Has the Boscombe surf reef improved the town a year on?

By Chris Robinson
BBC News

image captionSurfer James Blackwell rides the wave enhanced by the Boscombe's surf reef

After a series of delays and at more than double the original cost, Europe's first artificial surf reef opened a year ago.

Set off the coast in Boscombe, Dorset, the £3m underwater structure was created to enhance waves and attract a new surfing lifestyle to the once rundown resort.

While some agree it has added to the overall £11m regeneration of the seafront, it has not come without its problems.

The reef has been criticised by some for not working as well as it should and following an independent report, Bournemouth Council deemed its performance "sub-standard".

A £150,000 payment was withheld from its creator, ASR Ltd, until the council was satisfied the reef worked as it should.

It has since invited the firm back to carry out work to improve the wave's right-hand break, but will not pay out any more money until it is happy with the final result.

The company said it was in negotiations with the council but denied the reef failed and said it was only one of the criteria - the wave lengths - which it had not met.

'Business thrived'

A year on and those living and working in the south coast town say they are already starting to reap the rewards, with the area attracting independent businesses and the tourist industry given a much-needed boost.

James Vicefield opened restaurant and bar Reef Encounter 18 months ago.

He said the reef was "a big part" of business.

"The thing that we have noticed is the interest in the area as opposed to the surf reef itself.

"We wouldn't have been here without the regeneration, if it was just the surf reef it would be different."

The multimillion-pound Barratt Homes development, Honeycombe Beach, was built as part of the regeneration.

Senior sales manager Zak Long said business had "thrived" over the last 12 months, with 80% of its homes sold, and 31 apartments remaining out of 169.

Dean Griffiths, manager of the seafront Sorted Surf Shop, has noticed a big difference in trade.

"I think it was a very good idea, I think Boscombe seafront needed something.

"We really need to give it a chance. It's hard to gauge it from the beach and pier."

Lisa Northover, a Liberal Democrat councillor on the Conservative-led Bournemouth council, said independent businesses had been attracted to the area, but things were not going to change overnight.

"With the surf reef itself, I still get quite mixed messages for it.

"An awful lot of negativity is going to come from people who haven't surfed and don't really know a lot about it.

"There are many that are happy with it and enjoy using it."

Ms Northover, who runs the website Boscalicious!, which promotes the town, said the overall regeneration of the seafront had given the area "an identity".

"It has brought something we haven't had before, it has brought an identity of our own, something a bit more funky and different," she said.

But Parry Brookes, chairman of Boscombe residents' association, believes the town centre has yet to benefit from the success being seen on the seafront.

'Blown away'

"It has certainly brought tourism to the seafront, but that wasn't the original concept," he said.

"The regeneration of Boscombe has yet to happen and it's going to be a long time before it does, if it does."

image captionASR Ltd has been invited back to Boscombe to carry out improvements

With surfing becoming a fast-growing sport, local surfers believe the reef and regeneration has offered something to younger people.

Clive Stopper, 27, of Boscombe, has been surfing in the area for about 20 years.

"If you look at the reef, it rarely looks any good from shore but that's down to the distance.

"You get out there and straight away you are blown away by what you have got."

Paul Humber, 28, from Southbourne, has taken pictures of friends surfing the reef, when it was captured working at its best.

"The reef offers a completely different option to anyone who wants to challenge themselves," he said.

"If they can surf that reef, then there's no reason they can't surf any reef in the world."

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