Is it game, set, match for the AELTC as Merton council backs Wimbledon expansion?

Is it game, set, match for the AELTC as Merton council backs Wimbledon expansion?

By Ellie Holmes

Controversial plans for major expansion of the Wimbledon Championships, including an 8,000 seater stadium, have been given a boost.

Merton Council’s planning committee has given permission for 39 new courts to be built on the site of Wimbledon Park Golf Club, opposite the All England Club.

Councillors at the meeting on Thursday 27th October at the Merton Civic Centre, voted six to four in favour of the scheme after the four hour meeting.

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, for the expansions of its site at Wimbledon.”

Whilst disappointed with the result, those opposing the expansion remain defiant and hopeful, as plans still have to be approved by Wandsworth Council.

Jonathan Morrish from the Save Wimbledon Park campaign group said:

“We were not surprised by the outcome.

“We are disappointed of course, but this is one stage in what will be a long process.

“We are well prepared for the Wandsworth meeting, which should be soon.

“We have been fighting this for over two years and having come this far, we will absolutely not be backing down.”

Councillors were conflicted in their view of the plans.

Planning officers had advised that the proposals would “result in physical harm” to Metropolitan Open Land, but were swayed by “very special circumstances, meaning substantial public benefits would clearly outweigh the harm.”

In a statement, the AELTC Chief Executive Sally Bolton said that they were “delighted” with the approved plans for the Wimbledon Park Project.

“Our proposals will both secure the future of The Championships for generations to come by bringing players’ Qualifying on site to SW19.

“It will also provide a transformation in community amenities, including a new 23 acre park for everyone to enjoy on land which has been inaccessible to the public for over 100 years.”

However whilst the vote by Merton Council has moved expansion plans significantly closer, there is still some way to go.

The most northern part of Wimbledon Park is within the borough of Wandsworth and its planning committee must also vote on the plans.

There is no date fixed for this as yet.

Once both councils have given their verdicts, the Mayor of London must formally accept or reject the results.

There is also the 30 year legal covenant on the land to take into consideration.

When the golf course was transferred from Merton Council to the AELTC in 1993, there were conditions imposed, which could block the AELTC’s plans at a later stage.

The Save Wimbledon Park petition to oppose the work now has over 13,000 signatures and members are committed to their cause.

Jonathan Morrish says:  “We will go even further in order to save the park, which is so important to residents and community.

“We will not give up.”

So whilst this is undoubtedly an early advantage for the AELTC, it looks like this match could be a five setter, with many challenges along the way.