Wimbledon Park

Controversial proposed Wimbledon expansion continues to divide

A proposed expansion and development of Wimbledon Park by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has continued to divide opinions.

The development of Wimbledon Park, which includes the buying out of the neighbouring golf club and expansion of the existing land, is integral to the AELTC’s plans to keep up with the other three Grand Slam events.

The plans would see a new 8,000-seater show court built in the parklands across Church Road.

In addition Wimbeledon qualifying would be relocated to the iconic venue by creating 39 new courts.

There will also be a new 9.4-mile hectare public park.

The club has said the scheme would bring ‘substantial public benefit’ to the area, but opposition has been found among campaigners, residents and politicians.

In December 2018, members of Wimbledon Park golf club voted to sell their 120-year club to the AELTC for £65m, which accelerated plans for the expansion.

Dean Jeeves, who runs the junior golf academy at Wimbledon Golf Club, understands the AELTC’s desire to improve but believes it shouldn’t be at the detriment of the community.

He said: “At the golf club, we try to run a family orientated golf facility and try to make it accessible for everyone from different walks of life.

“These plans would have a detrimental effect with hundreds of kids having to move to another golf facility.”

Wimbledon Park Golf Club in its current capacity has 170 pupils from the area.

Jeeves had been in discussions with the AELTC to include a purpose-built golf facility as part of the expansion plans, but received a letter last year which bluntly put to an end to such talks.

He said: “There was no real interest from the club to devise the plans and it has left a sad situation.

“The expansion plans in general lack detail and lack an interest in detail.”

Ian Simpson, chairman of the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association, agrees.

He said: “The plans are vague and unsubstantiated by serious facts. Also, the scale of the proposals is outrageous considering the state of the land. The land is protected and metropolitan open road, therefore subject to strict planning rules.”

Simpson also claimed the AELTC were going back on their agreement in 1993, which stated that the existing land in Wimbledon Park would be maintained as an open space and there would be no development, nor would it be built upon except ‘as ancillary to recreation or open space’.

The residents’ association set up a petition titled ‘Save Wimbledon Park’ in December last year, which already holds 5,500 signatures.

They also held a productive webinar meeting with the CPRE (The Countryside Charity).

Simpson added: “Our objective is to publicise the planning application and what it truly entails.”

The scheme has also seen pushback from local politicians.

In August, Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond and Putney MP Fleur Anderson put out a joint statement outlining their opposition to the plans and their desire for a council meeting to discuss the application in greater detail.

Anderson said: “The fact that Stephen and I have put out this statement shows that the issue goes beyond party politics and that the concern is not just for local residents.

“This is about the protection of our green spaces and maintaining our environment for future generations.

“Local people aren’t being listened to and the AELTC are overriding their concerns.”

There is an environmental aspect to consider when it comes to reviewing the scale of the plans.

Environmental scientist Dr David Dawson has written a briefing which reviews the AELTC’s planning application.

He states that despite keeping 40 veteran trees, many more will have to be sacrificed as they are in the way of the intensive development.

These existing trees are vastly superior for carbon storage and heritage.

Dawson also refuted the claim from the AELTC that their proposals will result in a biodiversity net gain.

He had in fact been in contact with the club to help them during the early stages of their plan despite his misgivings, but conversation quickly dried up on their side.

He said: “I saw that these proposals would be damaging but the AELTC seemed to think that they wouldn’t be.

“They didn’t respond to any of my consolations and didn’t speak to me again after an early meeting. I offered several times to exchange data with them.”

The result of the planning application was due to be announced at the end of 2022, but months later, a decision has still not yet been revealed.

This will determine whether the All England Lawn Tennis Club will be given the green light to push forward with their controversial plans.

Nevertheless, what is guaranteed is that local tensions will remain.

An All England Club spokesperson said: “The AELTC Wimbledon Park Project will maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of the sport, by bringing qualifying to SW19, and providing substantial year-round benefits for the local community.

“Central to our proposals is the opening up of land on what was a private golf course, which has been inaccessible to the public for over 100 years, to create a beautiful 23-acre public park, a new accessible boardwalk around Wimbledon Park lake, and community use of the proposed new courts and facilities.

“It is our hope that these benefits, alongside many others, such as an increase in biodiversity of the site and the planting of 1,500 trees, will provide a lasting legacy for our local community to enjoy for years to come.

“The overwhelming majority of people who have engaged with us and seen our plans in situ have been incredibly supportive and are eager to see the substantial community benefits delivered, as soon as planning permission is granted and work can commence.”

Featured image screenshot from London Live YouTube channel

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