SHOCKING aerial photos appear to show a “disastrous” gap in the Boscombe Surf Reef.

The reef has been closed since one of the sand bags disintegrated last spring, but the new photos suggest several bags have significantly or completely deflated.

The pictures, taken by Bournemouth Helicopters, also show sandy water spreading out around the reef.

Cllr Ben Grower said: “How can the council keep denying this is a total disaster? The contractor ASR is not going to come back because looking at this picture it is impossible to remedy.

“They are never going to be able to get it working again with the money available.”

Former councillor Basil Ratcliffe had been on a working group on the reef which raised serious concerns about its construction and safety.

He said: “What now appears to have happened over the winter is that the reef is breaking up due to unsatisfactory design and construction.

“This was to be expected in view of information unearthed by the investigating group.”

Bournemouth council is currently making an insurance claim for the bag on the basis it was damaged by a boat.

However diving reports raised concerns about bag seams apparently failing before the ‘boat strike’ was reported.

The council and contractors ASR tried to fix the reef before the winter to stop it suffering further but completed little work.

The effort only started late in the summer due to contractual wrangles and work was then affected by bad weather.

The £3million reef was already failing to hit performance targets before the closure.

Guy Penwarden, former chair of Wessex Surf Club, and a former member of the surf reef stakeholders group, said: “The council has to be applauded for taking this project on but I think they have been let down by the company doing it.

“Hand on heart, a lot of people who surf have no faith that it will ever work now. It’s become a bit of a laughing stock.”

ASR is contracted to repair the damage by May 31 but no arrival date has been announced.

And the company faces legal potential legal claims for more than £60,000 in unpaid contractors invoices should it return.

The Echo emailed the latest photo to the company’s managing director, head of marketing, and general address inviting comment, but did not receive a reply.

Bournemouth council said the gap in the reef related to bags damaged in a boat strike last year.

Insurance claim

Mark Smith, service director for tourism, said: “This picture does not reveal anything over and above what we have previously and proactively advised. “We said last year that significant changes have altered the structure of the reef. “Our ongoing insurance claim was lodged last year for the damage caused to the structure as illustrated by the photograph and is based on the reef being hit by a boat.”

Boscombe West Cllr Chris Wakefield said: “We should not spend any further money on this and we should let nature take its course.

“Any money left over or forthcoming from the insurance claim should be fed into the heart of Boscombe.”