From left to right, Aaron Mafi from the Workers Party, Rachel Brooks from the Green Party, Ben Cronin from Reform Party, Riverside News Editor Cam Hall, Ross Garrod representing Labour, Nick McLean representing Conservative and the Liberal Democrats candidate Paul Kohler.

Save Wimbledon Park main topic at Riverside Radio’s Wimbledon Hustings for 2024 elections

Riverside Radio hosted a hustings in Wimbledon on Thursday 27th June at William Morris House on The Broadway.

The evening saw four candidates and two representatives of the candidates debate on local topics such as the All England Tennis Club’s (AELTC) plans to build on Wimbledon Park, the potential creation of Crossrail 2, and affordable housing.

This was the second husting that Riverside Radio had hosted in the area, and both the Conservative and Labour candidates sent representatives rather than attend themselves.

Merton TV correspondent Mark Gale took to Twitter to say: “What a farce sending in residents from another constituency to bluff their way through a hustings! 

“Disrespectful to @ThisisRiverside and their listeners.”

Riverside Radio news editor Cam Hall kept the lively hustings on track throughout the night and the most prominent issue on the audience’s mind was AELTC’s plans to develop Wimbledon Park.

Candidates were asked by a member of the audience: “Do you oppose the AELTC’s plans to build on Wimbledon Park and if you were elected how would you go about making sure that doesn’t happen?”

Liberal Democrats candidate Paul Kohler described the plans as a gross overdevelopment of metropolitan open land.

Kohler said: “When they bought the freehold of the park in 1993 they made a solum undertaking to the community that they would not build upon the land, the council also made that undertaking and it was enshrined in law in a legal covenant. 

“Since 2021 I have been working with the council to make sure they enforce the covenant and sadly the Labour majority has voted down that motion on two occasions. 

“We love the tennis but they should not be allowed to build on what is the lungs of Wimbledon, our green open space.”

Aaron Mafi from The Workers Party argued the land should never have been sold to a private company in the first place.

Mafi said: “The council is just running off and doing whatever they want with our property, it’s ours the taxpayer and I fully back the Save Wimbledon Park campaign.”

Nick McLean, representing Conservative candidate Danielle Dunfield-Prayero, claimed they called it into the Mayor of London as soon as the decision was made.

McLean, who is a councillor for Cannon Hill, said: “Conservatives and Libdems are on the same page, it is a gross overdevelopment and what is concerning is the precedent it will set for building on metropolitan open land in the future.”

Rachel Brooks from the Green Party described the other candidate’s statements as virtue signalling.

Brooks said: “The development into Wimbledon Park sets an incredibly dangerous precedent it’s got a huge store of carbon under the earth and we’re going to be digging it up and releasing all of that carbon back into the atmosphere. 

“That’s potentially tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. 

“I want to know how that fits in with Merton’s net zero plan.”

Ross Garrod standing in for Labour’s Eleanor Stringer described it as an extremely complicated issue.

Garrod said: “I did write personally as the leader of the council to the All England Club and they responded that they would address the issue of the covenants once the planning process has concluded. 

“Regardless of this plan or any other plan in the future, Eleanors’ position is that the owners of the site must work hand in hand with the local community so that the use of the ex-golf course has a tangible and lasting benefit to the local community and protects the public park for generations to come.”

Ben Cronin from Reform UK said: “I completely reject it 100%. 

“I think it’s despicable quite frankly that they want to ruin a lovely piece of landscape that’s been here for hundreds of years. 

“This goes on to the bigger issue which is the green spaces in Wimbledon in general, if we’re looking to increase the amount of housing which you’ll hear from the other candidates, that’s going to be at the expense of the green spaces we have here.”

Susan Cusack and members of the Save Wimbledon Park campaign came along to find out which candidate could best support them in their efforts.

Cusak said: “This is the first election where I’ve been really torn on who I’m voting for, I’m still undecided and tonight didn’t change my mind in any way, unfortunately.

“We formed Save Wimbledon Park over three years ago when the application was first raised and everyone was absolutely horrified by the plans.

“It’s not right for this area of London, it should not be developed.”

Throughout the evening members of the audience had to readdress the debate panel and hold them to account as they avoided answering the crux of their questions. 

Most notably on the UK’s relationship with the EU since leaving and issues of spiking offenses on the rise.

To hear the full debate you can listen back on Riverside Radio’s SoundCloud.

The candidates standing in this election for Wimbledon are;

  • Danielle Dunfield-Prayero- Conservative Party.
  • Eleanor Stringer- Labour Party.
  • Paul Kohler- Liberal Democrats.
  • Ben Cronin- Reform Party.
  • Rachel Brooks- Green Party.
  • Aaron Mafi- The Workers Party.
  • Amy Lynch- Independent candidate.
  • Michael Watson- Heritage Party.
  • Sarah Barber- Independent candidate.

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