Published Thursday, 07 August 2014
Exploris looks set to stay open after the NI Executive offered £1m in funding. (© UTV)
Last week the Environment Minister revealed that funds had been secured to keep the under-threat attraction open.
At a special council meeting on Wednesday, it was confirmed that the NI Executive has offered £941,000 in capital funding and up to £120,000 revenue funding.
The council said the agreement is subject to receiving detailed terms and conditions from the Department of the Environment and is also conditional upon gaining the necessary approval from the new North Down and Ards District council.
Council officers have been permitted to start the process to appoint a specialist contractor to develop the design brief for the rejuvenated facility.
Mayor of Ards, Councillor Philip Smith said: "Ards Borough Council welcomes the NI Executive's decision about funding of the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry, and looks forward to receiving details about the terms and conditions and how to access it.
"The offer of funding is a vindication of the Council's argument throughout this process that the Aquarium is a regional facility, and not solely the responsibility of this Council or Ards ratepayers and I am delighted that it looks like the facility can be saved, while reducing the financial burden on the ratepayer."
Last year, Ards Borough Council said it was considering closing the Portaferry attraction saying costs were too much for them.
A private investor had been found to take on Exploris, however, difficulty over staff pensions prevented the sale from going through.
The news prompted public outcry and a campaign to save the marine centre began.
Since September last year, the council delayed its decision to close the aquarium to negotiate with the Executive to secure a funding package, including revenue for the Seal Sanctuary from the Department of the Environment, together with a substantial one-off capital grant of approximately £900,000.
As outlined in a business case prepared by the council and submitted to the Executive by the Department of Environment this funding aims to make the facility a sustainable operation, reducing its running costs from around £500,000 each year to approximately £200,000.
This will include introducing a reduced staffing structure potentially based on seasonal opening hours.
© UTV News