The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has cleared the first major hurdle for its Wimbledon Park development project after it received planning approval from Merton Council.
Following a lengthy Planning Committee meeting yesterday (Thursday), which went on past midnight, councillors voted six to four in favour of the scheme. The AELTC, organiser of the Wimbledon Championships, submitted the planning application for Wimbledon Park back in October 2021, seeking to counter criticism of the scheme by issuing a series of ‘mythbusters’.
The AELTC in June 2021 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 (€74.6m/$78.8m) in 2018 and it had been 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.
Importantly, the plans also include proposals for 38 new courts – a move that would allow qualifying events to be held on-site, bringing Wimbledon in-line with its three fellow grand slam tournaments. However, the project has divided opinion, with Merton Council stating the scheme had received 894 objections.
The BBC reported yesterday’s meeting was called to an abrupt end following the vote as one spectator in the public gallery declared that the council chamber had become a “climate crime scene”.
Planning officers had advised the proposals would result in “physical harm” to Metropolitan Open Land, but concluded “very special circumstances” meant “substantial public benefits would clearly outweigh (the) harm”.
Before the vote was held, the plans were described as “too big, too harmful,” by one councillor, while another suggested there were “few benefits to anyone but the All England Club”. However, there was also backing, with the project’s economic benefits highlighted as it was described as “a game-changing application”.
A spokesperson for the London Borough of Merton said in a statement: “After considering the officer’s report, relevant submissions, and the relevant planning framework, the independent planning committee, made up of councillors from all parties, voted to approve the application made by the All England Lawn Tennis Ground (AELTG) for expansion of its site at Wimbledon.
“There are further stages in the planning process and the land remains subject to covenants contained in the transfer of 1993 from the Council to AELTG. Until these covenants are properly addressed by AELTG they operate to restrict the use and development of the land as proposed in the planning application.”
With Wimbledon Park also falling inside the Borough of Wandsworth, its planning committee must also approve the project, with a meeting due to be held before the end of the year. Situated on Metropolitan Open Land, the Mayor of London must then formally accept or reject the councils’ decisions, while the contentious nature of the project means it could still be subject to a judicial review.
Organisations including the CPRE, The Countryside Charity, Save Britain’s Heritage, The Wimbledon Society, The John Innes Society and Friends of Wimbledon Park have opposed the plan in the past, alongside local residents.
Reacting to the Merton Council vote, Iain Simpson, chair of the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association (WPRA), told the PA news agency: “We are not at all surprised by the outcome of the vote. Most of the inconsistencies in the (524-page) report were glossed over.
“Merton did not even bring their own experts into the hearing, and instead relied on the applicant to advise the councillors who were asking the questions. In addition, their pronouncements on the environment still ignored their own expert advice where it didn’t suit them.
“On all that was said about the stadium and the buildings, these are still in outline – and outline designs on protected land contravene their own planning regulations. They therefore cannot be discussed in any meaningful way.
“This is just a stage in what will be a long process for which Save Wimbledon Park is well prepared.”