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Boscombe Banks on its new wave

Sunday Observer

Bournemouth’s reviving suburb is building an artificial reef for surfers and flats for the well-heeled. The online surf report from Sorted Surf Shop isn’t too promising: ‘Flat today, but might get a wave midweek.’ By September, the hope is that the outlook here in Boscombe will be considerably better.

Last month, work began on a project to create Europe’s first artificial reef by dropping hundreds of sandbags into the sea some 245 yards off Boscombe’s beach. The £1.4m project is aimed at turning a sedate suburb of Bournemouth into the south coast’s leading surf centre, since the reef will – if all goes to plan – generate waves up to 13ft high and double the number of good surfing days in Boscombe from 153 to 306 a year, setting the town up as a rival to Newquay in Cornwall.

The reef, though, is just one part of a regeneration project which it is hoped will revitalise Boscombe, and make it a property hot spot in the next few years. Work has already begun to put Boscombe’s pier back into shape – it will have its end lopped off and be given a smart new entrance building, due to open by May. The £8m regeneration revolves around a ‘Spa Village’ that includes new restaurants and shops, extensive landscaping, and 42 ‘super chalets’ – upmarket beach huts that will be available for hire by the day.

It’s all being paid for by a development of luxury apartments. Barratt Homes has spent more than £9m on an old car park on the waterfront, which it is converting into Honeycombe Beach, a set of 169 apartments in nine blocks, clustered around communal gardens and a courtyard. Some, but by no means all, of these new homes will enjoy spectacular views across Bournemouth Bay and Swanage, towards Hengistbury Head.

Prices for the first group, to be sold off-plan, start at £389,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment looking into the courtyard. A similar apartment with sea views, and a study, will cost you £950,000. The first apartments will be ready to occupy in spring 2008.

Boscombe has an interesting – though chequered – history. A large part of it was owned in the mid-19th century by Sir Percy Florence Shelley, son of the poet. In the 1860s Lord Malmesbury had the idea of using Boscombe’s natural spring to create a health spa that emphasised fresh sea air and bathing. That scheme was soon abandoned in favour of building big houses instead, and over the next couple of decades Boscombe developed as a conventional seaside resort.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, however, it went into decline, and many of its grand Victorian houses were split into bedsits. It has taken a couple of decades for regeneration to finally get off the ground.

James Scollard, the proprietor at Clifftons, says the bedsits are now firmly on the way out: ‘Boscombe has already come up a great deal during the past couple of years.

We’ve seen a lot of the older houses come down to be replaced with luxury apartments.’ He says the council is now rejecting the conversion of further hotels and B&Bs into apartments, in an effort to revive the town’s appeal as a family holiday resort. Some £2m has also been ploughed into improving and landscaping Boscombe Chine Gardens, with new paths, pagodas and playgrounds.

James Scollard comments ‘The reef is going to make Bournemouth one of the best places to surf in the country, and will generate lots of extra visitors for B&Bs, hotels and holiday apartments,’ he says. ‘For investors, capital growth should be strong here for the next few years.”

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Posted: 12th February 2007

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