Ards Council Says Executive Has One Month To Confirm Exploris Funding
Ards Borough Council has given the NI Executive another month to confirm a funding package to keep Exploris open. At a meeting this evening (Wednesday 26 February) the Council agreed to extend the stay on closure for a further month, expressing disappointment and concern that no financial package had been forthcoming from the Executive, after the Council submitted a business case which aimed to make the aquarium a sustainable operation.
The Council’s proposals centred on reducing the deficit to what it believed to be an acceptable level – from around £500,000 each year to £200,000.
A Council spokesperson said: “The reduced running costs are only possible with a commitment from central government 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.
“In a letter to the Council, Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, stated that he was unable to make any firm offer of funding in time for the Council’s February meeting, as the Council’s business case had not yet been approved by his Department’s economist, and that approval was now also required from the Department for Finance and Personnel (DFP). The Minister also asked that the North Down and Ards Statutory Transition Committee approve the business case before he took a final case before the Executive in March.
“In response to correspondence from the Council, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, wrote that it would be premature to comment or commit to any future funding for Exploris until the business case had been presented to the Northern Ireland Executive by the Environment Minister.
“Under the Council’s plan, substantial refurbishment of the aquarium would take place, with investment in new exhibits, enhanced visitor facilities, upgrades to visitor information, increased marketing and promotion, and the adoption of commercial management practices to include a more affordable, flexible, and therefore reduced, staffing structure, potentially based on the introduction of seasonal opening hours.”
The Council will consider the issue at its next meeting on 26 March and Exploris continues to welcome visitors.