A huge expansion of Wimbledon's grounds is one step closer, but obstacles remain in the way as concern grows over environmental damage, ITV London's Antoine Allen reports
Controversial expansion plans which would see Wimbledon's grounds almost triple in size have been approved by Merton Council after a lengthy meeting that ran just past midnight.
The proposals, originally submitted in 2021, feature a new 8,000 seater show court, and 38 other grass courts on the former Wimbledon Park Golf Course site.
It would allow Wimbledon to host the qualifying tournaments in SW19, rather than their current home a few miles away in Roehampton, and would see capacity of the championships rise from 42,000 to 50,000.
In a drawn-out Merton Council planning committee meeting last night that went on for nearly five hours, councillors eventually approved the plans by six votes to four.
However, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) still face plenty of opposition over its plans.
During the meeting at Merton Civic Centre, protesters gathered outside chanting "trees, not tennis", amid fears the expansion will pose a threat to the area's green spaces.
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.
The AELTC's plans, projected for completion in 2030, also include 23 acres of publicly accessible parkland, but concerns remain over more development on the land further down the line.
A petition to "Save Wimbledon Park" has fetched more than 13,000 signatures, with its organisers arguing the plans would be a threat to protected habitats.
Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, said building on the park “pretty much contravenes every recommendation” on Metropolitan Open Land – a form of protection that treats green spaces in London in a similar way to the green belt.
He said: “If you read the officers’ report, there’s a whole chunk of it which effectively says this offends every planning policy and then says because there are very special circumstances we’re going to let it through.” In a 450-page report, Merton Council’s planning officers concluded that the development would be “inappropriate” and cause “physical harm” to the Metropolitan Open Land.
However, they said this was outweighed by the “very substantial public benefits” of the proposal and that these benefits constituted “very special circumstances” justifying development on protected land.
Those benefits included the impact on employment and the local economy, ecology and biodiversity enhancement, and improved access to sport and recreation facilities provided as part of the development.
Mr Hammond said that the decision meant “no park or green space in Merton really can ever be assured of protection again, that’s also true for London”.
He added: “There’s nothing to stop every developer pointing to this case and saying you can build on Metropolitan Open Land in London. “You can see another developer saying, ‘I’m building you a lovely new community sports stadium but I need to put 50 flats by the side of it to justify it’, you can see those sorts of applications potentially coming in as a result of this.” The AELTC’s proposals, which also include north and south player hubs, will now be reviewed by the Mayor of London due to the development taking place on Metropolitan Open Land.
There may also be further stages before the facilities can be built including, potentially, a call-in by Communities Secretary Michael Gove or a judicial review by local residents opposed to the scheme. 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.”