AELTC enters Wimbledon Park planning application, seeks to counter critics

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), organiser of the Wimbledon Championships, has submitted the planning application for its Wimbledon Park project, seeking to counter criticism of the scheme by issuing a series of ‘mythbusters’.

Over the past five months, AELTC has undertaken three periods of consultation and in total, said it has received 882 comments on its proposals via an online feedback form. AELTC said: “This feedback was invaluable for us to receive and where possible those comments have been considered and incorporated into our proposals.”

However, The Times newspaper reports the planning application has received 1,151 objections and only 27 letters of support. Organisations including the CPRE, The Countryside Charity, Save Britain’s Heritage, The Wimbledon Society, The John Innes Society and Friends of Wimbledon Park are said to oppose the plan, alongside local residents.

In the face of this, AELTC yesterday (Tuesday) issued a 20-point ‘mythbusters’ document which it says seeks to “address some of the misconceptions” surrounding the project. In response to claims the new 8,000-seat Parkland Show Court will be large and domineering in the landscape, AELTC said: “The proposed design of the new Parkland Show Court responds directly to the landscape and the site’s rich heritage.

“It is intended as a world class building, reflecting the status and profile of the Championships, whilst also being sensitive to its setting with regards to scale, form, and materiality. The new Show Court has been located within one of the lower parts of the golf course and has been conceived as an extension of the landscape, set within a ring of mature oak trees, minimising the impact on its setting. It has been designed as a tree-like structure, which will support the building while also providing a frame across which climbing plants can flourish.

“In terms of height, the 8,000-seat stadium will be 28m height at its maximum point. This means it will be lower than No1 Court, which is four stories high plus its roof. The height of the Parkland Show Court is intended to be similar to the treetops that will surround it, and lower than the flats on Wimbledon Park Road. A number of views of the new Show Court from the surrounding area have been provided with planning application submission.”

Another criticism has come in the form that the proposals will essentially create another version of the current All England Club grounds, albeit over the road. AELTC said: “Our vision for these proposals is tennis in an English parkland and a beautiful year-round public park, not a concrete jungle.

“We have spent time understanding and developing our proposals so that this beautiful setting will thrive, with all the environmental and ecological benefits that it brings, while enabling a quality experience for all our guests.

“A key aim of the project and a core part of the development proposals is to enhance, improve and recognise the unique heritage interest of the site. The landscape proposals reflect the spirit of the Capability Brown design in form and appearance but look to recreate the site as 21st century parkland.

“Brownian features such as rolling, naturalistic topography, scattered trees and using the lake as a focal point will underpin the character of this reimagined landscape. Importantly, the removal of the golf infrastructure of fairways, bunkers greens and tees (all part of the existing heavily managed landscape), will restore the landscape’s open and more naturalistic character. It will also reveal some of the historic views both into and across the site which have been lost under the golf course template.”

Concerning whether the project is just a gateway for further expansion, AELTC added: “The AELTC Wimbledon Park Project was designed to address two of the Championships’ most significant weaknesses.

“First, that our Qualifying Competition is currently hosted in Roehampton (which is both an inferior venue away from our main site, and reliant on a short fixed-term lease). Second, that Main Draw players have the most restricted practice facilities of all the grand slam events.

“By gaining planning permission for this project and securing the future of this nationally significant event, we are addressing the present and future needs to deliver a world class event and offer significant year-round access to the public. We have no further plans to expand beyond those included within the scope of the current planning application.”

The AELTC in June revealed details of a ‘New Park for London’ concept while also providing an update on its proposed 8,000-seat show court. The latest update came after the AELTC in April outlined plans for the 8,000-seat show court as part of an expansion of the Wimbledon grounds.

The AELTC wants to build the stadium on land it purchased from Wimbledon Park Golf Club for £65m (€77.1m/$89.6m) in 2018 and it is hoped the court will be ready for play by 2030. The ‘New Park for London’ concept aims to create London’s “newest publicly accessible park”.

The space will open up 9.4 hectares of parkland for locals, with AELTC stating that the area will provide local residents and visitors with access to “high quality green space and parkland”. The park would include a new accessible east-west route connecting into the existing public park and a new circular route around Wimbledon Park Lake.

The AELTC’s plans for the new show court, meanwhile, centre on a tree-like structure and have been conceived to tie in with the surrounding landscape. The court would be located outside of the members’ club and would be open for year-round activities such as smaller tournaments, events and school visits.

The earliest construction start on the north part of the golf course is 2022, with construction on the south part to begin no earlier than 2023. Work on the remodelling of the grounds would then begin in 2024, with a new qualifying venue scheduled for completion by 2026. It is estimated that Wimbledon Park will be open to the public by 2028 before the new show court is completed two years later.

Ian Hewitt, AELTC chairman, said yesterday: “We respect heritage. We embrace our responsibility to society. This is a unique and exciting opportunity to enhance Wimbledon’s position as the world’s premier tennis tournament, to maintain the beneficial social and economic impact for Merton, Wandsworth, London and indeed the UK generally, and to provide significant year-round local community benefit, all within a beautiful and historic landscape.”

Images: AELTC