WIMBLEDON PARK DEVELOPMENTS – YOUR RESPONSE
Wimbledon Park developments – your response
We asked you to write in with your views about the AELTC’s plans for Wimbledon Park. Here’s what you told us…
Dr David Dawson, January 2023
We’ve all heard of greenwashing, deflecting environmental concerns by applying green labels to thinly-disguised business as usual. Well, it’s going on locally, in the proposals to convert Wimbledon Park Golf Course and lake into a huge new tennis development for the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Local environmental scientist, Dr Dave Dawson, has peeled off the greenwash to reveal the actual effect of the proposals. The golf course and lake are the largest part of a heritage landscape, which also includes the public park. This landscape is the last remaining part of Capability Brown’s 18th century park.
Dave’s research shows that the landscape is rich in biodiversity. The golf course is a parkland with old and veteran trees standing in open grassland. Such traditional parklands are rare and support many special species. In spring, the landscape supports 80 bird species, 45 of which depend upon it for breeding. 84 other bird species pass through on migration, or arrive to avoid winter weather elsewhere. The lake is one of the best in London. It has the internationally threatened European Eel. Eight species of specially-protected bats come to feed on the insects that emerge from the lake, as do the declining Swifts. The Pochard duck, though declining nationally, is increasing at the lake. Grey Herons breed and Little Egrets are prospecting for a breeding site.
This great number of species comes because the landscape provides their habitat. There are five national Priority Habitats: Parkland, Lowland Woodland, Standing Water, Reedbed and Wet Woodland. Harm to these habitats will harm the species that use them.The development proposals will harm the habitats, by destroying the parkland grass and felling over 300 trees, by planting reedbed, thus destroying Wet Woodland and reducing the lake. Polluted sediment is to be removed along with much lake water and dried, with the polluted water returned to the lake. This will harm water quality. Chemicals from managing the grass courts will further pollute the lake. Yet, the All England proudly proclaim that their proposals for built development will have an Urban Greening Factor of 0.97, a near-perfect score, and they claim a biodiversity net gain for their proposals.
How can they claim this? All England missed half of the breeding bird species and a third of the migrants and winter visitors. They found the bats, but failed to acknowledge that these protected species come for the insect food, which depends in turn on the lake. The proposed new reedbeds are supposed to take up pollutants, so helping water quality, but they are far too small and in the wrong place. The new pollutants will not be measurably reduced. They didn’t see the Wet Woodland or study the life in the lake, so missing its London-wide value. No value was given to the parkland grass, nor to the many mature trees.
By inadequate survey and evaluation, the All England is employing Nelson’s tactic: if you don’t look, you cannot see. By finding minimal biodiversity now, they are able to claim a theoretical gain from their proposals, but almost all the species they imply will come as a result of their proposals are there already. Compounding this, they ignore the likely losses and made gross errors, in their favour, when using the Mayor of London’s Urban Greening calculator.
The All England make much of their proposed tree planting, but don’t tell us that felling 300 trees will release some 210,000 kg of carbon. This substantial loss of carbon store will cause global heating and not be redressed for 50 years, far too long for any meaningful effect.
The All England are obliged to develop a public walkway around the lake, but they would rather you didn’t know this, as they propose a damaging walkway in our publicly owned lake instead. Why? Because this leaves more room for their intensive tennis development.
There are some positive aspects to the proposed development. A few veteran trees are to be kept and attempts made to attract a few extra mammals and birds. What little grass survives is to be managed better. None of this, however, comes anywhere near what would be needed to redress the losses. The net balance is negative: biodiversity will be harmed. Don’t believe the greenwash.
Dr David Dawson has held senior positions in Ecology Units for both the Greater London Council until it was abolished and also the Mayor’s Strategy Manager for Biodiversity and then Deputy Head of Environment.
