The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), organizers of the Wimbledon Championship Grand Slam tennis tournament in London, has taken a step forward in its plans to expand its grounds after winning approval from local council leaders in the UK.
Last night (October 26), Merton Council’s development and planning application committee voted to approve the AELTC’s application to build 39 new courts, including a new 8,000-capacity show court, on the former site of Wimbledon Park Golf Club, which is also owned by AELTC.
The golf club had a lease through 2041 but the contract was terminated after members voted to allow AELTC to buy the remaining 23-year lease for £65 million in December 2018. Under that deal, golf club members received £85,000 each.
A similar planning decision from Wandsworth Council is due in the coming weeks and is among several hurdles the AELTC will need to overcome before work starts on the expansion.
If the AELTC’s plans go ahead, the new courts are unlikely to be in operation before 2030.
The AELTC said the expansion will allow Wimbledon qualifying to take place on-site in line with the other three Grand Slams on the tennis calendar – in Melbourne, Paris, and New York. Qualifying is currently staged at the Bank of England Sports Centre in Roehampton, three-and-half miles away.
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The new show court will have 8,000 seats and a roof to meet Wimbledon’s goal of having another court that can be used regardless of the weather.
In terms of visitors, the extra site will allow up to 10,000 more people a day to watch qualifying and up to 50,000 to enter the ground during each day of the main fortnight.
A new 23-acre public park, meanwhile, will be created with access free and all year round, excluding the weeks of the Championship.
AELTC’s chief executive Sally Bolton 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.
“We now look forward to the decision of Wandsworth Council’s Planning Committee in the coming weeks.”
However, there have been wide objections against the proposals by local residents and leaders, including Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, who told the PA news agency that building on the park “pretty much contravenes every recommendation” on Metropolitan Open Land, a protection policy that gives green spaces in London priority.
Merton Council’s report concluded while the development may cause “physical harm” to the Metropolitan Open Land, the “very substantial public benefits” of the proposal would outweigh the damage, which constituted “very special circumstances.”
In total, Merton Council received over 2,000 letters of objection.
The next Wimbledon Championships will run from July 1 to 14, 2024.