THE £3 million bill for Boscombe’s controversial surf reef may rise even further if civic chiefs want the tourist attraction to become the surfing magnet they had envisaged, experts warned last night.

And work to rectify Europe’s first artificial surf reef’s failings is unlikely to get underway for another nine months, a special Town Hall scrutiny meeting was told.

Councillors had the opportunity to grill officers on why their expectations of the reef’s performance had been downgraded since the local authority agreed to pursue the creation of a |double-sided reef wrapped around Boscombe Pier back in 2000.

At the time a report by New Zealand based contractors ASR said a 2.0 to 2.2 times wave height enhancement was expected.

But five years later an initial design report said the company aimed to design a reef with a surfing difficulty of four to five. The ideal ride length would be between 75 and 100m and last between 12 and 15 seconds.

It was not until May this year that the council released results of the reef’s first monitoring exercise which showed it was failing to meet four out of its 11 objectives.

Last night the borough’s leisure services director Roger Brown admitted that “relatively little” had been known about the work of ASR.

He added: “It was a leap of faith, by the council, to say we wanted to try this technology in Bournemouth. At the time we went to contract we knew exactly what we were going to get in terms of structure and predicted outputs. We didn’t know that in 2005.

“There was always going to be a risk – that was made clear from the outset but a decision was taken and we, as officers, commissioned the reef.”

Mr Brown said the council was withholding a £150,000 performance-based payment to ASR until the reef was rectified, with work expected to get under way next April or May.

Peter Hebard, a coastal engineering expert, said: “Time is of the essence – get a list of defects and action plans. It might be an open question as to who pays.

“The reef’s reputation is of great value and it might be worth putting a little bit extra in to gain a lot. What is important is that the world has a positive view of the project which has enormous economic value.”

Brian Weight, former British Surfing Association chairman, agreed that more money might need to be spent on the reef.

He said: “I think the reef has great potential. Maybe £250,000 more will have to be spent to get five times the value. Maybe that would be worthwhile.”

But Cllr Michael Everingham said: “I don’t think we are going to have support from ratepayers to spend more money on a reef that is not working.”

The panel agreed to set up a cross-party panel to consider ASR’s new proposals along with representatives from the surfing community.