Fury Over AELTC's Expansion Plans For Wimbledon Park

Area used for Wimbledon Tennis Championships could almost treble in size

Wimbledon Park

More than 1,000 formal objections have been made to the All England Lawn Tennis Club's plans to build an 8,000-seater show court and 38 new grass courts on land now used by Wimbledon Park Golf Club.

Once there is no more golf on the course from January, the AELTC wants to transform the land for use in the annual Championships as well as its qualifying events.

But the club's ambitious scheme, which is detailed in 101 documents lodged as part of the planning application, has been criticised as the overdevelopment of 'heritage open space' and the surviving views around it as well as the current open grassland.

It involves the felling of 296 trees which are subject to Tree Preservation Orders, as well as work taking many years to level and concrete over part of the landscape to produce the proposed buildings, roads, paths and areas of hard-standing.

Bird's eye view of how the Wimbledon Tennis Club could look by 2028
Bird's eye view of how the Wimbledon Tennis Club could look by 2028. Picture: AELTC

If the AELTC receives permission to carry out the work, it will enable the qualifying event for the annual tennis championships to take place on the site, rather than in Roehampton. The scheme will see 'Wimbledon fortnight' expanded to three weeks, meaning increased crowds in Wimbledon for a longer period of time.

Its plans have been submitted jointly to Merton and Wandsworth Councils. According to The Wimbledon Society, Merton has said it received 659 objections to the proposals and 14 letters of support. Wandsworth is understood to have received 486 letters of objection and 14 supporting letters.

The AELTC has said will place the courts sensitively within the landscape of the Capability Brown-designed park and will make landscape improvements to enchance the conservation status of the Grade II* listed park and garden.

The new show court will be 28 metres tall and the scheme would also increase overall ground capacity from 42,000 to around 50,000.

The AELTC also said it will restore the historic alignment of Wimbledon Park lake, the centrepiece of the park designed by Brown in the 1760s. As part of the improvements, it says it will provide better community access to the lake with a boardwalk around and across the lake.

But the Friends of Wimbledon Park (FOWP), a voluntary organisation working to protect the park, says the intention to build a walkway round the lake is already required by an existing covenant. It says the club should relinquish control over the lake's access.

Its other ten objections include the plans for the 8,000-seater show court being sumbitted for outline approval at this stage, without the detail to analyse its impact.

It added: "We specifically object to the overdevelopment of heritage open space and the surviving views across it, which are essentially destroyed by the show court, too many grass courts, too many paths, too much intensive management and related activities. So, we lose the open grassland.

"Keeping a scatter of veteran trees does not retain the parkland character. Parks are trees (not just veteran trees) set in a grassland or heathland matrix (just as at Richmond Park). We are essentially losing that matrix across most of the site.

"There's also a significant impact on Capability Brown’s Lake, with much loss of open water. The edge of the proposed reedbed will become the visual edge of the open water of the lake. As the lake is set in a broad shallow valley and reeds grow 2m-4m high, there is little opportunity for views over the reeds to the grassland or water beyond. So, the designed views are replaced by much more restricted views."

The scheme does include the planting of 1,500 new trees, but FOWP said the planned felling of 296 trees should "not be acceptable" as new planting takes decades to replace those lost.
On the expansion of the championships it said: "The expanded event itself will have an increased negative impact on the life and amenity of residents in Wimbledon and Southfields. The current tennis crowds are hard to navigate through, particularly for the elderly, and an increase in daily capacity, for an additional event week, is not a welcome proposal.

"The intention to regularly close Church Road in the future is completely unacceptable. This is a public road and not part of the applicant's estate."

Other objections came from Wimbledon Park Residents' Association, which said the plans would cause "substantial harm" to a heritage park and no harm is outweighed by the benefits proposed.

The Capability Brown Society has said the scheme would destroy the park and has its own vision to protect the historic openness of the parkland.

An AELTC spokeswoman said: "Our ambition is to keep The Championships at the pinnacle of tennis and to deliver tangible benefits for our communities.

"The project has been developmed following multiple rounds of public consultation and regular dialogue with both Merton and Wandsworth Councils. We have listened to all the feedback we've received and worke hard to reflect residents' views as our proposals have developed."

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October 22, 2021