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Private Eye: Wimbledon Expansion - Open Season

Private Eye | June 2024

Private Eye: Wimbledon Expansion - Open Season

With Wimbledon looming, the All England Lawn Tennis Club is in full lobbying-mode for its plan to build an 8,000-seat stadium, 38 courts, 10 buildings and nine kilometres of roads and paths in its neighbouring park in south-west London, to host its qualifying tournament. Former player Tim Henman backed the development in the weekend papers, warning that the current site was struggling".


Meanwhile the club has placed adverts in national newspapers promoting the development as well as putting up glossy posters around London showing bucolic scenes with trees and a pretty lake. The posters tell commuters and tourists: "You could be a short walk away from a beautiful new park" - even fhough passers-by at Charing Cross or Heathrow are around 10 miles from the proposed site at Wimbledon Park.


Campaigners against the development complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the poster showed a view of the park's greenery which will take decades of growth, and that it failed to show the new development which will take place on the former golf course and parkland designated as

Metropolitan Open Land. The ASA declined to follow up the complaints because the poster included a QR code which, if used, gave further information about the development.


Meanwhile, Wimbledon locals putting up their own campaign posters against the development were mystified when they disappeared - until one resident's CCTV caught a man with a walkie talkie and security lanyard taking them down at dead of night. Presumably a Wimbledon fan?


The proposal has been called in by the Greater London Authority after the development was passed by Merton council but rejected by neighbouring Wandsworth council. At the start of a month-long consultation period, the All England club proposed offering public access to four further acres of parkland. But those against the development were unimpressed.


The Save Wimbledon Park campaign has entered new objections to what it describes as "an industrial tennis complex", including a biodiversity expert's claim that the club's figure of a 23 percent biodiversity net gain from its plan is, in fact, a 36 percent net loss.


In another submission, architect Richard Rees, who was the design team leader for the club's 1990s plan that included the new Number 1 court and Henman Hill, disputes the club's claim that it needs the development to maintain its position among the Grand Slam tennis events. He points out that Wimbledon's TV viewing figures still exceed all other grand slams.


The French Open "still has fewer [on-site] spectators than Wimbledon and manages quite nicely to justify its Grand Slam status", he stated in his submission with fellow architect and longterm Wimbledon resident Ken McFarlane.


He also questioned why the qualifying tournament can't continue to take place in

nearby Roehampton. Or, as many campaigners point out, the All England club could live up to its name and take the qualifying tournament to another part of the UK, boosting interest in the sport and spreading its benefits far from the hallowed grounds of SW19.


This article originally appeared in Issue 1626 of Private Eye. You can read the article on the Private Eye website here.

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