By Laura Clough
Wimbledon has finished, tennis lovers from across the country and further afield head back home with a reinvigorated love for the sport. What remains however, is the less unifying debate over proposals submitted by All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) for the 39 tennis courts on Wimbledon Park Golf Course, and 8,000-seat show court which continues to unfold.
As part of Cratus services, we have been politically monitoring councils across South London for our clients. This topic is proving very interesting for Merton and Wandsworth councils’ planning committees, their decision-making processes and for assessing the influencing factors which may guide their decision. Since the local elections in May 2022, Merton Council is under the new leadership of Councillor Ross Garrod and has a new planning committee, many of whom are sitting on a planning committee for the first time. The council has reaffirmed its commitments to put residents first and announced a new commitment to healthy living, creating the new position of Cabinet Member for Sports Improvement. Wandsworth Council turned Labour after 44 years of a Conservative majority and is now led by Councillor Simon Hogg. The new Labour administration is eager to make their mark.
Opposition to the AELTC proposals have come on the basis of the loss of public space, as the courts will not be open to the public for 5 weeks of the year; significant overdevelopment in a small residential area; inaccessibility to the land at AELTC’s choosing; and the carbon footprint during construction as well as from increased traffic once open, at a time when Merton Council has recently declared a climate crisis. AELTC has said ‘The Wimbledon Park Project proposals were designed with two core objectives in mind: to maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of tennis and to provide substantial public benefit to our local community’. The CIL contributions to the councils will bring a welcome boost to council spending power at a time when councils budgets are significantly squeezed. Both Merton and Wandsworth Council have held public planning consultations on the proposals. Wandsworth Council’s has closed as of the 2nd August, and Merton Council’s will close shortly on the 15th of August. The time for the councils to weigh up these arguments and decide is edging significantly closer.
Further, in the latest developments Labour MP for Putney Fleur Anderson and Conservative MP for Wimbledon Stephen Hammond have put party political differences to one side to unite in their opposition of the plans. The two MPs have penned a joint letter, calling on Merton and Wandsworth councils to hold a special meeting to determine the controversial planning application. How the councils choose to proceed will be extremely interesting. How the councils react to the input from local MPs will offer a telling insight into the approaches of the two new administrations. The decision reached by the planning committees and their justifications for it will be of great interest to communities across south London.
Throughout this process, the Cratus team will be on hand to assess and evaluate the consequences of these political movements. It’s a fascinating story, and as two groups of elected councillors in two London boroughs make a decision on the home of the world’s most famous tennis championships, it’s an evident reminder that our world really is local.
If you would like more information about Cratus Public Affairs, drop Colm a line.