Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Is surf reef good for Boscombe?

By Chris Robinson
BBC News, Dorset

Seafront restaurant
The redevelopment has seen the creation of new seafront restaurants

Boscombe is on a big mission to improve its rundown image and attract a new crowd of visitors all year round.

The Dorset town's centrepiece is the multimillion-pound artificial surf reef, the first of its kind in Europe which, it is hoped, is set to enhance the quality of waves and improve surfing conditions.

The seafront promenade has already been redeveloped, a new boutique hotel is welcoming its first guests and owning a slice of a luxurious apartment block could set you back £1m.

But are developers forgetting what is already there?

The £11m redevelopment of Boscombe seafront has already run over budget, with the artificial surf reef almost doubling in cost from £1.4m to £3m and opening more than a year late.

'Falling to pieces'

Steve Kent, of Boscombe Traders' Association, said that some of the extra money Bournemouth Borough Council had used in the project could have been spent on updating the town centre.

"The principle is a brilliant idea," he said.

"The work that they have done to the seafront is great, although it could have been done a lot cheaper.

Boscombe high street
Traders want more investment in the town centre

"What we have is an old 1960s precinct which is 40 years out of date, it needs upgrading because it is slowly falling to pieces."

Lisa Northover, a councillor for Boscombe West, and runs website Boscalicious to promote the town.

She moved to the town 10 years ago and said when she used to look out of her window she would see open drug taking and prostitution.

"I have seen such a massive improvement already from it," she said.

"There has been a lot of new, really high quality businesses that have come to the area. It's just so different to 10 years ago.

"I think some people are willing it not to work, but you can see it working.

"So many people away from Boscombe have heard about it, people see it as something special.

"What I am expecting to see is more of a year round impact. We are already busy in the summer and are more likely to see people coming in the winter."

An affluent surfer market will be attracted to the area, extending the tourism through winter
Mark Smith, Bournemouth Borough Council

David Kilburn, head of business development at Bournemouth University, said the reef development would draw in a "hotchpotch" of people.

But he believes social problems still in the town need to be contained and eradicated or it will risk impacting on tourism.

"[The project] is creating a lot of impact," he said.

"Bournemouth itself is very busy in the summer even if the weather isn't good.

"I think the surf reef will continue to draw people to that part of Boscombe beach area. People will want to go down there and check it out.

"I don't think necessarily the people coming in will pose any problems.

"The issue is one that we have always had, there are some socially disadvantaged people living in that area and they have to be careful that they help those people, rather than having drunks around the beach, drug addicts openly taking drugs.

Are business owners feeling the effect of the surf reef?

"It needs to be contained and eradicated and the only way to do this is to help these people."

Mark Smith, director of tourism with Bournemouth Borough Council, said that the reef met expectations even before it was completed in terms of regeneration and attracting new businesses.

"A great amount of both public and private money has been invested in Boscombe and this would not have happened without the reef," he said.

"An affluent surfer market will be attracted to the area, extending the tourism through winter...rather than the trade having to rely on the traditional period of July and August.

"Compared to other artificial reef projects in the world, we have gone so much further with the Boscombe reef as it is so well-supported by excellent facilities on land."

Another big tourism project on the south coast widely criticised for being over budget and behind schedule was Portsmouth's 170m (558ft) Spinnaker Tower.

In 2005, Portsmouth City Council finally opened the long-awaited structure, which depicts a billowing sail.

Spinnaker Tower
The Spinnaker Tower is attracting 100,000 visitors a year

The project, originally due to open for the Millennium celebrations, was five years late and cost £36m, more than £11m of that being footed by the taxpayer.

But it has been a success, attracting 100,000 visitors and bringing in more than half a million pounds a year.

"It has become an icon of the south coast and it has drawn the city together," said Portsmouth councillor Lee Hunt, cabinet member for culture and leisure.

"The lesson that I could give would be to get behind this project, make it work and find ways of making it work.

"It is a ripple-effect, how to build on the success and how to best utilise the success."

Graphic showing how the reef works

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