Northern Ireland

Portaferry's Exploris aquarium: Council starts closure consultation

Exploris aquarium entrance
Image caption Philip Smith said it was up to the Northern Ireland Executive to "save Exploris"

Ards Borough Council have voted to start a formal consultation into the closure of the Exploris aquarium in Portaferry.

The council said the decision was taken due to a lack of response from the Northern Ireland Executive to a request for funding made six months ago.

Ards deputy mayor Philip Smith said the facility was costing rate payers £500,000 per year.

He said it was up to the executive to "save Exploris".

The deputy mayor added that the council was not "giving up" on the aquarium, but could no longer pass on the cost to rate payers.

The future of the aquarium has been in doubt since September 2013, when a deal for a private firm to take over the facility fell through.

No response

At a meeting on Wednesday night, Ards Borough Council voted in favour of starting a consultation process and equality impact assessment into the possible closure of the facility.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Mr Smith said that Environment Minister Mark H Durkan had agreed in principal to provide £120,000 per year towards Exploris' seal sanctuary.

He also said the council had asked the executive for £914,000 in December 2013 for "much needed refurbishment" to the facility, but had not yet received a response.

The deputy mayor said: "They asked for a business case that we've produced at nearly £40,000. They asked for a business plan that we've produced. They asked for amendments to those plans at extra cost that we also produced.

"We've postponed our decision on Exploris three times now to give the executive more time and I think the question we have to ask is, are the executive taking this seriously or are they just playing with us."

'Disappointed'

He added: "As councillors we have responsibilities to our ratepayers. We cannot continue to leach money in such a way for the next year.

"So we really need to make a decision, but we want the executive to support us."

Ards councillor Kellie Armstrong, from the Alliance Party, said she was "disappointed" by the council's decision.

"The decision to begin proceedings has taken place before the executive has had time to consider Ards Borough Council's business case," she added.

A statement from the Department of Environment said: "The minister has been tireless in his support of Exploris. He has provided funding up to £120,000 per year for the seal sanctuary.

"His department has also worked very closely with the council to produce a business case, which he believes could provide the basis for central government support.

"He has recommended the business case to his executive colleagues and awaits a decision."

More on this story