Ards Borough Council statement on Exploris

From the ABC facebook page:

The Council has tonight agreed a business plan to keep Exploris open, subject to confirmation of funding from the NI Executive.

At its meeting this evening (Wednesday 29th January), the Council accepted a business plan, extended the stay on closure for a further month to allow the Executive to review the proposals and make firm offers of finance, and also agreed to write directly to the Ministers of the Environment and Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

The document, which sets out plans aimed at making Exploris a sustainable operation, would mean the aquarium continues to be owned and managed by the Council, while expenditure is reduced to what it believes to be an acceptable level – from around £500,000 each year to £200,000.

A reduced financial burden on the local ratepayer is, however, only possible if the Northern Ireland Executive now formally accepts the business case and agrees a financial package, 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.

“The Council has now agreed what it believes to be a viable way forward which can enhance and sustain Exploris as a significant regional visitor attraction, but only with regional funding,” said Mayor of Ards, Councillor Stephen McIlveen. “We have done our part and are ready to continue the work to make this happen. We now need the DoE and the Northern Ireland Executive to confirm their funding to make the redevelopment and retention of Exploris a reality”.

Under the plan, substantial refurbishment of the aquarium would take place, with investment in new exhibits, enhanced visitor facilities, upgrades to visitor information and increased marketing and promotion.

Crucial also to the plan’s successful implementation are working in partnership with other interested parties 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 plan requires some tough decisions and if it proceeds will affect our staff at the aquarium. Throughout this difficult and uncertain period, they have shown great dedication to their jobs and to Exploris. They are to be commended for their commitment”.

Should the central government financial package be confirmed, the Council will begin the process of developing plans and appointing design teams and contractors. Exploris would remain open for the spring/summer 2014 peak season, closing temporarily from October 2014 for approximately 6 months to allow redevelopment work to take place.

The business case will now be considered by central government and Exploris continues to welcome visitors.

Exploris Update

Update letter from The Friends of Exploris Trust:

 

Dear all

Exploris the only public aquarium and seal sanctuary in Northern Ireland. Its future has been uncertain for the last four months.

On Wednesday evening this week, Ards Borough Council’s Development Committee was to be presented with a business plan to map out the future of Exploris aquarium. There has been a lack of communication from Ards Borough Council following that meeting. Friends of Exploris Trust must assume that the Council has not yet made a firm long-term commitment to Exploris.

There has been a huge amount of public concern over the future of Exploris since Ards Borough Council voted to “close and dispose” of the attraction in September 2013. That decision still stands, although its implementation was delayed. The final outcome will be decided next Wednesday 29 January.

Exploris is a world class aquarium that showcases the natural diversity of Strangford Lough and Northern Ireland, and is dearly loved.

We invite everyone concerned about Exploris to show their support at Ards Borough Council offices, Newtownards, on Wednesday 29 January at 6:30pm (fish fancy dress optional).

Warm regards,

Dr Julia Sigwart
Chair, Friends of Exploris Trust