The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s expansion plans were refused by Wandsworth Council at a meeting on Tuesday evening after a unanimous vote by Councillors, who followed the recommendation of their planning officers.
Given the split council decision, with the London Borough of Merton resolving to approve our application last month, our planning application will now be referred to the Mayor of London's office for consideration. Sally Bolton, AELTC Chief Executive
The Club wants to build 39 tennis courts, including an 8,000-seater show court, on the parkland site of the former Wimbledon Park Golf Club, and last month these development plans were approved by Merton Council, which is responsible for all but the most northerly part of the land that falls to Wandsworth, when Councillors voted in favour of the scheme.
Its officers accepted the proposals would result in ‘physical harm’ to Metropolitan Open Land, but concluded that ‘very special circumstances’ meant ‘substantial public benefits would clearly outweigh [the] harm’.
As part of the project, the AELTC also promises to create a new 23-acre public park modelled on the original design by landscape architect Capability Brown, while some 7 grass courts will be made available to the local community for the summer weeks that follow The Championships.
The expansion would allow Wimbledon qualifying to take place on site, falling in line with the other three Grand Slams as the competition would transfer from Roehampton, which is three-and-a-half miles away.
The application will now be referred to the Mayor of London’s office, where a decision is expected within two weeks.
Mayor Sadiq Khan could opt to take over the application himself, a course of action that also is within the power of Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities.
“Naturally, we are disappointed by the London Borough of Wandsworth’s decision,” AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton said. “Our proposals will deliver one of the greatest sporting transformations for London since 2012, alongside substantial benefits for the local community.
“We firmly believe the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project offers significant social, economic and environmental improvements, including turning 23 acres of previously private land into a new public park, alongside hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of pounds in economic benefits for our neighbours in Wandsworth, Merton and across London.
“Given the split council decision, with the London Borough of Merton resolving to approve our application last month, our planning application will now be referred to the Mayor of London’s office for consideration.”
Strong local opposition to the plan, however, exists and members of the Save Wimbledon Park organisation have vocally objected outside both Councils where the planning decisions were made.
While acknowledging that the process was far from finished, the Chair of Save Wimbledon Park, Iain Simpson, said: “This result is very heartening. The councillors unanimously recognised the crucial point that this application provides no justification for so much harm to metropolitan open land, our precious green belt.”
An attempt could be made to challenge the lawfulness of the way the decision was made on the grounds of illegality, procedural unfairness or irrationality, but only a very small number of these cases succeed each year.
Also, a 30-year-old legal covenant may also form part of a challenge, because when the freehold of the golf course was transferred from Merton Council to the AELTC in 1993, the Club agreed ‘not to use the [land] other than for leisure or recreational purposes or as an open space’.