WIMBLEDON PARK DEVELOPMENTS – JOIN THE DEBATE
Wimbledon Park developments – join the debate
The Wimbledon Society gives their views on the AELTC’s plans for Wimbledon Park. And the AELTC respond. Please send us your emails and join the discussion…
What you see laid before you as you enter Wimbledon Park from Home Park Road today, is what remains of a landscape created by ‘Capability’ Brown in the 18th century for his patron, Earl Spencer. With an artificial lake as its focus, the park stretches out as far as the eye can see, comprising the recreation ground, running track and golf course. This historic parkland is highly protected – designated as Metropolitan Open Land (the equivalent of Green Belt) and a Grade 2* Listed Heritage Asset.
All this is now under threat …
In 1993 Merton Council sold the freehold of the 73-acre golf course to the All England Lawn Tennis Club. In 2018 they bought out the lease of the golf club, and golf will cease to be played at the end of this year.
The AELTC have proposed a massive development covering approximately two-thirds of the site. This comprises a 28-metre high covered stadium to seat 8,000, 10 other buildings (including a 30,000 square feet maintenance hub), 38 grass tennis courts, 2 very large paved entrance zones, and 9.4 kilometres of roads and pathways. Construction of the grass courts alone will require 7,000 tonnes of concrete. 300 mature trees will be felled and replaced with 1,500 new specimens (‘whips’). The work is expected to take eight years to complete.
Their justification for the project is two-fold. Firstly, they say that the expansion is necessary to maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of tennis. To do this, it is essential to have another ‘show court’ and also to be able to hold their qualifying tournament at their main venue. Secondly, the development will, they claim, provide year-round benefit to the community. These supposed ‘benefits’ include creation of a new 23-acre park, accessible to the public outside The Championships, desilting the lake and constructing a boardwalk round its perimeter, providing nature trails and educational opportunities for local schools and families, and enhancing the biodiversity of the site.
The AELTC are adamant that, far from damaging this historic parkland, their project will enhance it. Their vision is to provide world-class “Tennis in an English Garden”. Many might not regard that as an apt description of a tennis complex of almost industrial proportions. The Club’s alleged justifications are unconvincing.
Consider the likely environmental impact. Experts argue that the scheme will harm the park’s habitats, destroying parkland grass, felling many trees, and destroying the reedbed and wet woodland. The lake’s plant life makes it one of the best shallow, rich lakes in London. Chemicals from managing grass courts risk polluting the lake. The tree canopy will not recover for 50-100 years. Biodiversity will be reduced, not improved.
Even the alleged community benefits are questionable. Access to the public park will be permissive only and permission could be withdrawn at any time. The Club had already promised to dedicate a public walkway round the lake in 1993 when it purchased the land, so that is not a ‘new’ benefit. There is no assurance that the public will be allowed to use any of the new courts. Paradoxically, the Queue and car parking will remain on the recreation ground.
And what about the covenants? In 1993 the AELTC entered into covenants which prevent building on the land or use of the land otherwise than for “leisure or recreational purposes or as an open space”. The council insisted on these covenants precisely to prevent the very thing which the AELTC are now proposing to do. Merton said it was committed to preserving “the open aspect of the Golf Course”. Merton’s clear duty is to enforce these covenants.
In 1871 local residents fought successfully to prevent Earl Spencer from enclosing Wimbledon Common. It is ironic that, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the passing of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act, we should be engaged in a similar battle, to save Earl Spencer’s park.
We are not opposed on principle to any development on this site and have offered to engage with the Club to explore practicable solutions. We love the Tennis, which is such an important part of Wimbledon’s DNA, and remain hopeful that an amicable compromise might be reached.
Ian Hewitt, Chairman, The All England Lawn Tennis Club…
At The All England Lawn Tennis Club, we are fortunate and proud to be the caretakers of one of the world’s most iconic sporting events, set in what we aspire to be one of the world’s most beautiful sporting venues.
We view it as an immense responsibility – to our community, to London, and to British tennis – to maintain Wimbledon at the top of its game and evolve as a sporting event, club and organisation, keeping pace with the times.
It is in that spirit that we have developed our proposals for one of the most significant projects in the Club’s history since our move to Church Road 100 years ago.
The AELTC Wimbledon Park Project involves incorporating the neighbouring Wimbledon Park Golf Club into our existing estate. The vision for these proposals is tennis in an English parkland, complemented by a beautiful new publicly accessible park.
Why here, and why now?
This year represents 100 years of Centre Court and during this time we have continued to enhance our venue to keep it competitive. But we are the only Grand Slam that doesn’t have its Qualifying event on site and our practice court facilities are very limited; meanwhile other venues continue to improve and expand.
This project is our response – to maintain our position as a leading sporting event and all the benefits that brings with it for our community, for the UK, and for British tennis. We plan to bring the Qualifying event to the parkland, building the grass tennis courts we need for competition and practice. Our proposed Show Court will expand viewing opportunities by thousands of seats each day, but more importantly provide a flexible year-round facility for us and for the community.
It also comes at a time when we are more and more active in looking after our local environment. This project is essential to our commitment, as part of the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework, to be environment positive by 2030. We propose a 10% biodiversity net gain across the park and the project will help us become carbon neutral.
Wimbledon Park is designated as a Grade II* Registered Park and Garden. However, the scale of the original park has shrunk with housing development encroaching over the past 200 years. Ownership of the remaining park is fragmented, putting it on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register since 2016.
Now is the chance to finally address this. To rescue the wider space and landscape, prevent further deterioration, and restore aspects of this historic landscape, bringing the benefit of public access and enjoyment to a new park on land that has been the preserve of a private members’ golf club since 1898.
What does this involve?
For a start, we will repair and reinstate some of ‘Capability’ Brown’s original landscape features, bringing the site back in line to its original concept by removing golf course features and allowing the site’s ecology and biodiversity to thrive.
We will double the number of trees on the golf course and deliver a total net gain of 1,500 important new, resilient species of trees. We are retaining and protecting 41 ancient and veteran trees on the site, as with careful management and a bit of elbow room, they have many years left in them and hold important genetic heritage. We look forward to sharing the stories of these ancient trees as we learn more about them.
Essential and long-overdue restoration of the lake will also be delivered through this project, extending the southern tip of the lake to its original shape, while also proposing crucial de-silting works and wider improvements to the lake’s edge. It will be the most intense restoration project undertaken to the lake since it was built – designed to protect its amenity, improve its heritage value, and safeguard its long-term future.
The new 9.4-hectare park will be managed and maintained by us, ensuring the green space is freely available to the public year-round outside of The Championships. We will restore the acid grassland and rolling landforms of the original park, and nature trails and educational opportunities will also add to the attraction.
We have support of significance for our proposals. Amongst others, Historic England, The Gardens Trust and London Wildlife Trust have all recognised the role the project can play in delivering important heritage benefits to the local area, which will work towards removing Wimbledon Park from the ‘At Risk’ register.
We are challenging ourselves to deliver this future and, at every stage, will apply the same meticulous attention-to-detail to ensuring our project enhances the local landscape as we do to delivering the world’s most admired tennis tournament.
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