Merton Council’s Planning Committee gave its approval of the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s plans to develop the parkland across the road on Thursday night, with 6 councillors to 4 voting in favour of building an 8,000-seater show court with a retractable roof plus 38 other grass courts on the former Wimbledon Park Golf Course.
Our proposals will both secure the future of The Championships for generations to come by bringing Qualifying to SW19, and provide a transformation in community amenities - including a new 23 acre park for everyone to enjoy on land which has been inaccessible to the public for over 100 years. We now look forward to the decision of Wandsworth Council’s Planning Committee in the coming weeks. Sally Bolton, AELTC Chief Executive
The decision came after a lengthy committee meeting that concluded just after midnight, despite the protests of local residents.
Chaired by Labour and Co-operative Party Counsellor Aidan Mundy, the committee heard a number of arguments on both sides, including from the AELTC, local residents, council officers and Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond, and took in environmental, social and economic considerations during the lengthy meeting, which lasted for almost 5 hours.
A spokesperson for the London Borough of Merton said: “After considering the officer’s report, relevant submissions, and the relevant planning framework, the independent planning committee, made up of councillors from all parties, voted to approve the application made by the All England Lawn Tennis Ground (AELTG) for expansion of its site at Wimbledon.
“There are further stages in the planning process and the land remains subject to covenants contained in the transfer of 1993 from the Council to AELTG.
“Until these covenants are properly addressed by AELTG they operate to restrict the use and development of the land as proposed in the planning application.”
A 524-page document had already been published by the council, which concluded planning permission should be granted, subject to conditions, because of the substantial public benefits of the proposal outweighing harm to the significance of heritage assets.
The AELTC, though, may have cleared the first hurdle but it still needs favourable decisions from Wandsworth Council, as the northernmost part of Wimbledon Park is within the borough, as well as from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is required to formally accept or reject the decision due to the development taking place on Metropolitan Open Land.
Seeking the go-ahead to enable completion by 2030, the Club is planning for an increase in the capacity of The Championships from 42,000 to 50,000 and also aims to deliver ‘benefits relating to heritage open space, recreation and community’.
Around 2,000 trees are expected to be removed across some 75 acres of Metropolitan Open Land, which is intended to be protected as an area of landscape, recreation, nature conservation or scientific interest.
Local residents have opposed the plans and a petition organised by Save Wimbledon Park has attracted more than 13,000 signatures, while around 75 members of the organisation gathered outside the meeting to protest ahead of last night’s meeting.
When the result of the vote was announced, planning chiefs came under fire, with one spectator in the public gallery shouting that the council chamber had become a ‘climate crime scene’ and was asked to leave.
Under the proposals, which were originally submitted in 2021, the Club grounds will almost triple in size and allow Wimbledon to host the qualifying tournaments in SW19, rather than their current home a couple of miles away in Roehampton.
Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, Southfields and Roehampton, tweeted: “I am very disappointed that Merton Council have NOT listened to local people and voted in favour of the Wimbledon Tennis industrial scale development on protected, Grade II listed Metropolitan Open Land.
“Our green spaces are precious and should be protected. #Southfields.”
Planning officers did advise that proposals would result in ‘physical harm’ to Metropolitan Open Land, but concluded ‘very special circumstances’ meant ‘substantial public benefits would clearly outweigh [the] harm’.
If the plan goes ahead, the new courts are unlikely to be in use before 2030 at the earliest.
News of the vote was met with disappointment by the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association (WPRA).
“We are not at all surprised by the outcome of the vote,” WPRA chair Iain Simpson said. “Most of the inconsistencies in the report were glossed over.
“Merton did not even bring their own experts into the hearing, and instead relied on the applicant to advise the councillors who were asking the questions. In addition their pronouncements on the environment still ignored their own expert advice where it didn’t suit them.
“On all that was said about the stadium and the buildings, these are still in outline – and outline designs on protected land contravene their own planning regulations. They therefore cannot be discussed in any meaningful way.
“This is just a stage in what will be a long process for which Save Wimbledon Park is well prepared.”
It could well prompt a judicial review as another potential obstacle for the development proceeding.
Meanwhile, the AELTC has announced on wimbledon.com that it is delighted that the London Borough of Merton has resolved to approve its plans for the Wimbledon Park Project.
In a statement, AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton said: “Our proposals will both secure the future of The Championships for generations to come by bringing Qualifying to SW19, and provide a transformation in community amenities – including a new 23 acre park for everyone to enjoy on land which has been inaccessible to the public for over 100 years.
“We now look forward to the decision of Wandsworth Council’s Planning Committee in the coming weeks.”
To find out more about the project, please click here.
The Club is also inviting members of the community to join guided tours of the proposed new public park. To find out more and RSVP, please click here.