The proposal to increase the size of the All England Club’s premises, where the Wimbledon tournament takes place, has been given the green light by leaders of the local council.
The development and planning application committee of Merton council has voted to approve the expansion of the tennis complex on Thursday night.
A representative for the borough of south-west London stated that, after reviewing the officer’s report, submissions, and planning framework, the independent planning committee, consisting of councillors from all political parties, voted to grant approval for the expansion of the All England Lawn Tennis Ground (AELTG) at Wimbledon.
During the meeting in south London, which went on for more than four hours, it was reported that Merton council had received over 2,000 letters of protest. These letters argued that the proposed plans for a new show court and 38 additional grass courts were violating a covenant that prohibits construction on the protected parkland, which holds a Grade II* listing.
Stephen Hammond, a member of the Conservative Party representing Wimbledon, expressed his desire for a new app that would bring benefits to both the AELTC and the local community. He also stated his disapproval of the current plans, citing concerns about construction taking place in the park.
During the meeting, a spokesperson for the Save Wimbledon Park organization expressed concerns about the proposed development, stating that it would result in the removal of hundreds of trees and describing it as an intrusive and unsuitable commercial project. The AELTC has responded by stating that they will plant new trees in place of those that are removed.
During a meeting, Sally Bolton, the CEO of the AELTC, shared that their plan would result in a major transformation for London, comparable to the changes brought about by the 2012 Olympics. She expressed concern that SW19 could potentially lag behind other grand slams, as it is the only one to hold its qualifying event in a separate location, Roehampton. Additionally, she noted that there would be an increase in tourism and job opportunities for the local economy.
The All England Club has expressed interest in expanding onto the golf course for a while now. According to its executives, growth and modernization are necessary in order to maintain its position as the oldest and most esteemed championship in the world, and stay ahead of its competitors in the grand slam tournaments.
The estate will expand significantly with the implementation of the approved plan, increasing the number of grass courts and allowing for a larger crowd capacity. Additionally, the club will have the opportunity to construct additional corporate hospitality facilities on its current property, generating more revenue.
In contrast, the New York-based US Open invested £465m into constructing their second main court, the Louis Armstrong, which can hold 14,061 people. This is in addition to their primary venue, the Arthur Ashe Stadium, which has a capacity of 22,547 seats, 90 luxury corporate suites, five restaurants, and a two-story players’ lounge. In comparison, Wimbledon’s center court has a capacity of 14,979 seats and does not have any corporate boxes.
The proposed development consists of a “Parkland show court” measuring 95 meters in length and 28 meters in height, with a seating capacity of 8,000. This court will be located on the same land that was originally designed by landscape architect Capability Brown for the first Earl Spencer in 1768. Additionally, there are plans for 38 ground courts, multiple support buildings, and 9.4 kilometers of roads and paths on the protected land.
The All England Club purchased the freehold of the golf course from Merton borough council for £5.2m in 1993. As part of the agreement, a legal covenant was put in place to restrict the land’s use to leisure, recreation, or open space purposes.
The tennis club has leased the land to Wimbledon Park Golf Club until 2041. But, in order to expand the championships and hold preliminary matches on the premises, the tennis club has proposed to pay £65m to the golf club members in exchange for terminating the lease and enlarging its area of operation.
In 2018, the proposed deal was approved by members of the golf club, including well-known television personalities Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin, and Declan Donnelly, as well as former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell. As a result, each individual received a £85,000 bonus.
The show court was promised to be a top-notch structure that would complement the surrounding landscape and honor the site’s significant past. It was also said to elevate the image of “tennis in an English garden.”
Last year, Liberal Democrat council members put forth a proposal to enforce the covenants and prevent the construction of the stadium. This motion was backed by Conservative council members.
Despite having a majority on the council, Labour members altered the motion to declare that the covenants should be honored rather than enforced.