Belfast Telegraph

Exploris business case being prepared by Ards Borough Council

By Rebecca Black

No decision to close Exploris aquarium should be taken until a business case to save it can be prepared, a committee of Ards Borough Council has said.

The council voted in September to shut Exploris and sell it off if no funding could be provided from Stormont.

The aquarium in Portaferry costs about £1m a year to operate. It is currently run by the council, but some councillors have argued that as the only aquarium in Northern Ireland, it is a regional facility and should receive Stormont funding.

On Wednesday Ards Council's development committee voted to extend the stay on its closure until January's meeting.

The vote followed an offer of funding from the Department of the Environment that came with conditions attached.

Extending the delay would allow council officers time to produce and submit a business case, as requested by the department.

The committee's decision cannot officially be council policy until it is ratified next Wednesday.

But a spokesman said given the short timescale involved, its staff will start working on the business case to try and win Stormont funding for Exploris immediately.

The DoE funding would see Exploris receive a one-off capital grant, plus extra money to run its seal sanctuary.

Exploris employs 18 staff and has been operating since 1987.

It is home to 12 seals and more than 3,000 fish.

A DoE spokesperson said the minister would consider a one-off capital grant to upgrade the facilities at Exploris provided that the council was prepared to commit to Exploris in the long-term.

It said the council would also have to prepare a business case justifying the public expenditure involved, and that case would have to be backed by the Executive.

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