Wimbledon | Parkland expansion plans face a setback from Wandsworth Council

Planning officers at Wandsworth Council have recommended Councillors refuse permission for the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s proposal to build 39 new grass courts, including an 8,000-seater show court, on Wimbledon Park land, which is a major setback after Merton Council gave the project the green light in October.

We firmly believe the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project will deliver substantial social, economic and environmental benefits, including 23 acres of newly accessible green space, alongside hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of pounds in economic benefits for our neighbours in Wandsworth, Merton and across London. AELTC Spokesperson

Most of the project falls under Merton’s jurisdiction, but the most northerly part of the parkland, a small triangle of land, lies within Wandsworth’s boundaries so, in order for the plans to go ahead, backing by both councils, as well as that of the Mayor of London, is required.

Wandsworth’s planners deem the development on Wimbledon Park as ‘inappropriate’, saying it would cause ‘substantial harm’ to the land.

While Merton accepted the proposals would result in ‘physical harm’ to Metropolitan Open Land, Councillors concluded that the ‘very special circumstances’ would result in ‘substantial public benefits [that] would clearly outweigh [the] harm’.

“The proposed development would result in the net loss of open space/green infrastructure, with no replacement provision provided,” Wandsworth’s report concluded.

The Wandsworth Planning Committee will vote on the matter next Tuesday, after which the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will have two weeks to deliver his verdict.

The additional grass courts would allow Wimbledon qualifying to take place on-site, which is in line with the other three Grand Slams.

The AELTC has also promised to create a new 23-acre public park in the spirit of the original design of landscape architect Capability Brown, while at least 7 of the grass courts would be made available to the local community for the summer weeks that follow Wimbledon.


The Parkland Project promises to plant 1,500 trees to replace the 300 of poor quality that it will remove

AELTC/wimbledon.com

The Parkland Project plans have angered many local residents and environmental groups, who claim the land should be left as open space.

More than 14,000 people signed a petition to ‘save Wimbledon Park’ and over 2,000 letters of objection have been received by the councils.

Almost 300 trees would be removed to allow for the AELTC’s building plans, which some locals describe as ‘corporate ecocide’, but the Club says that most of the trees are of ‘poor quality, adding that it plans to plant 1,500 new ones.

A spokesperson for the AELTC said: “We are surprised that planning officers at the London Borough of Wandsworth have recommended refusal of the AELTC Wimbledon Park project, particularly after the London borough of Merton resolved to approve the application following extensive analysis and debate both in their officers’ report and at the planning committee.

“We regret that Wandsworth’s officers have taken a different view but it is for councillors on the planning applications committee to make their own considered decision at the meeting on 21 November.

“We firmly believe the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project will deliver substantial social, economic and environmental benefits, including 23 acres of newly accessible green space, alongside hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of pounds in economic benefits for our neighbours in Wandsworth, Merton and across London.”


The new show court will be sunken with a retractable roof, and will seat 8,000 fans

AELTC/wimbledon.com

Fleur Anderson, the Labour MP for Putney, said: “I am delighted that Wandsworth council planning officers have recommended that the AELTC proposals for Wimbledon Park be refused.

“Wimbledon Park is protected, Grade II*-listed Metropolitan Open Land. This means that ‘very special circumstances’ must be proved for it to be built on.

“Wandsworth Council planning officers have not found that these ‘very special circumstances’ exist and so have recommended the plans be refused.

“The campaign continues. Our precious green space must be defended. But this is a very positive step in the right direction.”

The AELTC first set its sights on expanding into Wimbledon Park in 1993 when it bought the freehold of the land from Merton council for £5.2m, but it signed a covenant agreeing that it would ‘not use the [land] other than for leisure or recreational purposes or as an open space’.

The Club rented the land to Wimbledon Park Golf Club until 2018, when Chairman Phillip Brook said he feared The Championships would fall behind its competitors in New York, Paris and Melbourne if it did not expand and offer greater facilities for players and spectators.

He added that the obvious place to expand was onto the golf club.

Since the lease on the land was due to last until 2041, the AELTC offered the golf club members £65m to give up their facilities early, which provided a £85,000 windfall to every member, including Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, and Gus O’Donnell, the former cabinet secretary.

After Wandsworth Councillors meet on 21 November to vote on the plans, the decision, and that of Merton Council, will then be referred to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the Greater London Authority.


A view from the northern courts looking south

AELTC/wimbledon.com


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