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Consultation on potential closure of Exploris to begin

A lack of response from the Northern Ireland Executive to its business case and request for funding to secure and improve the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry means Ards Borough Council has tonight (28th May) agreed to commence a formal consultation process and equality impact assessment on the potential closure of the facility.

In making its decision the Council has called on the Department of Environment Minister and the wider Executive to formally respond to its bid for financial support.

Since September last year, the Council has delayed its decision to close the aquarium to give the Executive time to make firm offers of a funding package, to include revenue for the Seal Sanctuary from the Department of the Environment, together with a substantial one-off capital grant of approximately £900,000.

As outlined in a business case submitted to the Executive by Ards Borough Council this funding would have made the facility a sustainable operation, reducing running costs of the facility to an acceptable burden for the ratepayer from around £500,000 each year to £200,000.

Expressing disappointment and frustration that no financial package had been forthcoming from the Executive, the Deputy Mayor of Ards, Councillor Philip Smith commented:

“This proposal is not the Council giving up on Exploris, but it must have the financial support of the Executive. Without the actions proposed we will expose rate payers to greater financial risk, and continued indecision is unfair to our staff and other stakeholders. The Council has done its bit and it is now up to the DoE Minister and the Northern Ireland Executive to step up to the mark. Should an offer of funding from the Executive be forthcoming the Council will review this decision”.

An equality impact assessment will now begin, and is estimated to take four months. Exploris remains open.