A “once in a lifetime” expansion of Wimbledon’s tennis facilities took a significant step towards fruition last night after a vital planning decision.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club has been given the OK by Merton Council to add 38 new courts, including a new 8,000-capacity show court, with plans for the development submitted in 2021.
Now Wimbledon bosses will have to wait for a similar planning decision from Wandsworth Council in the coming weeks.
One of the largest areas of private land in London, a golf course abutting Wimbledon Park, will be turned into a new 23-acre public park that is free for everyone all year round.
The new project is set to bring £38m to the London economy, including 250 new jobs.
Local residents had been putting up a fight against the proposals, though the All England had long ago secured the backing of golf club members with a £64m fund distributed amongst the golfers.
Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, told the PA news agency that building on the park “pretty much contravenes every recommendation” on Metropolitan Open Land – a form of protection that treats green spaces in London in a similar way to the green belt.
He said: “If you read the officers’ report, there’s a whole chunk of it which effectively says this offends every planning policy and then says because there are very special circumstances we’re going to let it through.”
In a 450-page report, Merton Council’s planning officers concluded that the development would be “inappropriate” and cause “physical harm” to the Metropolitan Open Land, but said this was outweighed by the “very substantial public benefits” of the proposal and that these benefits constituted “very special circumstances” justifying development on protected land.
The so-called masterplan was announced in 2013.
Sally Bolton, Chief Executive of the All England Club, said: “We are delighted that the London Borough of Merton has resolved to approve our plans for the AELTC Wimbledon Park Project.
“Our proposals will both secure the future of The Championships for generations to come by bringing Qualifying to SW19 and 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.”
The chief executive added: “We now look forward to the decision of Wandsworth Council’s Planning Committee in the coming weeks.”