 2021-22 program is estimated at $350,000.