“The reef will give Boscombe beach its own identity, raise the profile of Boscombe and attract a large number of visitors on an annual basis.” With those words, Bournemouth Borough Council in 2006 gave its assurance on how an artificial surf reef will have a positive effect on the area of Boscombe. Five years later, with the cost of the project at £3.2m and growing, disappointing reports by surfers and numerous safety problems, the reef has been closed to the public. So, just what went wrong? And can something as plagued by controvery as the surf reef still bring anything positive to Boscombe?
The reef is the first one of its kind built in Europe. Originally, its role was to enhance surfing conditions, but it is not a wave machine. It was meant to work like a ramp – pushing, shaping and extending existing waves. The reef is a size of the football pinch, positioned 250m offshore to make the waves break further away from the beach and provide a longer ride for surfers.
After the surf reef opened in the spring of 2009, the surfers enjoyed great surfing conditions. Unfortunately, only a year after the opening, when reports on the reef’s performance was published by Dr. Mark Davidson of Plymouth University, it received an avalanche of criticism. According to the report, the reef did not reach the set standards. The conclusion stated that it only met four out of 11 objectives. Most importantly, the waves were shorter than the required criteria had stated.
Those problems led to its closure in April 2011. A local surfer, Chris Skone-Roberts, commented in The Telegraph at the time: “Just from standing on the beach looking at it you can tell it’s got a dangerous current around it. It is just a question of time before someone dies on it – that’s not being melodramatic or sensational.’’ It turned out that the reef was producing hazardous undercurrents, and the council had become concerned that it could suck surfers into the gaps that appeared in the structure.
While the original estimate for designing the reef was £1.4m, Bournemouth Council has spent £3.2m to create the reef. Many people believe its a complete failure and disappointment. The council has even been urged to abandon the project before any more money is wasted. Labour Group Leader, Cllr Ben Grower, is a strong opponent of it, and believes it will never be a tourist attraction after all the controversy: “It will always be an embarrassment to the town and it was never worth spending £3.2m. It is a complete waste of money.”
But, aside from all criticism, it should not be forgotten that as a result of building the reef, Boscome has enjoyed global publicity. The issue has gained coverage in 60 countries, and restaurants, hotels and shops in the area have received a boost from the coverage. Katie Sutton, Media representative of Urban Reef, a restaurant located on Boscombe promenade, commented: “Obviously £3.2m is an incredible amount of money to spend on something that isn’t doing what it’s meant to be doing, but it has been a part of the regeneration of the Boscombe area and it has already brought many tourists.”