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Copy of a Letter from Stephen Hammond MP replying to The Times article by Lord Coe

The Times recently published an article by Lord Coe in favour of the AELTC’s expansion. Stephen Hammond MP wrote a swift response to this article which The Times has not published.

"Last week the Times published an article from Lord Coe on the proposed expansion of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Lord Coe is one of this country’s greatest athletes, a respected politician and delivered the stand-out Olympics of the modern era. Wimbledon was aghast when this outstanding man wrote an article accusing local people of nimbyism because they had dared to object to a planning application that is too large in size and scale, threatens local biodiversity, delivers meagre benefits to the local community and breaks a promise made by the AELTC. Even worse, the application proposes buildings and roads in Metropolitan Open Land (Green Belt) and, if passed, would create a precedent threatening green spaces and parks, not just in Wimbledon, but across the whole of London.

The headlines of the planning application proposal are for 39 new courts, an 8000-seater stadium, to close a local main road for several weeks of year and to create a public park. But headlines never tell the whole story. In 1993 the AELTC purchased Wimbledon Park from Merton Council. This was coupled with a restrictive covenant which committed the AELTC to not developing the land which the then Chairman of the AELTC committed to. At the time the park was used as a municipal golf course leased and rented out by the Council to the Wimbledon Park Golf Club. Whilst it was a private club, it was open to all local Merton Residents on payment of a modest green fee.

Wimbledon Park is a wonderful green space. The application will require hard bases for the proposed grass courts and roads through the public park. Lord Coe mentions biodiversity in his article yet the AELTC’s application does not protect biodiversity, it will lead to the uprooting of over five hundred mature trees, a ten-year development programme, and the removal of existing wildlife and foliage: tennis and trees are not a successful mix. There is a public park proposed but it is not public in any normal understanding of the word as entrance is only when the AELTC permit.

The London Olympics delivered huge benefits to our society, economy, and sporting reputation. However, Lord Coe’s claims in this newspaper that developing Wimbledon Park would have a similar impact to the regeneration of Stratford are misguided. Wimbledon in 2024 is nothing like Stratford was in 2004. It is a thriving community with a vibrant local economy and public spaces.

Wimbledon and Tennis are synonymous. For so many British people tennis isn’t so much a sport as it is two weeks in wonderful SW19. The Championships are a jewel in our sporting crown, and no one wants to see The Championships eclipsed. Wimbledon residents, including those who object to this plan, are proud we host this magnificent tournament. However, we must be clear that objections to the current proposals from residents are not a result of ‘local introspection’ but due to sincerely held concerns about the scale of the development, as well as building on Metropolitan Open Land.

The application was passed by Merton Council but rejected by Wandsworth Council. The next stage is that the application will now be examined by the GLA and then may be called in by the Secretary of State for determination. This is before the prospect of years of possible judicial reviews, legal wrangling over the covenants and the recent Day vs Shropshire ruling in the High Courts. Any prospect of the development starting soon, yet alone opening this decade, is remote.

The AELTC’s relationship with the community has, on the whole, been close and I regret that in recent years these relationships have become increasingly strained due to this application. Previous planning applications have progressed smoothly, and the Club’s Foundation has helped many local charities. A number of members of the Club are understandably concerned about this fracture with the local community. Many yearn for the era when Philip Brook was Chairman and say that his skill and antennae would have meant that this impasse would never have happened in his day. The club must try much harder building back local trust and relationships.

Three years ago, I hosted the Club and local residents in my back garden to try to find a compromise. One has not been forthcoming from the AELTC; however one is possible. A reduction of the number of courts, a re-siting of the new stadium to the existing site, and moving maintenance buildings out of the public park which should be run by a community trust as they said it would be six years ago, could be the basis of discussions for a Plan B.

As Lord Coe said, Wimbledon is a national treasure, and everyone wants it to succeed. As he knows, solutions are found through negotiations and compromise not by silence and obstinacy. I have previously offered to convene meetings between the AELTC and local residents to find a mutually beneficial solution. Today, let me make that offer again. I stand ready to meet with the Chairman, Debbie Jevans, at her earliest convenience to find a way forward which delivers for the Club, the Championships, and critically our community."


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