Next week, a significant event will occur in Wimbledon as the All England Lawn Tennis Club faces opposition from a local council regarding their proposal to construct an 8,000-seat stadium in a park that is listed as Grade II*.
On Tuesday evening, the AELTC will make an effort to persuade Wandsworth’s planning committee to approve its plan for constructing a 10-storey show court and 38 additional grass courts at Wimbledon Park. Some activists have labeled the plan as an “industrial tennis complex.”
Last month, the 155-year-old club achieved success when the planning committee of the neighboring authority, Merton, granted their approval. However, a small section of the park falls within the boundaries of Wandsworth. The AELTC must obtain permission from both councils and the mayor of London (and possibly from Michael Gove, the secretary of state for leveling up, housing, and communities) in order to proceed with their project.
On Monday, Wandsworth’s planning officers advised councillors to reject the proposed development due to its potential negative impact on metropolitan open land. In their extensive report, the officers stated that they do not agree with the club’s argument that there are exceptional circumstances that justify the significant expansion of the tennis championship grounds from 17 hectares to 46 hectares.
The All England club maintains that expansion and improvements are crucial in order for Wimbledon to continue being recognized as the foremost tennis tournament in the world.
The 10-person planning committee in Wandsworth will gather at the town hall on Tuesday evening to make a decision on the proposal. Many local and environmental activists are preparing to demonstrate at the meeting. Merton’s previous planning meeting about this issue lasted until late at night due to interruptions from protestors who declared the council chamber a “climate crime scene.”
The proposed changes have provoked backlash from numerous community members and environmental organizations, who believe the park should remain untouched. Over 14,000 individuals have signed a petition to preserve Wimbledon Park, and the councils have received over 2,000 letters of disapproval.
The All England club is planning to remove nearly 300 trees, which some residents have criticized as “corporate ecocide”. The club argues that the majority of the trees are of low quality and plans to replace them with 1,500 new trees.
Labour MP for Putney, Fleur Anderson, stated that Wimbledon Park is classified as a Grade II*-listed metropolitan open land and is protected under this designation. This requires the proof of “very special circumstances” in order for any construction to take place on the site. However, Wandsworth council planning officers have not found such circumstances and have recommended rejecting the proposed plans. The campaign to protect our valuable green space will persist, but this recommendation is a promising step towards that goal.
The All England Club’s representative expressed their surprise at the recommendation of refusal for the AELTC Wimbledon Park project by planning officers in the London borough of Wandsworth. This comes after the application was approved by the London borough of Merton, following thorough analysis and discussion in both their officers’ report and planning committee.
Unfortunately, the officers of Wandsworth have a differing perspective. However, it is ultimately up to the members of the planning applications committee to make their own informed decision during the meeting on November 21st.
The club announced that seven of the proposed new grass courts will be open for the local community to use for a two-month period following the championships. They also stated that 500 tickets will be reserved for Merton and Wandsworth residents to purchase at the proposed new Parkland stadium.
Paul Kohler, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Wimbledon and Merton councillor, referred to the club’s proposals as a “tennis complex” with a 10-story stadium, over 5 miles of roads, 10 additional buildings, and 38 courts.
In 1993, the AELTC purchased the freehold of Wimbledon Park for £5.2m from Merton council with the intent of expanding. As part of the agreement, they promised to only use the land for leisure, recreational, or open space purposes.
Kohler has requested Merton to take action in upholding the covenants. These covenants were put in place to prevent any construction on this significant piece of open land in the metropolitan area. As a result, the All England club was able to purchase the land at a lower price.
The land was leased by the club to Wimbledon Park golf club until 2018. However, the chair expressed concerns that the SW19 championships would not be able to keep up with its competitors in New York, Paris, and Melbourne unless it expanded and provided better amenities for both players and spectators. He suggested that the ideal location for expansion would be onto the golf club’s land.
The AELTC was unable to reclaim the land until 2041 due to the golf club’s lease. In order to obtain the land earlier, the tennis club proposed a payment of £65m to the golf club members. This resulted in a £85,000 bonus for each member, including high-profile names such as Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, and former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell.