Brilliant idea or a flight of fancy?

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Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Leisure Committee is considering spending a whopping £40,000 on creating a ‘butterfly dome’.

At their monthly meeting on Monday night (December 2), councillors got themselves into a flap over the potential project, with some insisting the idea would never take off, while others argued that it merited further consideration.

Last month, members had asked officers to bring back a report on the possibility of building a butterfly dome in the borough.

At Monday’s meeting members were presented with indicative figures for setting up a butterfly house, which would be open to school groups and visitors from Easter to the end of September each year.

The brief report suggested that it could cost £40,000 to construct the dome, and a further £24,000 per year to run the facility. There was no mention of what sort of income the attraction could yield if it proved popular with visitors.

Council parks manager, Margaret Lindsay informed the meeting that the dome would measure about 7.5m by 7.5m and stressed that it would have to be located at a site that was locked at nights and would have security.

Pointing to the lack of detail in the report, Cllr Billy Webb proposed that officers should do further research and come back to the committee with more information about the project and the possible costs associated with it.

DUP Cllr Robert Hill branded the idea “an extravagant waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere in the borough”, while Alderman Paul Girvan questioned how popular such an attraction would be and called on members to “park the project as it stands”.

“There is no point in officers wasting their time on this,” he stressed.

UUP man Mark Cosgrove also raised concerns about the £40,000 capital outlay and the £24,000 per year running cost. He said that given the current austerity measures impacting on local ratepayers, it was hard to see a business model that would make the project workable.

Cllr Thomas Hogg asked if other potential funding sources would be available for the project. He was informed that if the facility was linked to the school curriculum “a small amount of funding” may be available from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Pointing to the success of a similar initiative in Stoke Newington, Cllr Webb said that members should be provided with more information about the proposed dome, the costs associated with the project and a business plan to enable them to make an informed decision on the matter.

“We don’t know that it’s too costly - it could make us a fortune,” he told the meeting.

An amendment put forward by Alderman Girvan and Cllr Hill that the idea should be “forgotten about totally” was defeated by 11 votes to eight.

Members eventually voted 14 to four in favour of officers coming back to the committee with more information.