Epic match looms as Wimbledon residents tackle tennis club expansion | Real estate

A battle is brewing in SW19. Local residents, environmental and heritage groups are preparing to launch a public relations and legal salute against Wimbledon’s plans to develop Capability Brown Historic Park into 39 new tennis courts for the championships.

Campaigners claim the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) designs for a new 8,000-seat exhibition court and 38 other turf courts on a golf course next to the world-famous SW19 club violate a commitment which prevents building on the Grade II * listed park.

When it bought freehold ownership of the golf course from Merton City Council for £ 5.2million in 1993, the All England club accepted a legal commitment “prohibiting the use of the course for any purpose other than leisure or recreation or as an open space ”.

Despite the commitment, the All England club submitted plans to Merton and Wandsworth councils for a “Parkland show short” 95 meters long, 28 meters high and 8,000 seats on the pitch designed by Capability Brown for the first Earl Spencer in 1768.

The club say they need to build the new performance field on the protected park as there is not enough space at their current site, and they urgently need larger capacity pitches to compete with the others. Grand Slam tournaments.

The club promised activists, who number in the thousands and including several prominent London lawyers, that the show court will be “a world-class building matching the beauty of its surroundings and paying homage to the site’s rich history.” The plans, which the club say would improve its image as ‘tennis in an English garden’, also include 38 ground courts, several ancillary buildings and 9.4 km of roads and trails.

More than 1,200 people have submitted formal objections through the councils’ websites.

Ahead of a planning decision expected in the spring, several local residents’ associations, heritage and environmental groups and local politicians are forming an “apolitical umbrella group” to engage in a public and legal fight against the All England club plan.

Chris Baker, director of the Capability Brown Society, said the plans would “forever destroy” the land Brown laid out 240 years ago. “This act of desecration will be a savage act of vandalism on the part of All England – which claims to have ‘heritage is in our DNA’,” said Baker.

Baker said the coalition of interest groups aimed to “fight all of England first in the court of public opinion”, but also called on lawyers to prepare for a legal battle over the status of the agreement if a building permit is granted.

“The All England were good neighbors, but local opinion quickly turned against them,” said Baker. “The vast majority of residents are afraid of destroying the park. They are only interested in one thing and that is the revenue and additional income that their new developments on the golf course will generate. “

Thelma Fry, 96, who has lived in a building overlooking the park for 30 years, said she was “devastated and heartbroken” by the proposals.

“I’m just one person against the endless wealth and influence of All England Tennis,” said Fry. “As I get older, my pleasure in living depends more and more on the view from my window. The trees, grass and lake of the Capability Brown landscape. I am devastated and heartbroken that he is ruined by the plans for all of England.

“They assured me that it would take years to build, which means that for the rest of my life, instead of my current glorious sight, I will overlook a construction site.”

Wimbledon Park. Photograph: Loop Images Ltd / Alamy

Iain Simpson, president of the Wimbledon Park Residents Association, which represents more than 10,000 local households, has accused the All England club of deceiving locals by submitting plans that violate the pledge he signed by promising to not building on the land when he bought it in 1993.

Simpson extracted the minutes from Merton when the council agreed to sell the golf course on the condition that the All England signed a pledge “not to use it except for recreation or recreation or as an open space and not to build on it “.

At the time, All England club president John Curry said: “We fully understand and support everyone’s determination to keep the pitch open and we bought the pitch on that basis.”

Tony Colman, Head of Merton Borough Council, said: “This council is committed to the land being kept as open space. All of England bought the land knowing it was our policy and realizing that we would not allow further development of the site.

When Simpson recently wrote to Ian Hewitt, the current president of All England, reminding him of his predecessor’s alliance and promise, Hewitt replied that: “I am sure you can understand that the demands of the club and of The community has grown over the 28 years and the AELTC has had to work to ensure that the Championships remain a preeminent tennis tournament and continue to provide significant and improved socio-economic benefits to the region.

“Residents and the public have been deceived as to their intentions,” Simpson said in a letter sent to thousands of local homes earlier this month. “Why should we believe everything they say? “

In a statement, Hewitt said: “Private land agreements are not part of the public planning process but must be dealt with outside of this process. The view of the AELTC is that it would be appropriate for any discussion / consideration regarding restrictive covenants to take place once the planning request has been determined.

Hewitt said the proposed new courts were “vital to the future of Wimbledon – to the championships, to the people of Wimbledon and to tennis in the UK and around the world.” We need to make these aspirations come true in order to maintain Wimbledon’s position at the top of the game. “

A spokesperson for Merton Borough Council said: “A legal commitment is not an important planning consideration in a planning request assessment.

“The request from the All England Lawn Tennis Club is currently under review and will likely be decided by the planning committee: at this time we do not have a committee date in mind as the request is still pending. evaluation by officers. “

The All England club leased the land to Wimbledon Park Golf Club with a lease that expires in 2041. However, eager to expand the championships and host the preliminary matches on site, the tennis club offered club members a golf £ 65million to buy out the lease. and expand its footprint.

Members of the golf club, which included Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, and former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, voted in favor of the deal in 2018 and each raised a windfall of £ 85,000 .