Wimbledon at war as rival MPs team up to block plans to build 39 new courts – including one large stadium – on golf course… D-day for All England Club’s £100m expansion next month
- The All England Club is seeking permission to build 39 new grass court
- Unusual cross-party objection to the £100m scheme from the two local MPs
- Decisive local authority planning hearings scheduled for late September
Wimbledon’s plan for a historic £100million expansion faces its day of reckoning next month as local opposition becomes more concerted.
The decisive local authority planning hearings are being scheduled for a likely date of late September to determine whether 39 new courts, including one large stadium, can be built on neighbouring golf course land.
That will come in the wake of an unusual cross-party objection to the scheme from the two local MPs whose constituencies straddle the project — Conservative Stephen Hammond of Wimbledon and Labour’s Fleur Anderson in Putney.
The All England Club is seeking permission to build 39 new grass courts, including an 8,000-seat ‘Parkland’ stadium with a retractable roof
The pair have put aside political differences to speak out against the All England Club scheme in a joint statement. Together, they have called for Merton and Wandsworth councils to hold planning meetings dedicated solely to debating the project.
‘We request that when Merton and Wandsworth Councils consider the application, they hold a special full planning committee to discuss only this issue, and we urge both councils to reject the proposal,’ it read.
This strong local opposition to the project is just the latest challenge facing the All England Club, with Wimbledon chiefs having just come through a Championships affected by the stripping of ranking points (due to barring Russian and Belarusian players) and logistical issues.
Prior to this year’s tournament, the original planning application was modified — although not enough to satisfy vociferous objectors, a coalition of MPs, councillors and local residents’ associations.
Wimbledon’s plan for a historic £100million expansion faces its day of reckoning next month amid strong local opposition
The building of a 28m-high 8,000-seat stadium — which would become the third largest on the site after Centre Court and Court No 1 — on designated Metropolitan Open Land is especially contentious. ‘Local residents appreciate the existing world-class sports event in our area, however there is strong local opposition to these plans,’ the MPs’ statement read.
‘The size and mass of the new show court stadium is of an inappropriate scale to be built on Metropolitan Open Land.’
The statement has annoyed the All England Club by describing a proposed new 23-acre public park on the golf course as ‘a small part of the development which will not have any protection against future development’.
Insiders at SW19 have pointed out that, at present, the land is available only to members of the golf club, who are expected to fully move out at the end of this year.
Most of the courts will be built by 2026-27 with a view to bringing the qualifiers on site in 2028
An All England Club statement read: ‘The Wimbledon Park Project proposals aim to deliver on two core objectives: to maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of sport and to provide substantial year-round public benefit to our local community.
‘Central to these proposals is the opening up of previously private land to be enjoyed by thousands of local residents in Merton and Wandsworth.
‘The benefits include the creation of a new 9.4-hectare public park, a new boardwalk around Wimbledon Park lake, and community use of the proposed new courts and facilities during the year.’
The last claim is also proving contentious, although it is more than was originally schemed. The updated plans allow for seven grass courts to be used by the public in the period between the end of the tournament and their closure in early September, probably around seven weeks.
Wimbledon was stripped of ranking points after banning Russian players such as Daniil Medvedev (above)
Locals are also denied access to the huge indoor centre that has just been completed, although there may be some extra funding for other tennis facilities in the area. The Wimbledon Union of Residents Associations has described the planned courts access as ‘negligible’. The planning committees of Merton and Wandsworth, both controlled by Labour, will decide.
The forthcoming meeting might not even be the end of the matter, as there is also the chance of the plans being referred to the London Mayor’s office or to Secretary of State level.
Wimbledon, which in 2021 had to contend with pandemic restrictions, also faces a prolonged spell of wrangling with other tennis bodies over the ranking points issue.
The arrangement with the men’s ATP Tour is up for renegotiation at the end of the year, with fears that the matter could raise its head again in 2023 if there is no peace settlement in Ukraine.