The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s goal to increase the size of the Wimbledon championships by constructing 39 additional courts at a nearby park was met with resistance on Monday evening as planning officers recommended that one of the impacted councils reject the contentious proposal.
Wandsworth officers recommended that councillors vote to refuse the All England Club’s proposal to build a 8,000-seat stadium show court and 38 grass courts on Grade II*-listed Wimbledon Park at the authority’s planning committee on Tuesday next week.
Last month, The All England Club received approval from the neighboring Merton council. However, a small portion of the park falls within the boundaries of Wandsworth. In order for the plans to move forward, the club must gain support from both councils and the mayor of London.
The proposed changes have caused frustration among nearby community members and environmental organizations, who believe the park should remain untouched. Over 14,000 individuals have expressed their support for preserving Wimbledon Park through a petition, and the councils have received over 2,000 letters of objection.
The All England club’s construction plans have been met with criticism from locals who see it as “corporate ecocide,” as it would require the removal of nearly 300 trees. However, the club argues that the majority of the trees are of “poor quality” and plans to replace them with 1,500 new trees.
A representative for AELTC expressed their surprise at the recommendation of the London Borough of Wandsworth planning officers to reject the AELTC Wimbledon Park project. They noted that the neighboring borough, Merton, had already approved the application after thorough examination and discussion in both their report and planning committee.
Unfortunately, the officers in Wandsworth have a different perspective, however, it is ultimately up to the planning applications committee’s councillors to make their own well-thought-out decision during the meeting on November 21st.
Fleur Anderson, the Member of Parliament for Putney representing the Labour party, expressed her pleasure at the recommendation made by Wandsworth council planning officers to reject the AELTC’s plans for Wimbledon Park. The park is designated as protected metropolitan open land and holds a Grade II* listing, which requires strong justification in order to be developed on.
The planning officers of Wandsworth council have not discovered the presence of “very special circumstances” and therefore have advised against the approval of the plans. However, the campaign persists to protect our valuable green area. This is a promising development in the right direction.
In 1993, the AELTC purchased the land in Wimbledon Park from Merton council for £5.2m with the intention of expanding. However, they agreed to a covenant that restricted the use of the land to leisure, recreational purposes, or as open space.
The organization leased the property to Wimbledon Park golf club until 2018. The chairman expressed concern that the SW19 championships would not be able to keep up with its rivals in New York, Paris, and Melbourne if it did not grow and provide more amenities for both players and viewers. He suggested that expanding onto the golf club would be the best solution.
The lease for the golf club’s property is set to expire in 2041, meaning that the All England club cannot reclaim the land for another 23 years. In an effort to acquire the land earlier, the tennis club proposed a payment of £65m to the golf club members. This resulted in a windfall of £85,000 for each member, including notable individuals such as Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, and former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell.
If the plans are approved by Wandsworth council during their planning meeting on November 21st, they will then be brought to the attention of the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Greater London Authority.