Armstrong disappointed future of Exploris still not confirmed

Despite written Ministerial confirmation that funding to save Exploris is now available, Ards Borough Council failed to confirm the decision to keep Exploris open at a Special Meeting on Wednesday night.

Ards Borough Council agreed to accept the Executive’s capital funding ‘in principle’ only, until clarification of funding terms and conditions are received; and the new North Down & Ards shadow council formally commits to running the attraction in line with the business plan.

An Alliance motion calling for the Council to rescind the ‘close & dispose’ decision had been tabled by Councillor Kellie Armstrong following the Executive’s confirmation that the capital funding necessary to save Northern Ireland’s only aquarium was agreed.

However this motion was formally withdrawn because the Council instead decided to take forward recommendations contained in a report provided by officials.

That report welcomed the Executive’s announcement of funding but did not rescind the decision to close and dispose of Exploris. Instead the report recommended accepting funding ‘in principle’ meaning the Council retains the option to close Exploris if terms are not acceptable.

There was some hope when it was agreed officials will proceed with refurbishment design plans. This means if the terms of funding are accepted, contractors can begin work on the refurbishment.

Councillor Kellie Armstrong said: “While some progress has been made I am disappointed the Council decision to close and dispose of Exploris still stands”

“There has been a year-long fight by Alliance and Friends of Exploris to keep Exploris open and fully functioning”

“Although Executive funding is in place, as confirmed in the letter from the DoE Minister, Ards Borough Council decided it could not move forward until clarification of the terms and conditions of that offer are received and agreed.

“I sincerely hope this further delay will not unnecessarily jeopardise the future of Exploris.

“The DoE have indicated the expenditure is available within this financial year. This means any allocations not used by the end March 2015 could be lost therefore putting the future of Exploris in jeopardy.

“We need to confirm the centre’s future for staff, for tourists, for locals and for those very many people including Friends of Exploris who have all shown such loyalty and dedication.

“We need to focus on developing the attraction and ensuring Exploris remains in the public eye and becomes one of the top choices for tourists and locals when planning an exciting day out.”

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