Wandsworth Councillors Vote Down AELTC Plan

Planning committee unanimous in opposing Wimbledon Park scheme

Protestors outside Wandsworth Town Hall before the meetingProtestors outside Wandsworth Town Hall before the meeting. Picture: Hina Bokhari AM

November 23, 2023

Councillors on the Wandsworth Borough planning committee voted unanimously against proposals to build on Wimbledon Park this Tuesday evening (21 November).

The seven councillors who rejected the application were acting in accord with the recommendations from the planning department that the scheme to build 38 tennis courts and a stadium on the former golf course be rejected.

The application by the All-England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) had been approved by the equivalent committee in Merton borough but this decision leaves the project in limbo. Most of the scheme is within Merton’s boundaries but an area, including five courts at the north end of the scheme, is within the borough of Wandsworth.

A noisy demonstration by over one hundred people was held outside the Town Hall before the meeting and the vote followed more than two hours of discussion on the plan in which campaigners against the scheme argued that the harm caused would outweigh any benefits, a view endorsed by planning officers. Arguments made against the scheme included the increased traffic it would bring and the constructions of buildings on Metropolitan Open Land.

At the meeting, Conservative councillor Kim Caddy said, “The loss of green space and the harm caused to Metropolitan Open Land are not outweighed by the potential benefits of the scheme. There are no special circumstances here which justify a huge 8,000-seat stadium in a Green Belt area.”

Councillor Caddy also raised concerns about the impact of construction on local air quality and road safety. She added, “There are many schools and nurseries along the route proposed and the additional lorry and other traffic movements will just worsen the already poor air quality in Southfields as well as increasing road safety risk.”

Conservative councillor Daniel Ghossain described the scale of the proposed development as “disproportionate and insensitive to the needs of residents and the environment”. He said: “The All England Club has not engaged with residents in a way that is commensurate with the sheer scale of the proposals and, let’s be clear what this is – the building of a stadium on Metropolitan Open Land, the colossal environment footprint that entails and the best part of a decade of disruption to daily life.”

Labour councillor Jamie Colclough said he felt there were some benefits to the scheme, but added,“When it’s still weighed up against the damage it’s going to be doing to Metropolitan Open Land, I still don’t think it’s enough – it’s not life-changing.”

After the vote, Iain Simpson, Chair Save Wimbledon Park (SWP) said, “This result is very heartening. The councillors unanimously recognised the crucial point that this application provides no justification for so much harm to Metropolitan Open Land, our precious Green Belt.

“We have nothing against the tennis. However, protecting the environment, a desire shared by the GLA and all Londoners and indeed the whole country, and keeping open space truly public for the recreation and well being of real local communities is much more important.

“As yet we have won nothing. In sporting parlance, we move into the next round of the competition, pleased that points we have been making for over two years have finally been acknowledged by politicians.

“The next step is for the GLA to prevent any further damage to the environment and such important Open Spaces.”

Putney MP Fleur Anderson thanked those involved in the campaign against the plan and described the outcome as “great news’ adding, “The decision is fantastic for local residents and our green spaces, There is still more to be done and I will campaign to safe our green spaces in the next stages.”

Huge Set Back for AELTC's Wimbledon Park Scheme
A visualisation of the show court planned as part of the scheme. Picture: AELTC

Wandsworth Council leader Simon Hogg said after the decision was made, “We could not support the loss of green open space at Wimbledon Park and the loss of mature trees that was at the heart of this application.

“While we recognised that the scheme would offer a range of benefits to the area, this was outweighed by the impact on the open space as well as the increased pressure on local transport infrastructure.

“Taking these factors into account and very carefully weighing up the arguments both for and against, the committee concluded that the application could not be approved.”

Stephen Hammond, who represents Wimbledon for the Conservatives said, “I am pleased that the council have voted in this way. I think this application is too big and very difficult to justify.

“It is not clear that you need the 39 courts, it is not clear that they need to build the size of show court they are talking about, and it is not clear that they have thought about the building in the public park.

“I hope the club will realise that this application is unlikely to proceed in its current form quickly or ever. It is better that we all sit down and try and find a solution that works for everybody.

“I still think the government will look at it because it is such a big project, and it does create precedents.”

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, Hina Bokhari said, “I will continue to voice strong opposition to the AELTC plans that could lose precious green space and impact the local wildlife and biodiversity.”

Sally Bolton, chief executive of AELTC, said, “Naturally, we are disappointed by the London Borough of Wandsworth's decision.

“Our proposals will deliver one of the greatest sporting transformations for London since 2012, alongside substantial benefits for the local community.

“We firmly believe the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project offers significant social, economic and environmental improvements, including turning 23 acres of previously private land into a new public park, alongside hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of pounds in economic benefits for our neighbours in Wandsworth, Merton and across London.

“Given the split council decision, with the London Borough of Merton resolving to approve our application last month, our planning application will now be referred to the Mayor of London's office for consideration.”

Once the Greater London Authority has made its determination on the plan it could then be passed on for consideration by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove for the final decision.

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