Using a comparison to tennis, Christopher Coombe of Save Wimbledon Park remarks that the current developments in the dispute between locals and the top tennis event resemble a tie score in a match, but with much left to be determined. He adds that the situation is akin to a five-set match without the possibility of a tiebreaker.
The day after Wandsworth council unanimously turned down the All England Club’s proposal to construct 39 grass courts and an 8,000-seat stadium on the Wimbledon golf club site, Coombe is speaking about the situation. Last month, Merton council, which also has a say in the matter, approved the plans by a 6-4 vote, causing a stalemate and tension among residents of Wimbledon and Southfields.
We will soon find out about the next update. The London mayor’s office announced on Wednesday that they will make a decision within the next two weeks on whether to cancel the plans completely or review them. The final decision will be made by the deputy mayor for planning, Jules Pipe, as the mayor, Sadiq Khan, has removed himself from the decision-making process due to his previous endorsement of the expansion.
Pipe is anticipated to assess the project, causing a delay of no less than six months. Following that, the final decision may be referred to Michael Gove, the secretary of state for promoting equality, and ultimately be brought to court for evaluation. In simpler terms, the lengthy 11-hour match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut is insignificant compared to the seemingly never-ending legal case in Bleak House known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
The argument of the residents is that expanding the All England Club from 41 to 115 acres will have a detrimental impact on the environment, cause 10 years of disturbance in the community, and result in a large “tennis industrial complex” that will be mostly unused.
Susan Cusack of Save Wimbledon Park expresses concern for the negative impact on the environment, biodiversity, and air quality if the proposed plans are implemented. The development would involve building on 70 acres of metropolitan open land, which currently has 2,000 trees and is home to numerous species listed as endangered or at risk of extinction. The construction phase alone would require 40,400 vehicles, and the building site would remain active for eight to 10 years.
Cusack also refutes any accusations of nimbyism and argues that the impact of developments in Wimbledon will extend beyond just that area. He points out that there are 50 similar sites in London that are at risk of losing their green spaces. If this particular case is successful, it could set a precedent for the development of all these areas. The parks in London are a beloved aspect of the city and it would be devastating to lose them to urban development.
Unfortunately, a large portion of these proposals have been denied by the All England Club. The organization argues that its own plans, which involve extensive ecological improvements, have received backing from both the London Wildlife Trust and Natural England. Additionally, they have committed to planting 1,500 trees of different ages and sizes that are more suitable for the area, as well as allocating £6m towards dredging the lake in Wimbledon Park and renovating the playground for children.
The local community will also reap other advantages from this project, such as having seven out of the 39 courts accessible to the public even after the championships. Sally Bolton, the chief executive, asserts that the Wimbledon Park endeavor will bring about noteworthy social, economic, and environmental enhancements. These include transforming 23 acres of formerly private land into a new public park, creating hundreds of job opportunities, and generating tens of millions of pounds in economic benefits.
In summary, the All England Club’s reasoning is that they require an additional 8,000-seat show court and 38 other grass courts, primarily for qualifying matches and better practice facilities, in order to maintain their position as the top tennis tournament in the world.
However, this claim is being challenged by 16,000 individuals in the area who have signed a petition against the plan. Both of the local Members of Parliament, Fleur Anderson from the Labour party and Stephen Hammond from the Conservative party, also oppose the scheme.
While both parties anticipate the next phase of the procedure, it appears unlikely that a resolution will be reached. Rather, there is a sense of distrust, as nearby inhabitants claim that the All England Club has broken their promise from 1993 to not develop the area and from 2018 to collaborate with the local community. Wimbledon refutes these allegations and highlights that 5,000 community members have participated in one of their consultation events.
Jonathon Norrish, a fellow activist, states that their approach is like a game, believing that their substantial wealth allows them to act without consequences. He urges them to reconsider, stating that the magnitude of the project is excessive. Instead, he suggests involving the community more in the decision-making process and starting over.
Regardless of what occurs in the future, it is evident that very few matches in the 146-year history of the All England Club have been as lengthy or contentious.