London parks under threat

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By Alice Roberts
6th October 2021

Two parks, two golf courses: but is public access about to be lost?

We are working with local campaigners to save public access to two sites which are currently golf courses, one disused (Whitewebbs Park in Enfield), one sold with a view to being closed soon (Wimbledon Park in South West London). Both are within public parks, both are Metropolitan Open Land and both are open to the public.

While golf has become less popular over the years, this doesn’t mean courses should be built on or public access relinquished. Golf courses can easily be redeployed as parkland or for other public amenity. So we were dismayed to see publicity for a report indicating the land would be better used for housing development and we responded in the media to say so.

At the same time we’ve been working with local groups in Enfield and Wimbledon to save these parks for future generations, to ensure they are available for Londoners to use long into the future.

At Wimbledon Park, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) wishes to expand the Wimbledon Tournament site into the adjacent park. Specifically, the club has bought the golf course section of the park which has for many years been a public golf course with access for all.

The AELTC wishes to expand the Wimbledon tournament into the park, build a new stadium and lay out a large number of paths and courts. Local campaigners point out that this is inappropriate development on protected Metropolitan Open Land (a planning designation which states the land should remain permanently open), that it will have a devastating impact on the historic Capability Brown landscape and, most worryingly, will effectively remove public access and public amenity forever.

We’re big Wimbledon fans at CPRE London (and tennis players!) but we believe the park should be preserved for public amenity and, importantly, there is no need for the club to expand into the park: there are clear alternatives. The Club could, for instance, create a multi-venue tournament (much like the London 2012 Olympics) while providing investment for nearby clubs which already have grass courts. The club already partners with local clubs to hold the qualifying rounds and could work with them to improve their facilities and establish better access to tennis courts all year round.

TAKE ACTION: visit the Wimbledon Park Residents website to find out how you can help. You can also see the letter we recently submitted to the planning consultation below.

At Whitewebbs Park in Enfield, in the meantime, the council has indicated it will support a bid from Tottenham Hotspur FC to build a training facility there for its women’s teams. CPRE London is hugely supportive of the need to develop and promote women’s sports but it is simply not acceptable for a hugely wealthy business like Spurs to be given (or leased) public land which is there for public amenity.

TAKE ACTION If you’d like to help, contact the local campaigners via their website..

We will keep you updated on both of these campaigns.

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LETTER SENT TO MERTON COUNCIL TO OBJECT TO DEVELOPMENT AT WIMBLEDON PARK

We are writing to object to the above application on the following basis:

• The proposed development constitutes inappropriate development on Metropolitan Open Land which will cause substantial harm to openness and permanence of the site. It includes a 26-metre-high covered stadium, 10 other buildings, 38 substantially engineered and protected tennis courts, 9.4kms of roads and extensive hardscape for traffic and large temporary buildings.
• The development will cause substantial harm to local heritage assets. The historic significance of this Grade II listed heritage asset lies in the variety of long-distance views and the openness between planting and features in the landscape, with the lake at its core. The proposals will completely transform the majority of the Golf Course into an industrial tennis complex, destroying views and the other aspects of historic significance. Local and national planning policies forbid the substantial harm to the significant aspects of the Park and the NPPF states “Heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource” (NPPF 189).
• There are no significant benefits to the public. The harm which would be caused to the openness and permanence of this Metropolitan Open Land, as well as the heritage asset, cannot be seen to be outweighed by any benefits to the public. In fact, public amenity will be lost, and the public largely excluded from the site.
• No special circumstances exist to justify this development. Inappropriate development can only be justified by “very special circumstances” (NPPF 147). There is no threat to the tournament itself or its status and in any event this would be a questionable justification. There are alternative sites: the club already runs a qualifying event at a suitable location, and there are other sites which could be used and where investment might in fact be beneficial. No case is made why the golf club site should be developed or invested in above any other.

• There are clear alternatives for the All England Lawn Tennis Club to achieve its aims during the tournament: the AELTC could run a multi-venue tournament and invest in nearby clubs with grass tennis courts, clubs which they already partner with. We do not believe alternatives have been investigated thoroughly.
• Covenants were put in place to protect the openness of the land for the appreciation of the public, and for the benefit of Wimbledon Park, a protected public open space of which the council is trustee/custodian. Public statements were made at the time by both AELTC and the Council regarding this ongoing protection. This legal protection needs to be taken into account.

John Currie, All England Chairman: “We completely understand and support everyone’s determination to keep the land open and we purchased the land on that basis.”

Tony Colman, Merton Council Leader: “Respecting the wishes of local people, this Council is resolute that the land will be retained as open space. All England has bought the land knowing this is our policy and is aware that we would not allow development of the site.”

We acknowledge the aspiration of the applicant to improve the qualifying events however the proposed scheme is unnecessary, it would cause substantial harm and there are alternatives available.

https://www.golfpass.com/travel-advisor/courses/34553-wimbledon-park-golf-club