Time for decision on Exploris future STRANGFORD MLA, Mike Nesbitt, is warning Exploris is in danger of being forced down the road of closure by the Northern Ireland Executive. The Ulster Unionist Leader says he believes time will expire before any commitment from Stormont hits the ground. He told The Chronicle this week: “We have a commitment from the Department of the Environment, but this is specific to funding a seal sanctuary, and the Minister has already made clear this funding is not specific to Exploris. They money is for the seals, wherever they are treated. “The key is whether Arlene Foster and her Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment will process the capital spend promised through the NI Tourist Board for revamping the aquarium. It is easy to make a commitment, but equally easy to see that promise swallowed up in the political black hole of economic assessments. “The brutal fact is that Ards Council cannot subsidise Exploris on the promise of help from the devolved government forever. “From the beginning of this crisis, I have attempted to bring together the key Executive Ministries at Stormont, but have been met with a clear lack of appetite to roll sleeves up and get stuck into a rescue plan.” Ards Borough Council Deputy Mayor, Cllr Philip Smith explained: “Ards Borough Council has invested over £130,000 in sustaining Exploris in recent months and in preparing a business plan as requested by the NI Executive. We have done our bit to not only save Exploris but to come up with proposals to grow and develop the facility. “It is time that both the Department of the Environment and Department for Enterprise,
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Trade & Investment delivered on their commitments too.” “The Council cannot sustain the current costs indefinitely. The rates for next year only includes two options - a new Exploris funded jointly by the Council and DoE/DETI or the original 'close and dispose' option. We cannot afford to wait months for the civil service to go through their bureaucracy. It is not fair on Exploris staff and it is not fair on the Ards ratepayer. We need a decision now,” concluded Cllr Philip Smith. Ulster Unionist Party Prospective Council Candidate for Newtownards, Richard Smart, said; ‘As a member of the voluntary steering group set up to secure a sustainable future for the much loved Exploris, I was overwhelmed by the willingness of the local community to give up their own time and effort to advocate the benefits of the aquarium’ “I spent many late evenings and made countless phone calls in an effort to build political and practical consensus in retaining the facility for the benefit of the local economy, retaining employment in the area and a reduction in the cost of the facility for the many hard pressed rate payers of the Ards Borough. So after such effort by many to make the facility a runner, I hope the NI Executive will not let the project fall at the last hurdle.”
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