Tony Michael, March 2022
At this time of environmental crisis the idea that a beautiful long-established site with mature trees and wildlife should be taken over in the way proposed by the AELTC seems outrageous. We need more nature and nature needs less human interference. In any case, climate change will probably mean that we don’t have lawns in 20 years time, and we certainly should not be expanding international sporting events which encourage energy-guzzling travel, so it’s probably a bad investment even for the Club.parking instead of Wimbledon Park. I hope they will also retain the existing trees and minimise disruption to wildlife on the site. Wimbledon Park is already over-used and car parking puts large areas of the Great Field out of use for many weeks at the height of the summer, just when quiet open spaces are most needed by local people.Although I have enjoyed the tennis championships all my life, my feelings about them have been changing recently. These these new proposals follow other overdevelopment in recent years. Rather than adding to the local disruption, AELTC’s ownership of the Golf Club site should mean that this is for the tennis queue and car
The golf course is part of Wimbledon Park, is protected Metropolitan Open Land and is a historic Grade II* listed Capability Brown landscape.
A park. The golf course is part of the larger Wimbledon Park. It was open to Merton residents to play at a reasonable cost. If developed as an exclusive tennis complex, it will be lost forever from the park. While we appreciate that facilities like golf courses, tennis courts, bowling greens etc., are not used by all park users, nonetheless they are a common and important part of London’s parks. If they are to be re-allocated for a different purpose, it should be to serve as a park – or a facility one would expect to find in a park, to be used by the public at reasonable cost.
The AELTC says it will be creating a new ‘permissive park’, opening part of the golf course to the public for part of the year, a concession which could be withdrawn at any time. But this still means the rest of the site will be permanently closed to the public, used only for a few days (18/365, 5%) each year for the tournament. Instead, the AELTC, as owners, should facilitate permanent public access to the entire space all year round, or transfer it to an organisation which intends to facilitate that.
Metropolitan Open Land. This is a planning designation intended to ensure there is land within London which remains permanently open. It has the same status as Green Belt. Building anything on ‘MOL’, especially a stadium and a large maintenance building, is not permitted.
A historic landscape. While AELTC has said Historic England supports the development, on the basis it will bring investment to a Grade II* listed park which is on the at-risk register, we say the proposed development would turn most of it into a private tennis complex with considerable artificial surfacing and hardstanding, and destroy what remains of the historic landscape – a view echoed (as we understand it) by the Capability Brown Society and SAVE (Save Britain’s Heritage). So not all experts are in agreement here. We do not believe the investment would restore the park, rather it would destroy much of what the Grade II* listing is based on (in fact we understand there has been some debate that the proposals might well cause the park to lose its Grade II* status).
London has only half the green space it needs for a population its size. We face health, climate and nature crises all at the same time. The park should remain a park, without substantial artificial and hard surfacing, without buildings, and with year-round public access. The AELTC can use alternative sites for qualifying rounds, practice courts and even matches, while also supporting other grounds with investment.
We look forward to seeing an alternative vision for the Wimbledon Park golf course which delivers public amenity, wildlife habitat and natural drainage for years to come.
It needs to be scaled down considerably. Public access should not be ‘permissable’ but a given. The facilities also should be open to the residents to be able to use the parkland as it was intended. This is of benefit only to AELTC, is in contravention of the Covenants set in place to protect the park and goes against public opinion. The fornightly flocking yearly to the championships is known and liked by Southfields residents but AELTC do not seem to consider themselves part of the community. This development would be a detriment to the community and London Parks.
I object strongly to AELTCs plans to develop Wimbledon Park for two main reasons – the existence of covenants that protect the land from development and the GLAs position in opposing the development. There has been a series of public meetings, including two hosted by local MPs Fleur Anderson (Putney) and Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon). At these meetings and elsewhere the subject that has received the most attention is the discovery of restrictive covenants covering the former golf course on which AELTC hope to build. The covenants date back to 1993, when Merton Council sold the land to AELTC. The then leader of Merton Council said at the time: “The golf course will be retained as open space. The whole stretch has been designated Metropolitan Open Land. We have declared it a conservation area and placed strong covenants on the sale.” The Chairman of AELTC responded at the time “We completely understand and support everyone’s determination to keep the land open and we have purchased the land on that basis.” At a meeting of Merton Council held on February 2nd the minority Liberal Democrat group put forward a motion that would require the Council to “enforce” its covenants. This motion was defeated, but a second motion put forward by the majority Labour group was passed. This second motion merely required the Council to “respect” the covenants. The Council meeting received press coverage from The Times, The Guardian and the Evening Standard.
