A FORMER councillor who was among the first to back the Boscombe surf reef has insisted it was the right decision.

Jacky Harris was chairman of Bournemouth’s leisure and tourism committee in the late 1990s when the idea of a surf reef was first mooted.

She said it was “unsatisfactory” that public money had been wasted but insisted the reef had led to the regeneration of Boscombe.

ASR, the New Zealand company which built the £3million reef, recently went into liquidation, creating even more uncertainty about whether the structure would ever function as intended.

Mrs Harris spoke out to defend Bournemouth’s current director of tourism, Mark Smith, who has insisted the reef has boosted Boscombe and has a future as a diving attraction.

All our surf reef stories

She recalled New Zealand Professor Kerry Black visiting Bournemouth in 1999 and giving a presentation about the proposed reef, which she attended with then head of leisure services Roger Brown.

“We were very taken with it.

“We were persuaded it was something we should look at,” she said.

“What we were lacking was regeneration of Boscombe.

“We never got any money for Boscombe and we wondered how we were going to do it.”

Mrs Harris left the council at the elections of 2003, when an age bar in the Bournemouth West Conservative Association meant several senior councillors vacating their seats.

She said the costs had risen after she left.

“I agree it’s not satisfactory that money appears to have been wasted on it but it’s not entirely wasted because it’s produced something we would never otherwise have had,” she said.

“We should be positive going forward to continue with Boscombe.”

She insisted no blame should be attached to Mr Smith, who had spoken up for the reef in the media.

“Mark Smith is a really hard worker. We’re really lucky to have him.

“He’s done the air festival and he’s absolutely committed. He’s a brilliant officer,” she said.

“I still think Boscombe would not be as it is today if we hadn’t taken that decision.”

Another former Conservative councillor, Basil Ratcliffe, insisted he had been vindicated after voicing concerns at the outset about how the reef would work.

He said the saga was a “sad and very expensive story illustrating how important it is to have well-informed councillors who are willing to carefully investigate and intelligently question everything involving the expenditure of public money”.