Top North visitor attraction temporarily saved from closure

Stormont approached to help fund popular Co Down aquarium

Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, Co Down is one of the North’s most visited attractions with 100,000 visitors each year.

Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, Co Down is one of the North’s most visited attractions with 100,000 visitors each year.

Thu, Sep 26, 2013, 14:56

One of Northern Ireland’s top tourist attractions has been saved from closure temporarily.

Exploris aquarium in Portaferry, Co Down was recommended for closure by a committee of Ards Borough Council which is passing on the £600,000 (€713,000) costs of running the popular tourist and research amenity to domestic ratepayers.

However, a full meeting of the council voted last night to defer a decision to close for two months, pending approaches to the Stormont Executive.

Exploris, which employs 18 people, has attracted more than 100,000 visitors annually during its 26-year history in the village of Portaferry at the mouth of Strangford Lough.

The aquarium also has strong research links with Queen’s University in Belfast and with other aquariums in Ireland, principally Galway.

Following the vote, the council, which has invested more than £9 million (€10.7 million) in Exploris, said in a statement that contacts with the departments of Culture, Arets and Leisure; Education, and the Environment would be made.

Ards deputy mayor Philip Smith said of the deferral decision: “While there has never been any indication of a subvention for Exploris from central government (at Stormont), there does now appear to be a possibility that funding could be made available.

“Our decision allows time for that option to be explored. However, we do have to emphasise that the decision to close still stands if external funding is not forthcoming.”

The facility was eventually to have been taken over by a private company, but this fell through on account of pension liabilities for the aquarium staff.