Plans to build a new show court in the parkland at Wimbledon have been met with opposition, but the attempts to block the project failed to pass at the Merton Council meeting on Wednesday, which means the All England Club can look to pushing forward with plans for a 95-metre long, 28-metre high, 8,000-seat ‘Parkland show court’.
The public will finally be allowed onto land that has always been private before, and an incredible 1,500 trees will be planted. Councillor Brenda Fraser, Cabinet member for culture, leisure and skills, Merton Council
The proposed Parkland court will be the club’s third largest, if the planning application is formally approved.
Wimbledon Tory MP Stephen Hammond, however, is set to call on higher authorities to block the £100m expansion of the Club, telling **City AM** that the proposed development would come ‘at the expense of local people’ and that he will formally request both the government and London Mayor Sadiq Khan review the application if it does get council approval.
Should the Club’s plans be approved, 39 new grass courts would be built, including the new show court, on 67 hectares between Wimbledon and Wandsworth, but would also see the opening up of a public park for much of the year on what is now land exclusively used by the members of the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club.
The AELTC originally bought the golf course freehold from Merton Council in 1993 for £5.2m on the grounds that it would be kept intact, with the local authority placing a covenant on the sale that would stop any major developments.
The Labour-led Merton Council has now voted to say the covenant ‘needs to be respected’ instead of that it needs to be ‘enforced’ as Tory councillors were calling for, leading to speculation that the application will soon be voted through the council.
“A legal covenant is not a material planning consideration in a planning application assessment,” a Merton Council spokesperson said.
The AELTC spent £65m to acquire the land from the golf club in 2018, but the planning application for its development has faced opposition, with more than 1,000 public complaints, from people who are concerned that it would radically alter the area’s landscape, and only 30 letters of support.
“We all want Wimbledon to remain the national treasure it is, but not at the expense of local people,” Hammond said.
A spokesperson for AELTC said: “Our proposals are vital to the future success of Wimbledon as one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues, and our ability to be an active contributor to our local community both today and for future generations.
“We care about our role in the community, and we continue to engage in discussion with local residents, councillors and other interested groups.
“This project will deliver enduring and sustainable benefit for the community by opening up a large area of private land to become a new publicly accessible 9.4 hectare park, achieving a 10 per cent biodiversity increase that includes the restoration of number of habitats and planting of 1500 trees of a variety of sizes, and an increase in our Urban Greening Factor score to a nearly perfect 0.97.”
At the meeting on 2 February, opposition councillors brought forward a motion to enforce restrictive covenants, which could block the development even if a planning application was successful.
Councillor Paul Kohler said: “When the freehold was sold to the All England club in 1993 the promises were firm and the covenants water tight, the land would only be used for recreation purposes and the land not built on.
“But now the AELTC has come forward with this plan to build a 10-storey show court, fell over 300 mature trees, build 9km of road, build 38 additional tennis courts – grass it’s true but surrounded by concrete – build 10 ancillary buildings, dredge a lake that is home to the endangered European eel.”
The Liberal Democrat councillor said that locals would be disturbed by eight years of building works, adding: “The last thing that Merton needs to meet its carbon targets is to produce a concrete monolith, an industrial tennis complex in the heart of Wimbledon Park.”
Council leader, Councillor Mark Allison, however, said the development would see the creation of a new public park, the first in London since the Olympic Park in 2012.
Cabinet member for culture, leisure and skills, Councillor Brenda Fraser said: “The public will finally be allowed onto land that has always been private before, and an incredible 1,500 trees will be planted.”
The AELTC addresses a series of concerns on its website under the heading ‘Mythbusting’, saying: “We take the importance of preserving the local environment and heritage very seriously.”
For more information on the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project, click HERE