Wimbledon is bracing for a legal challenge from its neighbors that threatens to delay or disrupt plans for the biggest expansion in its history.
A coalition of local residents’ associations around the All England Club is seeking high-level advice on the legal status of a convention that could stop or dilute construction on the golf course it has acquired next door.
Additionally, local Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond, along with a significant number of local politicians, have declared their opposition to the program to SW19 in its current form.
The legal advice sought by at least three resident groups responds to more than 1,200 objections filed with Merton and Wandsworth counsel by individuals or representative bodies.
All England wants to build 39 new grass courts, including a new 8,000-seat stadium on the 73 acres currently occupied by Wimbledon Park golf course. This would fulfill its long-term goal of bringing the qualifying event ‘in-house’ from its current location two miles from Roehampton.
750 members like Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly – were paid over £ 80,000 each to quit the course three years ago
At the center of the debate is a pledge put on the ground when it was sold to the AELTC for £ 5.2million in 1993. This one stipulated it would not be built on it. In 2018, the golf club’s 750 members – including Piers Morgan and TV personalities Ant and Dec – were awarded more than £ 80,000 each to leave the course.
Now, 28 years later, Wimbledon aims to erect a new eco-friendly stadium as well as a handful of smaller structures on what is classified as the Metropolitan Open Land.
The subject of what are likely to be complex legal arguments, the Club feel that this does not negate their plans. However, groups of residents – who include highly qualified lawyers in their ranks – feel they may have reason to take up a challenge.
The move could see the Wimbledon qualifiers playing internally rather than at Roehampton as they currently do
This threatens Wimbledon’s ambition to move qualifiers by 2028 and complete the whole project by 2030.
The issue was discussed at a Merton council plenary meeting last week, with some councilors against. The full request should be heard around February or March.
“It looks like there is a strong pledge signed 28 years ago that would prevent construction,” Hammond said Sportsmail. “I requested a meeting with the council to get their perspective on how to protect the earth. My personal view is that the application as it is currently formed will need to be modified before I can support it.
He expects to hold a public meeting in January for voters to voice their views. The local heritage group, the Wimbledon Society, has already called for the case to be referred to the Secretary of State.
In addition to over-development concerns, local issues include annual road closures and the weight of traffic required to build the site for the remainder of the decade.
Local opposition is far from universal, however, and some are more quietly supporting plans for an event that puts Wimbledon on the map and gives the local economy a huge boost.
As part of it, a new 23-acre park on the land sculpted by Capability Brown will be created for year-round public use with the nearby lake devastated.
In response to comments made by the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association, All England President Ian Hewitt told them: “With regard to the assurances given in 1993, I am sure you can understand that the requirements of the club and community have grown in 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.
Wimbledon wants to erect a new eco-friendly stadium as well as a handful of smaller structures
“We are convinced that our proposals for improving the field for the benefit of the Championships and more broadly the general public, which include the organization of the qualifying competition on the ground, are consistent with our commitment to the territory, by pursuing the use of land for recreation and recreation.
“They understand the creation of a significant public benefit, including opening up what was historically private land to provide the community with a new 9.4 ha public park, as well as significant benefits for heritage, biodiversity and recreation, and the associated local economic impact of improving the Championships. ‘
The All England Club is the largest taxpayer in the Borough of Merton, where it is located.
A council spokesperson said: “The application from the All England Lawn Tennis Club is currently being assessed and will likely be decided by the planning committee: at this time we do not have a committee date. in the lead because the request is still being evaluated by officers. ‘
Even if a building permit is granted, the pact could result in a separate legal challenge. One potential outcome is that Wimbledon might end up making a few changes to appease local opinion while adding additional benefits to the community.