At its full Council meeting on 23 June 2015, Ards and North Down Borough Council reaffirmed its commitment to the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry and discussed options for both refurbishment plans and new management arrangements to be in place for reopening by summer 2016.[caption id="attachment_34241" align="alignleft" width="420"] Ards and North Down Borough Council release a statement update on Exploris.[/caption]
At the meeting it was agreed to begin the process of procuring a contractor for design and build of the refurbishment works, at the same time as procuring an operator to run the facility. The first stage of this process, upon which work has already started, is to undertake and further invest in an engagement/expression of interest process. The findings will be brought to the Council in August for further consideration before progressing to tender for both contracts.
In tandem, the Council will continue to work closely with the Department of Environment (DOE) around capital funding for the refurbishment works. The DOE has provided £700K and is considering whether a further £214K (to make up the full amount originally offered in September 2014) can be made available. Discussion is also on going around more flexibility on the timeframe for the money to be spent – at present it should be spent by March 2016 but an extension to their deadline would be beneficial.
Commenting on the plans, the Mayor of Ards and North Down, Alderman Alan Graham, said: “The new Council is in no doubt of the strength of public opinion in favour of reopening Exploris. I am very pleased to report that Members were unanimous in their support for the facility at the Council meeting on 23 June and are totally committed to reopening it as a tourist attraction and catalyst for regeneration in Portaferry and the local area.
“To achieve this, we must of course have a quality product and a robust plan for the facility’s long-term management and sustainability must be developed. Despite its popularity, there is no doubt Exploris needs investment to enhance the visitor experience and to be able to attract repeat visits. The decision taken on 23 June will support this, with a two-handed approach whereby we will progress with both refurbishment plans and the appointment of a contractor in tandem.
“We do appreciate the disappointment, especially for residents and traders in Portaferry, that the facility is not open this summer. We believe it is preferable to close for one season than to open in a restricted way and provide a very limited visitor experience – this could impact return visits when the centre is reopened following redevelopment.”
Alderman Graham concluded: “In the meantime, the Council will continue to work with the Friends of Exploris group and has recently agreed to facilitate a ‘touch tank’ experience outside the aquarium on some weekends during July and August. This will allow residents and visitors to see some of the marine creatures that are currently being cared for at the facility.
“The Council will fund additional street entertainments to help animate Portaferry over the summer season and continues to support Portaferry Gala Week (18-24 July), which is a particular highlight of the event calendar in the borough.”]]>