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Surfers made to wait for their paradise

13 November 08 17:23 GMT

By Michael Stoddard
BBC News

It was supposed to already be a surfers' paradise and making waves to the tune of £10m a year for the economy in Bournemouth.

But work on Europe's first artificial surf reef off Boscombe beach has been suspended due to poor weather.

The project - originally due to open last month - will now not be ready until at least September next year.

The cost of the £1.4m reef has already risen to £2.68m and has been behind schedule from the first day of construction in August.

'Lose money'

Businesses had geared up for the estimated 10,000 surfers flocking to Boscombe seafront but are now counting the cost of waiting another year.

While the surfers themselves are worried the anticipated 13ft (4m) waves will not live up to their billing, with similar reefs in Australia proving a disappointment.

Bryn Jones, manager of the Park Hotel, said: "Obviously we are extremely frustrated that we have to wait another year for the reef.

"We have converted rooms especially for surfers, built beach gardens and invested heavily in the idea thousands of surfers would already be here.

"There is no doubt we are going to lose money, which in these economic times is a big blow."

The reef, which will consist of 55 sand-filled bags, is 225m (740ft) out to sea, east of Boscombe Pier and covers the size of a football pitch.

It will be one of four artificial reefs worldwide including Narrowneck, Queensland, Cables, Western Australia and Mount Maunganui, New Zealand.

With the resumption of work on the reef due to start next April businesses are also fearing the impact construction work over the summer season could have.

Mr Jones added: "People don't want to book two weeks away on a building site.

"This is now going to stretch over next summer and the mounds of sand will not be a great selling point for a beach resort."

'Huge success'

But other traders are less worried about the latest hitch in the reef's troubled history.

Mike Walcroft, manager of the Sorted Surf Shop, said: "We've been waiting 15 years or so for this, another few months won't make a difference.

"Most people didn't think it was going to be finished this year anyway.

"We still have a good trade down here and the reef will just boost that but we are not relying on a big surge to stay in business."

But what do the people who will be riding the bigger waves think?

Steve England, associate editor of surf magazine Carve, said: "The surf community is definitely waiting for the reef at Bournemouth.

"This will put it up there with Newquay but the delays are a worry.

"The other concern is will it actually improve the waves?

"In Australia the reefs have not made as big an impact as people thought."

But Guy Penwarden, who has surfed in Bournemouth for more than 35 years, is positive the reef will be a huge success.

"Anyone within a 100-mile radius is going to be keeping an eye on the waves and can be down here relatively quickly, even after work," he predicts.

"When you look at access from London, where people are desperate for somewhere nearer to surf, every man and his dog will be heading down here."

The council is putting a brave face on the latest delay and pointed to the £9.5m to help regenerate Boscombe in addition to the reef.

Roger Brown, head of leisure services at the council, is confident the new cafes, shops, restaurants and bars will still attract thousands of new tourists next year.

"We are disappointed but not unduly surprised," he said.

"The work has been hindered by some really appalling weather this summer.

"But the landscape facilities and new developments will still be a big draw next summer."

The cost of the project has almost doubled with some of the extra cash invested in a performance-based contract designed to protect the council.

It stated the reef must be ready by 31 December and it must perform to pre-stated standards before the final £150,000 construction payment is made.

But construction firm ASR Ltd say it had no alternative but to suspend work.

Dr Shaw Mead, a director from ASR, said: "The days now are short, the sea temperature is getting colder and there are stronger currents, meaning we have to limit the amount of time our divers can spend underwater.

"With the crucial base layer now complete and the onset of winter weather, it makes good sense to pause now and allow the base layer to settle into the sea bed.

"We are all looking forward to returning next year to complete this innovative, landmark project for the council."

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