Last Updated on 22 May 2023
Wimbledon Society’s Planning & Environment Committee Chair, Chris Goodair, writes on the All England Club’s controversial plans for Wimbledon Park for the London Forum May 2023 Newsletter
In summer 2021, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) made a planning application to develop the Wimbledon Park Golf Course, whose freehold they had acquired from Merton Council in 1993, followed by buying out the golf club’s lease a few years ago. Their plans include an 8,000-seater stadium, 38 other open grass courts, 10 ancillary buildings and 9 km of paths and roads. But the land is Metropolitan Open Land, a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, a Grade II* Listed Park and is in a Conservation Area.
The Wimbledon Society has joined with local Residents’ Associations in a campaigning group, Save Wimbledon Park (SWP), to oppose these plans: www.savewimbledonpark.org. Our petition topped 10,000 signatures over the Easter weekend and is now at more than 11,300. By working with the London branch of the CPRE – the countryside charity, we are now aware of dozens of other open places under threat from development, often by major sporting interests.
The application hasn’t yet made the Councils’ Planning Committees yet (it’s a cross-border application to both Merton & Wandsworth). The original 101 supporting documents were followed by 60 more in May 2022 and another 20-odd last autumn. Changes were not tracked, so it’s impossible to tell which of the original documents have been amended or superseded and how they have changed. More than 2,000 objections have been made to the application.
There were concerns about the AELTC’s future intentions when they bought the freehold in 1993. To mitigate this, Merton Council entered into Covenants with AELTC not to develop the land for anything other than “leisure or recreation purposes or as an open space” and to create a publicly accessible walk around the Wimbledon Park lake once golf ceased.
After extensive research, we have failed to find any evidence that the Council advertised the sale of the land in 1993. This is a parallel situation to that in Day v Shropshire, decided in the Supreme Court in March. That decision held that because of a failure to advertise, the statutory trust on which the land had been held by the local authority still existed and the company that had bought the land for development held it on the original terms. It was a material consideration that the planning authority should have taken into account when granting planning permission and that permission was thereby quashed by the Court.
Having bought out the lease and submitted the planning application, golf ceased at 31 December 2022. But no publicly accessible walk around the lake is being created. The AELTC is relying on a legal technicality that as the lease still subsists, they have no need to comply with the Covenants. Instead, the AELTC’s plans include a permissive boardwalk, mainly constructed in the lake, and they are trumpeting this as a community benefit deriving from their application.
Although the attached plan cannot be read in any detail, the highly intrusive nature of the development is evident from the new concrete paths and court access points shown in red. The boardwalk around the lake is in blue.