Wimbledon’s bold expansion plans have been approved by Merton Council following a lengthy planning committee meeting which concluded just after midnight.
A 524-page document had already been published by the council which concluded planning permission should be granted, subject to conditions, because of the substantial public benefits of the proposal outweighing harm to the significance of heritage assets.
The All England Club bought the lease of the neighbouring Wimbledon Park Golf Club for a reported £65million in 2018.
Our Development and Planning Committee has voted to approve the All England Club's planning application to expand the current tennis complex.
— Merton Council (@Merton_Council) October 26, 2023
Across the site – which also includes Wimbledon Park Lake and a section of Church Road – the AELTC was seeking the go-ahead to build 38 new courts, including a third show court with a capacity of 8,000 seats and retractable roof, as well as designated north and south player hubs while also providing publicly-accessible parkland.
Under the proposals, originally submitted in 2021, the grounds will almost triple in size and allow Wimbledon to host the qualifying tournaments in SW19, rather than their current home a couple of miles away in Roehampton.
Completion is projected for 2030, which will see an increase in the capacity of the championships from 42,000 to 50,000 and also deliver “benefits relating to heritage open space, recreation and community”.
— BERA Belvedere Estate Residents Association (@BeraSW19) October 26, 2023
The ambitious scheme, though, has not gone down well with some local residents.
Around 2,000 trees are expected to be removed across some 75 acres of Metropolitan Open Land, which is intended to be protected as an area of landscape, recreation, nature conservation or scientific interest.
A petition to ‘Save Wimbledon Park’ showed more than 13,000 signatures, and there were protests from opposition groups outside the Development and Planning Applications Committee meeting at Merton Civic Centre.
Unless Common sense prevails on Thursday @Merton_Council DPAC meeting, entire(pink) 75 acre MOL Grade II* Heritage Park will be excavated & lost forever with openness gone via a Stadium & Boardwalk, 2000 trees removed & 10000’s tonnes of concrete poured into the precious ground. pic.twitter.com/HTpPMRIhnU
— SaveWimbledonPark (@SaveWimbldnPark) October 21, 2023
Chaired by Labour and Co-operative Party counsellor Aidan Mundy, the committee heard a number of arguments on both sides – including from the All England Club, local residents, council officers and Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond – which took in environmental, social and economic considerations during a lengthy meeting which lasted for almost five hours.
A final vote eventually came at just after midnight, which saw the recommendation for planning permission to be granted passed by six votes to four.
Following the announcement, someone shouted a protest, apparently from the public seats, with counsellor Mundy asking the person to leave the room and calling for security before the meeting was adjourned.
The proposals will now move on to the next stage of the planning process, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan required to formally accept or reject the decision due to the development taking place on Metropolitan Open Land.
As the northernmost part of Wimbledon Park is within the borough of Wandsworth, the scheme must also be approved by its planning committee.
There is also the possibility of judicial review as a potential obstacle for the development proceeding.
Local residents who oppose the decision could attempt to challenge the lawfulness of the way it was made, on the grounds of illegality, procedural unfairness or irrationality.
A spokesperson for the London Borough of Merton said: “After considering the officer’s report, relevant submissions, and the relevant planning framework, the independent planning committee, made up of councillors from all parties, voted to approve the application made by the All England Lawn Tennis Ground (AELTG) for expansion of its site at Wimbledon.
“There are further stages in the planning process and the land remains subject to covenants contained in the transfer of 1993 from the Council to AELTG.
“Until these covenants are properly addressed by AELTG they operate to restrict the use and development of the land as proposed in the planning application.”
News of the vote was met with disappointment by the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association (WPRA).
“We are not at all surprised by the outcome of the vote. Most of the inconsistencies in the report were glossed over,” WPRA chair Iain Simpson said.
“Merton did not even bring their own experts into the hearing, and instead relied on the applicant to advise the councillors who were asking the questions. In addition their pronouncements on the environment still ignored their own expert advice where it didn’t suit them.
“On all that was said about the stadium and the buildings, these are still in outline – and outline designs on protected land contravene their own planning regulations. They therefore cannot be discussed in any meaningful way.
“This is just a stage in what will be a long process for which Save Wimbledon Park is well prepared.”