Is Wavegarden surfing lake right for 'majestic' Avon Gorge?
A COUNCILLOR has backed campaigners who are protesting against plans for a £5 million surfing lake in the Avon Gorge.
In a letter to the Evening Post John Goulandris says he believes the 13-acre Bristol and West sports ground on the Portway should not be exploited for commercial gain, but remain "a majestic, natural and green gateway to Bristol".
The Stoke Bishop councillor says he wishes the men backing Wavegarden well, but wants confirmation as soon as possible that the proposed site has been discounted.
His letter will please members of the Friends of Avon Gorge who say the site is not suitable for a commercial venture because it would damage the character of the Avon Gorge and threaten important wildlife habitats.
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The Wavegarden project is the idea of Nick Hounsfield, 38, and Tobin Coles, 39, and is supported by Chris Hines MBE, a former director of sustainability at the Eden Project.
The surfing lake, which would be a world first, would also house a botanical garden, changing rooms, treatment rooms, a cafe, adventure trail, hire facility and sensory garden.
Mr Hounsfield maintains that the lake would be an attractive addition to the landscape and enhance local ecology by establishing a wildlife corridor and encouraging bio-diversity.
A full environmental impact assessment of the site would be carried out as part of the planning process, he says.
Mr Hounsfield denies the site would seek investment from large commercial food or drink companies and has already highlighted his desire to meet with the Friends of Avon Gorge to hear their concerns. If given the go-ahead they hope for Wavegarden to be in place by spring 2013.
But Mr Goulandris' standpoint has put more pressure on a project that is yet to get off the ground.
He wrote: "I can understand why Friends of the Avon Gorge, supported by local residents, are aghast at tentative plans to locate a commercial surf complex in the heart of the Avon Gorge.
"Planners and councillors have not always got in right in Bristol, but to date they have, quite correctly, resisted attempts by developers to exploit the Avon Gorge for commercial gain.
"As a result the Avon Gorge remains a majestic, natural, green gateway to Bristol, crowned by Brunel's masterpiece, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Few cities can boast such a wonderful entrance.
"The Avon Gorge is, of course, more than just a visual beauty. It supports a delicate ecosystem with some unique flora and fauna.
"It is a wildlife corridor and a green lung, which is a unique and rare environmental asset so close to a major city centre. Long may it so remain.
"Wavegarden representatives say they are looking at a number of possible locations.
"I hope this is true and I would certainly encourage them to steer well away from sensitive environmental sites like the Avon Valley and the Avon Gorge.
"The reality is that for a surf centre to be commercially viable it will require a massive amount of highly intrusive and environmentally damaging commercial infrastructure.
"To create the 'wave' on a man- made lake as proposed via electricity is very expensive, and not a particularly green use of power, given that the sea makes waves without using up precious resources.
"This cost will need to be recouped somehow, if the venture is to survive and not go bankrupt.
"This can only mean lots of intrusive commercial development alongside the lake.
"If anyone doubts this, then just look over the border to North Somerset, where 'Leisuredome', on the former RAF site at Locking near Weston-super-Mare, will comprise a Subway outlet, takeaway Tennessee Chicken, a SOHO Coffee company cafe, Butcombe beer and possibly other retailers too. Without this commercial infrastructure, a stand alone surf centre is financially unviable. Indeed, Leisuredome will include a BMX and skateboard park, gym, ski centre and meeting facilities, as well as a surf centre.
"In summary, I wish Wavegarden well. It's a nice, if naive idea. Realistically, it will only work as part of a larger leisure complex.
"However, I would urge them to choose possible sites with much more care in future and to confirm as soon as possible they have discounted the Avon Gorge as a possible location.
"Please leave the Avon Gorge alone and please do not to jeopardise its unique environmental qualities for commercial profit."