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£1.2m artificial reef plan is delayed as TV's Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall pulls out

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 23, 2013

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

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A £1.2 million artificial reef plan will have to be scaled down because of funding issues.

The project, which would have seen up to 1,000 giant concrete balls dropped on the Torbay sea bed in a bid to attract more marine life to the area and boost eco-tourism, has lost its backer, TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Rick Parker, skipper of the Jennifer Ann charter dive boat, who is spearheading the project, insisted the scheme was still on course but might take longer to achieve or be scaled down.

Mr Parker claimed he originally had the backing of Axminster-based TV celebrity Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall and his TV production company KEO Films, but the project could not receive the green light in time for filming to start in November.

He said: "The Fish Fight programme was going out in January, but we were not going to be ready by then. They still want to do a documentary on it when it is up and running. They won't be funding it anymore though."

Mr Parker said he was still keen to press ahead.

He said: "I am in the process of applying for charity status so we can tap into various funding streams and go ahead with the project.

"I had a round table meeting with the various licensing authorities like Natural England, the Marine Management Organisation, and Torbay Council to see what was required of me in terms of a survey of the seabed.

"We're still keen to go ahead with this educational and research scheme. It will just have to be done a bit at a time and on a smaller scale, but it's the end result which counts. I know it can work."

Mr Parker first showed his idea for an artificial reef for Tor Bay at a harbour committee meeting last September.

The four areas with potential for an artificial reef in the Bay are Hope's Nose, Anstey's Cove, Long Quarry Point, Babbacombe Bay and Oddicombe beach.

Mr Parker said: "Everyone we talked to was very supportive, the Crown Estate, the MMO. We just need now to get charity status and find some funds." The keen diver is hoping to have his new Reef Haven declared a charity within the next three months so he can apply for funding as soon as possible.

If all goes well, he now hopes to be able to put down the first concrete ball on the sea bed in the autumn.

Kevin Mowat, director of marine services and Tor Bay harbourmaster, said the harbour committee had been supportive of the project in general terms, but asked Mr Parker to go away and speak to the various stakeholders and prepare a business plan.

He said: "There were talks of surveying the seabed to see if the project is feasible. Rick did speak to all the stakeholders to see if he was likely to get consent from a statutory point of view.

"The Crown Estate and MMO were quite supportive of his idea. From Torbay Council's point of view the principle has been established and accepted."

A spokesman's for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's TV company, KEO Films, said: "It is correct to say we are not involved in the project.

"This was one of a number of projects we were looking at around the country for possible inclusion in the Fish Fight series."

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