The All England Club have hit back at local opposition to a proposed new 8,000-seater show court at Wimbledon. The plans have been in place for a while and reached boiling point on the eve of the tournament, with organizers amending the proposal to make them more appealing to local communities and authorities who have been strongly opposed to the ideas.
According to the Daily Mail, decisive local authority planning hearings are set to be scheduled in late September to determine whether 39 new courts – including a larger stadium – can be built on nearby land which currently houses a golf course. It is yet another headache for Wimbledon organizers after the 2022 Championships was shrouded in controversy, including the stripping of ranking points due to the ban of Russian and Belarusian players from competition.
Prior to this year’s edition of the grass-court Grand Slam, the original planning application had been altered. However, the changes were not enough to satisfy vocal opposition including a coalition of MPs, councilors and local residents’ associations.
The proposal of constructing an 8,000-seat stadium, which would become the third largest arena on the Wimbledon grounds after Center Court and Court No. 1, is planned to go on designated Metropolitan Open Land. The All England Club have pointed out that the land is currently available only to members of the neighboring golf club, who are set to move out at the end of 2022.
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Amid local opposition, the All England Club released a statement to refute claims that a proposed new 23-acre public park set to be built is ‘a small part of the development which will not have any protection against future development’. The proposed park would be on the golf course.
“The Wimbledon Park Project proposes aim to deliver on two core objectives: to maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of sport and to provide substantial year-round public benefit to our local community,” the All England Club statement read.
“Central to these proposals is the opening up of previously private land to be enjoyed by thousands of local residents in Merton and Wandsworth. The benefits include the creation of a new 9.4-hectare public park, a new boardwalk around Wimbledon Park lake, and community use of the proposed new courts and facilities during the year.”
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The final claim in the statement is particularly controversial. The updated plans allow for seven grass courts to be available for public use between the end of the tournament and the court closure in early September.
The Wimbledon Union of Residents Associations described the granted planned courts access as ‘negligible’. The planning committees of Merton and Wandsworth will decide, and there is also the chance the plans could be referred to the London Mayor’s office or even the Secretary of State.
Wimbledon’s plan for the historic £100 million expansion scheme has seen multiple forms of objection, including a remarkable cross-party alliance between Conservative Stephen Hammond of Wimbledon and Labour’s Fleur Anderson in Putney. The pair have overcome political differences to call for Merton and Wandsworth councils to hold planning meetings solely dedicated to debating the project before ultimately urging them to reject the proposals.