The proposal to enlarge the All England Club’s facilities, where the Wimbledon tournament takes place, has been given the go-ahead by leaders of the nearby council.
On Thursday evening, the development and planning application committee of Merton council made the decision to grant approval for the expansion of the tennis complex.
A representative for the borough of south-west London announced that the independent planning committee, consisting of councillors from all political parties, has voted to approve the All England Lawn Tennis Ground’s (AELTG) application for expanding their Wimbledon site. This decision was made after reviewing the officer’s report, relevant submissions, and the applicable planning guidelines.
During the four-hour meeting in south London, it was reported that Merton council had received over 2,000 letters opposing the proposed construction of a new show court and 38 additional grass courts. These objections were based on the belief that these designs violated a covenant prohibiting building on the Grade II* listed parkland.
The Conservative Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, Stephen Hammond, expressed his desire for a new app that would benefit both the AELTC and the local community. He also criticized the current plans for their inclusion of construction on the park, calling them “unsuitable.”
A member of the Save Wimbledon Park organization expressed concerns at the gathering, stating that the proposed plans would result in the removal of hundreds of trees and labeling it as “a forceful and unsuitable commercial development.” The AELTC countered by stating that new trees would be planted.
During a meeting, Sally Bolton, the CEO of AELTC, stated that their plan would bring about a major change in the world of sports for London, comparable to the impact of the 2012 Olympics. She expressed concern that SW19 may lag behind other major tournaments because it is the only one to hold its qualifying event at a separate location in Roehampton. Additionally, she mentioned that this transformation could lead to an increase in tourism and job opportunities, benefiting the local economy.
The All England Club has had a goal of expanding onto the golf course for quite some time. According to its executives, growth and modernization are necessary in order to maintain its position as the oldest and most prestigious championship in the world, ahead of its grand slam competitors.
The estate will nearly triple in size under the approved plan, allowing for more grass courts and a larger crowd capacity. Additionally, the club will have the opportunity to construct additional corporate hospitality facilities on their current property, potentially generating more revenue.
In contrast, the US Open in New York invested £465m in its secondary court, the Louis Armstrong, which now holds 14,061 spectators. This is in addition to the main Arthur Ashe stadium, which has 22,547 seats, 90 luxury corporate suites, five restaurants, and a two-story players’ lounge. In comparison, Wimbledon’s center court has 14,979 seats and does not have any corporate boxes.
The proposed development consists of a “Parkland show court” that is 95 meters in length, 28 meters in height, and can accommodate 8,000 people. This court will be located on the land originally designed by landscape architect Capability Brown for the first Earl Spencer in 1768. Additionally, there will be 38 ground courts, various support structures, and 9.4 kilometers of roads and paths built on the protected land.
In 1993, the All England Club purchased the ownership of the golf course from Merton borough council for £5.2m. As part of the agreement, a legal obligation was put in place to ensure that the land could only be used for leisure or recreational purposes, or as an open space.
The club leased the land to Wimbledon Park Golf Club until 2041. The tennis club wanted to expand the championships and have preliminary matches on site, so they offered the golf club £65m to buy out the lease and increase the space they could use.
In 2018, the agreement was approved by members of the golf club, which included Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, and Lord O’Donnell. Each member received a windfall of £85,000.
The organizers pledged to build a “top-notch structure that complements the natural beauty of the area and honors the site’s significant past.” They also stated that it would further establish their reputation for “tennis in a picturesque English garden.”
However, in the past year, Liberal Democrat councillors put forth a proposal that would have mandated the council to uphold the covenants and halt the construction of the stadium. This proposal was backed by Conservative councillors.
Nevertheless, the council’s Labour members, who make up the majority, revised the proposal to declare that the covenants should be honored rather than enforced.