The All England Lawn Tennis Club’s dream to expand the Wimbledon championships by building 39 new courts on a nearby park was dealt a blow on Monday night when planning officers advised one of the councils affected to oppose the controversial plans.
Wandsworth officers recommended that councillors vote to refuse the All England Club’s proposal to build a 8,000-seat stadium show court and 38 grass courts on Grade II*-listed Wimbledon Park at the authority’s planning committee on Tuesday next week.
The All England Club last month successfully won the approval of neighbouring Merton council but a small triangle of the park is within Wandsworth’s boundaries. For the plans to go ahead, it needs to win the backing of both councils and the mayor of London.
The plans have angered many local residents and environmental groups, who said the park should be left as open space. More than 14,000 people have signed a petition to “save Wimbledon Park” and in excess of 2,000 letters of objection have been received by the councils.
Almost 300 trees would be removed to allow the All England club’s building plans, which some locals described as “corporate ecocide”. The club said most of the trees are “poor quality” and said it will plant 1,500 new ones.
A spokesperson for the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) said: “We are surprised that planning officers at the London Borough of Wandsworth have recommended refusal of the AELTC Wimbledon Park project, particularly after the London borough of Merton resolved to approve the application following extensive analysis and debate both in their officers’ report and at the planning committee.
“We regret that Wandsworth’s officers have taken a different view but it is for councillors on the planning applications committee to make their own considered decision at the meeting at 21 November.”
Fleur Anderson, the Labour MP for Putney, said: “I am delighted that Wandsworth council planning officers have recommended that the AELTC proposals for Wimbledon Park be refused. Wimbledon Park is protected, Grade II*-listed metropolitan open land. This means that ‘very special circumstances’ must be proved for it to be built on.
“Wandsworth council planning officers have not found that these ‘very special circumstances’ exist and so have recommended the plans be refused. The campaign continues. Our precious green space must be defended. But this is a very positive step in the right direction.”
The AELTC first set its sights on expanding into Wimbledon Park in 1993 when it bought the freehold of the land from Merton council for £5.2m. But it signed a covenant agreeing that it would “not use the [land] other than for leisure or recreational purposes or as an open space”.
The club rented the land to Wimbledon Park golf club until 2018 when its chair said he feared the SW19 championships would fall behind its competitors in New York, Paris and Melbourne if it did not expand and offer greater facilities for players and spectators. The obvious place to expand, he said, was on to the golf club.
However, the golf club’s lease on the land lasts until 2041, so the All England club could not take back the land for another 23 years. The tennis club offered the golf club members £65m to give up their club early. That worked out as a £85,000 windfall for every member, including Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, and Gus O’Donnell, the former cabinet secretary.
If Wandsworth council does approve the plans at its planning meeting on 21 November, the project will then be referred to the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the Greater London Authority.