The All England Lawn Tennis Club had hoped to enlarge the Wimbledon championships by constructing 39 additional courts in a nearby park. However, on Monday night, planning officers recommended that one of the involved councils reject the contentious proposal.
Wandsworth officials advised council members to reject the All England Club’s plan to construct an 8,000-seat show court and 38 grass courts in Grade II*-listed Wimbledon Park. The decision will be voted on by the planning committee on Tuesday of next week.
In the previous month, The All England Club received approval from the Merton council, but a small section of the park falls under Wandsworth’s jurisdiction. In order for the proposed plans to move forward, they must gain support from both councils and the London mayor.
The proposed changes have caused frustration among nearby inhabitants and environmental organizations, who believe the park should remain as undeveloped land. Over 14,000 individuals have shown their support by signing a petition to preserve Wimbledon Park, and the councils have received over 2,000 letters of disapproval.
Almost 300 trees would be removed to allow the All England club’s building plans, which some locals described as “corporate ecocide”. The club said most of the trees are “poor quality” and said it will plant 1,500 new ones.
A representative from the AELTC expressed their surprise at the recommendation of refusal for the AELTC Wimbledon Park project by planning officers from the London Borough of Wandsworth. This comes after the London Borough of Merton had approved the application after thorough analysis and discussion in their officers’ report and at the planning committee.
Unfortunately, the officers in Wandsworth have a different perspective. However, it is ultimately up to the planning applications committee councillors to carefully consider and make their decision at the meeting on November 21st.
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.
The planning officers of Wandsworth council have not identified any “very special circumstances” and therefore, have suggested rejecting the plans. The campaign will persist as we strive to protect our valuable green area. However, this is a promising advancement towards the desired outcome.
In 1993, the AELTC purchased the freehold of the land from Merton council for £5.2m with plans to expand into Wimbledon Park. However, they were bound by a covenant stating that the land could only be used for leisure, recreational purposes, or as open space.
The club leased the property to Wimbledon Park golf club until 2018. However, the chair expressed concern that the SW19 championships would not be able to keep up with its rivals in New York, Paris, and Melbourne if it did not expand and provide better amenities for players and viewers. The logical choice for expansion, he suggested, was onto the golf club.
Unfortunately, the golf club is bound by a lease that extends until 2041, preventing the All England club from reclaiming the land for another 23 years. In an attempt to expedite the process, the tennis club proposed a compensation of £65m to the golf club members in exchange for giving up their club earlier. This equates to a generous windfall of £85,000 for each member, including notable names such as Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, and former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell.
If the Wandsworth council approves the plans during its planning meeting on November 21st, the project will be sent to Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and the Greater London Authority for further consideration.