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The Standard: Wimbledon's expansion plan is not a 'win-win,' it is bad for Londoners

Wimbledon's expansion plan is not a 'win-win,' it is bad for Londoners

"Wimbledon's expansion plan is not a 'win-win,' it is bad for Londoners."

"Our shared view as local MPs is that the project should not go ahead."

In September 2022, as the two MPs representing the Wimbledon heritage parkland, we put out a statement on behalf of our respective constituents (Wimbledon and Putney, Roehampton & Southfields) jointly expressing our concerns about the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s Wimbledon Park project.

We stated our agreement back then on various important issues: protecting green spaces, climate emergency, rigorous scrutiny around all the proposed developments.

As many Londoners may be aware, Merton council has since voted in favour of the development, but Wandsworth voted against late last year, leaving the plans in the balance. Last month, Debbie Jevans (Chair of All England) argued in the Evening Standard that the expansion must go ahead, writing "Wimbledon’s expansion is a win-win for everyone".

But her arguments do not hold true. To claim, as Jevans does, from such a tiny survey (1,029 respondents), that five times as many Londoners support the expansion is entirely misleading. Our shared view, as it goes to the Mayor’s office for him to likely decide on the plans (and which may also be ruled on by the Secretary of State), is that the project should not go ahead.

We both recognise the importance of Wimbledon as a sporting occasion, not just to London and Londoners, but also to the UK. However what AELTC wants, as they claim they need in order to keep up with the other grand slams, is simply too large and totally disrespects the protected status of the land in the surrounding area. And this while their figures for 2022 showed record crowd numbers and record profits.

Some background: in 1993 Merton Council sold the land to AELTC. Both parties pledged that it would never be built on, on that basis agreed an incredibly low figure of £5.2m. However, Jevans’ predecessor announced in 2018, after AELTC’s early buy out of the lease on the land from Wimbledon Park Golf Club, that their needs had changed and they wanted to fundamentally develop the parkland. The community is rightly concerned that promises so clearly made are so easily ignored.

When AELTC will not even accept a meeting with local residents and the Save Wimbledon Park group’s petition has now been signed by over 16,500 people, it is understandable why feelings run so high. If the benefits that AELTC claim are so wonderful for the local community, come and sit with them and us as the MPs.

They talk about a new public park on land that was closed for over 100 years. The previous golf club was municipal and any resident of Merton could play on it at a hugely discounted rate. The ‘park’, which is not actually 23 acres as AELTC claim but 17 acres, won’t be a traditional park as such – football-kicking, frisbee throwing – nor will it be truly public. It will be "permissive". as Wimbledon can close it any time they want. There are already plans to close most of it for May and June every year, and it could be closed for longer or even developed on in the future.

We challenge much of what AELTC say generally. They claim it will benefit wealth and jobs, but they have not provided evidence to back this up and the Wandsworth councillors were not persuaded. Moving the qualifiers from the excellent existing Roehampton site doesn’t create jobs, it merely moves them. Debbie Jevans wrote off their Roehampton site as a "cricket outfield" whereas it is a beautiful space next to the National Tennis Centre which players value and where development and job retention would be welcomed by the community.

This growth and expansion, in addition, has a profound impact on the area both because it is too big for the size of the heritage parkland and, critically, too damaging to the environment. This is where every Londoner should be concerned because the site on which they want to build is Grade II* historic parkland, deemed to be of particularly special interest or national importance. It is also Metropolitan Open Land – the gold standard of protection and the equivalent of green belt in the countryside. It is all that is left of a far larger parkland. According to CPRE there are approximately fifty other similar sites around London that are currently "under threat".

This is more than a war of words. This is about the future of London. AELTC is blithely saying that after thirty years of owning the park, their commercial needs have changed and they need to build this stadium, 38 other courts, 10 hub buildings and 9km of tarmac paths. So, who knows what they may want in ten or twenty years’ time. Another stadium, a hotel, a heliport? These are real concerns to our residents and should be to all Londoners who value our green spaces and are grateful to the generations of people who went before us and fought to save our parks and commons.

If this development were allowed to proceed it would set a dangerous precedent. It is almost certain that wherever you live in London you live near open green space that is under threat. Our parklands, London’s lungs and family areas for recreation and well-being, have never been more needed. The concerns of our constituents are also your concerns.

Stephen Hammond is the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, and Fleur Anderson is the Labour MP for Putney.


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