Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 15:03 UK

Surf reef safety questions raised

By Anna Lindsay and Chris Robinson
BBC News


The Boscombe surf reef was first expected to open in October 2008

It is due to be the jewel in the crown of a multi-million pound project to rebrand a less than glamorous part of the Dorset coast.

A hi-tech artificial reef - the first of its kind in Europe - to bring a new surf culture and clientele to Boscombe in Bournemouth.

But questions over the surf reef's performance and safety were still being raised recently, e-mails seen by BBC News reveal.

The reef is not for inexperienced surfers and there is an inherent risk related to surfing, whether surfing on artificial or natural reefs
ASR spokeswoman

Work was previously delayed on the reef between November and April due to bad weather, pushing the cost to £3m - nearly double the original price.

Recent e-mail correspondence between Bournemouth Borough Council and developer ASR, obtained under Freedom of Information laws, shows concerns over gaps in the artificial reef.

In an e-mail to ASR on 30 August, the council said an inspection by divers the previous day had revealed gaps between sand bags up to 1.5m (4.9ft) wide.

Geoff Turnbull, major engineering developments manager, said this did "nothing to satisfy my concerns about safety for users of the reef".

Mr Turnbull also raised the matter in July, saying "of particular concern" were apparent gaps in the main bags down the spine of the reef and on the east side.

"Are these likely to prejudice performance; are they safe for those using the reef?" he asked.

The developer has told BBC News the gaps are not a concern and all artificial reefs built with similar construction techniques have similar gaps.

An ASR spokeswoman said: "The reef is not for inexperienced surfers and there is an inherent risk related to surfing, whether surfing on artificial, or natural, reefs."

Surfers and swimmers at Boscombe beach
The surf reef is predicted to bring 10m into Bournemouth every year

The council said all safety issues will be resolved before the reef is opened, adding final construction work is still taking place.

"We are very close to being able to sign off the project as complete - and of course this includes having completed all health and safety checks to our satisfaction, a spokeswoman said.

She added RNLI teams would pay particular attention to sea conditions on and around the reef, as well as the competency of the surfers.

"Beginners can take lessons and learn to surf with a school," she said.

"When surfers are competent, they can then progress on to the surf reef.

"Our signage on site will make this very clear."

We have to stress to you that the reef doesn't actually create new waves, but helps control where the existing waves break
ASR spokeswoman

The e-mails also reveal that in June, the council was trying to get answers from ASR about the expected performance of the reef.

Both ASR and the council now say performance will be judged on the quality and shape of the waves, and the number of "surfable" days compared to previous years.

Plymouth University will monitor the reef for 12 months after its completion, to study how it fares.

The council is waiting for the reef to produce results before it is launched, the e-mails show.

'Negative story'

"Otherwise, the media will come down and see the sea is flat and report that the reef isn't working and we could have a widespread negative story on our hands," a member of the council communications team said.

But ASR responded by saying the winter months were typically the best for surfing conditions.

"We have to stress to you that the reef doesn't actually create new waves, but helps control where the existing waves break," the spokeswoman said.

"So if the ocean is calm and flat, this does not mean that the reef is not working."

She added the reef would also help to create a new marine ecosystem and had been a catalyst for "huge socio-economic benefits in Boscombe".

The reef is part of an £11m ongoing regeneration of Boscombe's seafront which the council hopes will boost the economy by £3m a year and attract up to 10,000 surfers.

It will be one of a number of similar artificial reefs of its type worldwide, built by ASR including developments in Narrowneck, Queensland, and Mount Maunganui, New Zealand.

Graphic showing how the reef works

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