The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s aspirations of building a new 8,000-seater show court in the parklands across Church Road are being met with increasing resistance from local residents and local authorities.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity not only to cement London’s position as a global leader in world class sporting venues, but also to create this extraordinary new public park for our local community, significantly increasing access to green space and providing an important sanctuary for nature.” Sally Bolton, AELTC Chief Executive
The proposed stadium would become the third largest arena on the Wimbledon grounds, clocking in slightly smaller than Court 1 and Centre Court.
Expansion of the existing grounds have been in place for a while, and The Club has been at pains to present the project as an environmentally beneficial upgrade to the land currently being used as a private golf course, emphasising that this, alongside the lake, will made accessible to the public outside of The Championships.
The plans, though, which include the proposed new show court and 39 grass courts on designated Metropolitan Open Land, will enable the qualifying competitions to be played on site ahead of The Championships, but are being opposed by a coalition of MPs, councillors and local residents associations.
According to several reports, local authority planning hearings are set to be scheduled in late September when Merton and Wandsworth Councils will make the initial call, but there is a suggestion that the final decision could be referred the London Mayor’s office, or even the Secretary of State.
Ahead of this year’s grass-court Grand Slam, the original planning application was altered, but the changes have not been enough to satisfy the opposition.
The AELTC points out that the land is currently only available to members of the neighbouring golf club, who are set to move out by the end of the year to make way for the expansion plans.
In a released statement, the AELTC said: “The AELTC Wimbledon Park Project proposals were designed with two core objectives in mind: to maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of tennis and to provide substantial public benefit to our local community.
“Central to these proposals is the opening up of previously private land to be enjoyed by thousands of local residents in Merton and Wandsworth.
“The benefits include the creation of a new 9.4-hectare public park, a new boardwalk around Wimbledon Park lake, and community use of the proposed new courts and facilities during the year.”
“We believe these benefits, alongside others such as an increase in biodiversity of the site and the planting of 1,500 trees, will provide a lasting legacy for our community to enjoy for years to come.”
The £100 million expansion scheme has inspired remarkable political unity amongst its opponents, with Conservative Stephen Hammond of Wimbledon and Labour’s Fleur Anderson in Putney both vehemently against the development.
Numerous meetings and debates have already been held, and it seems likely that more will follow, which makes it highly unlikely that the AELTC will be able to break ground on the new venue anytime soon, if at all.
Both Hammond and Anderson say the plans are ‘inappropriate’, and are calling for Merton and Wandsworth Councils to reject the application for full planning permission for the courts and associated infrastructure, which would include ‘re-profiling of the landscape and the removal, retention and replanting of trees’.
The application also asks for the provision of a boardwalk around the perimeter of, and across, Wimbledon Park Lake, lake alterations, highway works to Church Road and new pedestrian access points.
“Local residents appreciate the existing world class sports event in our area, however there is strong local opposition to these plans,” said Mr Hammond and Ms Anderson in a joint statement.
“The new area of Wimbledon Park is a small part of the development which will not have any protection against future development and will be mainly closed to the public for at least 5 weeks each summer.
“The size and mass of the new show court stadium is of an inappropriate scale to be built on Metropolitan Open Land.”
The two MPs have requested the councils hold a ‘special full planning committee’ to discuss the development proposal only.
“We both agree on the importance of protecting our local green spaces, responding to the climate emergency, and carefully and rigorously scrutinising all proposed developments that will impact the communities we represent,” the statement said.
An AELTC spokesman said the plan involves opening up of previously private land ‘to be enjoyed by residents in Merton and Wandsworth’ with benefits it hopes will ‘provide a lasting legacy for our community to enjoy for years to come’.
“We are always open to feedback, questions and comments from our local communities,” the spokesman said. “Throughout this process, which began more than a year ago, we have held several community engagement events, and have continued to consult proactively with local residents and elected representatives alike.”
Wimbledon residents fear lorries will cause traffic chaos in their neighbourhood, outlining their concerns in a letter to the council’s planning department, while the Wimbledon Society points out that there will be a ‘substantial increase’ in construction traffic, partly due to more than 54,000 cubic metres of soil which has to be removed from the site.
In a letter, the Wimbledon Society said: “We believe the environmental impact of the soil movements and substantial increase in construction traffic has been dramatically underestimated by the planning documents.
“This serious underestimate casts doubt on the proposed timetable, as well as its environmental figures and calculations in this complex application.
“Without further clarity, the application should be rejected or withdrawn and further amended.”
AELTC estimates there would be just over 4,700 lorry movements for the project.
If approved, the plans, submitted to both Merton and Wandsworth councils in 2021, could increase the daily capacity of the annual tennis tournament from 42,000 to 50,000 a day.
A spokesperson for The Club said the AELTC was still reviewing the contents of the letter from The Wimbledon Society.
On wimbledon.com, Sally Bolton, AELTC Chief Executive, states: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity not only to cement London’s position as a global leader in world class sporting venues, but also to create this extraordinary new public park for our local community, significantly increasing access to green space and providing an important sanctuary for nature.”
For more information on The AELTC Wimbledon Park Project, click HERE.