Exploris: Ards Borough Council has cash for everything but aquarium, claim supporters
Supporters of axe-threatened aquarium Exploris have hit out at Ards Borough Council for saying it cannot afford to support it while it is investing millions in new leisure facilities.
The council is currently investing £5m for the redevelopment of Londonderry Park in Newtownards.
It is also investing in a new leisure centre at Dairy Hall in the town, yet councillors have said they cannot afford to keep paying £600,000 a year to keep Exploris – Northern Ireland's only aquarium – afloat.
Last week there was a unanimous vote to close and dispose of the aquarium after two months unless alternative funding could be found to keep it open.
SDLP councillor Joe Boyle has described the decision to close Exploris as "bordering on the verge of a political decision for a political reason", referring to Portaferry being the only nationalist majority area in the borough.
"If Exploris was in any other part of Ards Borough we would not be having this problem, and a lot of people share this view," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I think that's the sad part of this.
"This whole decision stinks – this whole process is rotten.
"They are seeking to deprive a certain community of what little they have."
Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed that visitor numbers to Exploris have doubled in the past two weeks since it emerged the aquarium was under threat.
More than 7,000 people have signed online petitions to keep it open, while more than 27,000 people have 'liked' a Save Exploris Facebook page.
A spokeswoman for Ards Borough Council responded to these claims.
She said the new leisure facilities cannot be compared to the running costs of Exploris.
"The running costs of Exploris – which have been approximately £600,000 each year – can't be compared directly to the capital investment in Londonderry Park," she said.
"The Exploris costs are recurring, year on year, and represent more than £10m of investment in 20 years, while the expenditure of £5m on the redevelopment of sporting facilities at Londonderry Park will be paid for by the use of capital receipts – money which could not be used to fund Exploris revenue costs."