In addition the Greater London Assembly (GLA) has issued an initial report on AELTC’s application. They conclude that AELTC have not justified their claim that “Very Special Circumstances” exist to authorise any planning approval, nor, even if they do exist, would those claimed outweigh the harm which the development would cause. A paper on this subject has now been written by local Residents Associations which has been submitted to both Wandsworth and Merton Planning Committees, who are obliged to consider the views of the GLA. You can read the paper here .
I call on Merton Council to serve the interests of local residents by enforcing the covenants that are in place and heeding the report issued by the GLA
I live in Southfields and go to Wimbledon Park everyday, sometimes twice a day, to walk our dog.
The real point is that there is a covenant on the land, which AELTC freely signed when the bought the land, banning any building on the land. It is also designated Metropolitan Open land. It beggars belief that this is not upheld by Merton Council. It was signed by Leader of the Council. What on earth is the point of having legal covenants if they are completely ignored only a few decades later? Merton have said they will only consider the covenant once planning permission has been given. Really? Why? It’s this sort of thing that serious erodes public trust in Councils.
My husband and I are absolutely appalled at the above, the AELTC has facilities in Roehampton, and there is no need for this much valued parkland, Grade II listed by Capability Brown, providing so much pleasure to so many, to be developed in this way. Thank you for asking! Love your magazine by the way.
Notable by its absence from Mr Hewitt’s piece was any mention of the covenants which the AELTC gave recently to the Council when they acquired the land. The proposed development is a flagrant breach of the covenants and should be redrawn to be compliant with those covenants. And Merton Council should make clear that they will enforce the covenants which they had to take from the AELTC because of the local opposition to the original sale of the land. Their continued failure to do so does them no credit at all.
Dr N R Steiner, Chair, Friends of Wimbledon Park
The Friends of Wimbledon Park (FOWP) is a voluntary umbrella organisation that aims to give a voice to local people, community groups and other interested parties, to protect and enhance this well-loved heritage landscape, Heritage Wimbledon Park, for future generations.
We are working through the 101 documents (a lot of work for volunteers) associated with this Wimbledon Park Project application. We have made 3 objections which are summarised below.
Inter alia this proposal should be regarded as resulting in:
- inappropriate development in Metropolitan Open Land
- inappropriate buildings in Metropolitan Open Land
- substantial harm to a Heritage Grade11* registered park
- a failure to protect Metropolitan Open Land
- the loss of protected open space and a designated nature conservation site
- a failure to conserve a designated historic asset
- a failure to protect our urban forest and woodland trees
- no net gain in biodiversity.
Essentially, and despite previous promises to the contrary, the applicant wants to develop Metropolitan Open Land for corporate profit with the inducement of providing a small linear park with public access, but which can be closed at any time. The land is protected open space and the numerous policies that protect it should be adhered to.
Second submission concerns desilting the lake:
In summary the lake will continue to fill up with sediment very slowly through natural processes.
- Desilting is not needed for reasons of water quality nor flood control
- A big concern regarding desilting is the effect on biodiversity and the harm it could have on the ecology
- Installation of silt traps on Bigden and Rushmere brooks and the AELTC drain will prevent further silting
- It is a major undertaking, and a cost benefit analysis is required.
We submit that the scale of these works requires a separate planning application and not be a condition within another planning application. The desilting in this application should be rejected.
Third submission concerns car parking (note that in 2021 500 spaces were allocated in the public park, the application says 660 – this is for the general public but changes to staff by 2030. This being a worst case scenario):
We object to the use of the public park in this way and the increase in spaces in the public park and say that car parking on a Grade II* Heritage Park should be reset to zero. Public car parking on the application site or in the public park would be contrary to London and Local sustainable transport policies, no permission should be granted for public car parking on the Grade II* Heritage Park.