Regeneration context

Social and economic regeneration in Boscombe is regarded as high priority by Bournemouth Borough Council as part of its wider Seafront Strategy.

Developer Barratts is building 170 apartments on the site of a former car park

Developer Barratts is building 170 apartments on the site of a former car park. Copyright Garther Gardner

The vision for Boscombe outlined in the strategy includes creating a more environmentally-sustainable seafront, as well as achieving sustainable reinvestment and economic regeneration for the town. Key to achieving this is offering ‘truly memorable’ customer experiences.

Spa Village regeneration

At the heart of regeneration plans are an overarching ambition to transform Boscombe into a surf resort. Its centrepiece is the ongoing Boscombe Spa Village scheme. The former Honeycombe Chine car park was sold to housing developer Barratts, which is constructing 170 sea facing apartments, earning the Council £11m for investment in regeneration projects.

The resulting investment has sparked a host of improvement schemes. It may all appear sudden but many of the plans date back to the 1980s, says Emery, “but there was never the funding in place”. Boscombe Spa Village plans were finalised and consulted upon in 2003, which among other things identified a strong desire to enhance the public space, which was subsequently targeted as a key investment priority, as well as a wish for public art.

Artificial reef

The highest profile regeneration project is construction of Europe’s first artificial surf reef, due for completion in time for this winter’s surfing season. Constructed from geotextile bags filled with sand, the reef will act as a ramp to amplify the waves breaking onto Boscombe beach, hopefully doubling the number of surfing days. This in turn will help to extend both the holiday season and the local economy. Boscombe is already fairly popular as a watersports destination, evidenced by a clutch of surf gear shops and related cafes.

Plans for the reef were originally mooted back in 1996, and since then five have been constructed around the world. Says Emery: “We are just two hours from London and will be able to provide good quality, reliable and enjoyable surf.”

Construction of the reef has been accompanied by refurbishment in 2007/08 of the dilapidated pier, which had been declared unsafe and closed several years earlier. An amusement arcade at the end had closed in 1989 and fell into dereliction. It was demolished as part of the refurbishment process, replaced by a fishing/viewing platform. The entire pier has been redecked and a new glazed windbreak erected down the centre.

Other completed projects

On the promenade, the most visible project is the ongoing refurbishment of the concrete and timber Overstrand Building, a 1958 Modernist companion piece to the pier. It is being converted into 58 retrostyle beach cabins - unveiled in May 2009 - nicknamed ‘beach pods’ and branded by Bournemouth Borough Council as ‘the most desirable beach huts in the UK’. They have been designed by HemingwayDesign, and the building will also include surf academy, retail outlets and restaurant, plus changing facilities. The surf pods are being offered both for sale and rent.

Roads around the entrance to the pier have also been reconfigured, to create a piazza that is earmarked for cultural events. It incorporates a Wessex Water pumping station, which has been disguised by hard landscaping to create a raised seating area. Meanwhile, Boscombe Chine gardens have been transformed from “a no-go area”, says Emery, to a rehabilitated family friendly amenity complete with water play park, café and minigolf. The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is a Green Flag Award winning park, popular with both local residents and visitors.

Contribution of creativity

Creativity and culture undoubtedly form a major theme in the regeneration works. Artist Irene Rogan was commissioned to produce an arts consultation report, published in March 2007, on how visual arts could be integrated into the various projects, tapping into Boscombe’s early heritage as a cultural magnet.

Rogan’s report proposed that Boscombe’s heritage of health, through the former spa, and nature (Boscombe’s cliffs are designated SSSIs) would underpin any public arts briefs, with the theme ‘health, learning and the natural world’. Completed art initiatives include a sculpture by artist Simon Hitchens, located on a traffic roundabout in front of the pier..

Town centre regeneration

However, economic and cultural regeneration have focused to date on the seafront. The town centre itself is located some distance inland. This has led to concerns that benefits of regeneration of the seafront are failing to percolate through to the town itself because of the physical distance between the two. Pedestrians are easily discouraged from making the walk because of the steep hill that rises from the seafront, plus a lack of signage.

In the town centre itself, regeneration is proceeding at a somewhat slower pace. “The main shopping area has had no real investment during the last 18 years,” says Kent. Until March, it was spearheaded by the Boscombe West and Springbourne Neighbourhood Management Pathfinder, one of the government’s first pathfinder areas.

The Sea Change project, which has been prepared with great involvement from the NM Pathfinder, aims to start breaking down the boundaries between town and seafront.

Read the project description.