Controversial plans for a new Wimbledon show court are to be put to a vote of councillors in a motion that could see them block the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) 10-storey tennis stadium on a protected park.
Opposition councillors are “plotting a showdown vote” on Wednesday night on the controversial stadium plans next door to the famous tennis complex.
They claim the plans will “concrete over” the Capability Brown-designed parkland and “lead to the destruction of countless mature trees, all for the sake of courts that will only be used for a few weeks a year”.
Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors will call on the Labour-run Merton council to enforce restrictive covenants that prevent building on the Grade II* listed parkland.
“Enforcing the covenants would ensure the All England Club’s proposals would be blocked even if its planning application is successful,” the Lib Dem councillors said in advance of the meeting at which they have tabled the motion.
Despite the covenant, the club has submitted plans for a 95-metre long, 28-metre high, 8,000-seat “Parkland show court” on the land designed by Brown for the first Earl Spencer in 1768.
The plans, which the club said would enhance its “tennis in an English garden” image, also include 38 ground courts, several ancillary buildings and 9.4km of roads and paths on the protected land.
More than 1,200 people have submitted formal objections via the council’s websites.
The AELTC bought the land from the council for £5.2m in 1993, but agreed to legal covenants “preventing the use of the land otherwise than for leisure or recreation purposes or as an open space”.
The club rented the land to Wimbledon Park Golf Club on a lease due to expire in 2041. However, eager to expand the championships and accommodate preliminary matches on site, the tennis club offered the golf club members £65m to buy out the lease and expand its footprint.
The golf club members, who included TV presenters Piers Morgan, Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, and former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, voted in favour of the deal in 2018 and each collected a £85,000 windfall.
In advance of the meeting, Paul Kohler, councillor and Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Wimbledon, said: “The covenants enshrine in law the public assurances given by both the council and the All England Club to preserve the Wimbledon Park land as green, open space for Wimbledon residents. Those residents have a right to expect that those promises be kept.”
Kohler said the AELTC’s plans would “concrete over a significant amount of green space and would lead to the destruction of countless mature trees, all for the sake of courts that will only be used for a few weeks a year”.
Merton Conservatives said: “The Labour administration must not break its promise to protect this land from development by the AELTC. Yet residents tell local councillors they believe that Merton Labour cannot be trusted to deal with this matter transparently and in accordance with due process.”
Conservative MP for Wimbledon Stephen Hammond said: “The AELTC’s application has caused widespread concern among the community in Wimbledon. The application raises four major issues of concern: the closure of Church Road for two weeks a year, the number of courts planned, the bulk and density of the show court, and the assured accessibility of the public park.
“I have made it clear to the AELTC that I think the application is too large and the benefits of mitigating it to reduce the concerns set out above.”
The battle over the plans to expand Wimbledon’s tennis facilities is viewed by many local people as a potential key issue in the next general election. Wimbledon is one of the closest marginal seats in the country. At the 2019 election, the Conservatives held the seat by 628 votes ahead of the Lib Dems.
The AELTC and Merton council declined to comment in advance of the meeting.