The All England Lawn Tennis Club has taken a major step towards building a new 8,000-seater show court and 38 further courts on Wimbledon Park after the controversial plans were approved by Merton Council following a mammoth five-hour meeting.
The development will take place on the land of Wimbledon Park Golf Club, located opposite the tennis club on the other side of Church Road, with plans for a range of amenities for fans, players and staff as well as the new courts.
The AELTC bought the golf course for £65m in 2018, but struggled to secure the required legal and procedural permissions to build. The club plan to play Championship qualifying matches on the grounds, rather than outsourcing those matches to Roehampton where they are currently played.
Local residents and park users had battled passionately against the proposal, with an online petition called “Save Wimbledon Park” garnering 13,000 signatures. Concerns were raised over the environmental impact of the development and the loss of green space.
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. Protestors chanted “trees not tennis!” outside Merton’s Civic Centre, where the decision was being made late on Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday morning.
However, the approval was expected after a 524-page document published earlier this month recommended that planning permission should be granted because the public benefits outweighed harm to heritage assets.
The AELTC has insisted the space will be available for local people to enjoy, saying: “The new 23-acre public park will be completely free for the local community to enjoy and will be accessible year-round except for the period during Qualifying and The Championships. This will open up a beautiful new parkland on what was previously a private golf course and which has been inaccessible to the public for well over 100 years.”
But Fleur Anderson, the MP for Putney, Southfields and Roehampton, had said on Thursday on the BBC’s Politics London show: “There’s no protection that in five years’ time, the Wimbledon club will not come back and say ‘we’re going to build hotels on that land’ or anything they want on that land. There’s a climate emergency, people want to save our local parks… it’s about saving our green spaces.”
Merton borough earns a significant portion of its revenues from hosting the Wimbledon Championships each year.
In outlining its plans, the All England Club said: “The AELTC seeks continually to ensure that the Championships, proudly a local and national asset, remains a world-leading sporting event.
“Bringing the qualifying event on site in order to improve it to be worthy of our world-class player field, enhancing practice and junior event facilities and providing a third ‘show court’ are all measures aimed at ensuring Wimbledon remains the world’s premier tennis tournament, with all the associated substantial social and economic benefits that the event brings, locally and nationally.”
The AELTC will also need approval from Wandsworth Council, whose boundary cuts through the northern portion of the site, and there is expected to be a vote next month. The plans could also be referred to the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, given the level of contention, and may eventually require the sign off of the housing minister Michael Gove.
The plans were originally submitted in 2021 and, if given the final go-ahead, Wimbledon anticipates that the new courts will be ready for use in 2030.