Wandsworth Council rejects Wimbldon Park scheme
Stadium Business | Rob Ridley | 22 November 2023
"The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has maintained that its Wimbledon Park Project offers “significant social, economic and environmental improvements” after the plans were rejected by Wandsworth Council.
The Council’s planning committee voted 7-0 against the plans yesterday (Tuesday) evening. The vote came after Council officers last week recommended rejection of the plans, concluding that there were no “very special circumstances” that would outweigh the harm to Metropolitan Open Land.
A report from the council said: “The proposed development would result in the net loss of open space/green infrastructure, with no replacement provision provided.” Guy Humphries, a Conservative councillor for the Southfields ward, told The Guardian that he could not recall any other “planning application that has upset so many people for so many reasons”.
Humphries said AELTC “fails desperately” in its claim that there are “very special circumstances” that should permit development on Wimbledon Park, which was first designed by landscape architect Capability Brown in the 18th century.
Ravi Govindia, a councillor for East Putney and former leader of Wandsworth Council, said AELTC prides itself on the serenity of its grounds but the plans “are going away from tennis in an English country garden”. He added: “As much as I would like to see this investment in the area this is not the way to do it.”
AELTC had cleared the first major hurdle for its Wimbledon Park project last month after it received planning approval from Merton Council. 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 (€74.7m/$81.4m) 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.
With Wimbledon Park also falling inside the Borough of Wandsworth, its planning committee was also required to approve the project. Situated on Metropolitan Open Land, the Mayor of London must now rule on the councils’ decisions, while the contentious nature of the project means it could still be subject to a judicial review.
Responding to yesterday’s news, Sally Bolton, chief executive of the AELTC, said: “Naturally, we are disappointed by the London Borough of Wandsworth’s decision. Our proposals will deliver one of the greatest sporting transformations for London since 2012, alongside substantial benefits for the local community.
“We firmly believe the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project offers significant social, economic and environmental improvements, including turning 23 acres of previously private land into a new public park, alongside hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of pounds in economic benefits for our neighbours in Wandsworth, Merton and across London.
“Given the split council decision, with the London Borough of Merton resolving to approve our application last month, our planning application will now be referred to the Mayor of London’s office for consideration.”
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