Wimbledon grass courts

Wimbledon expansion plans approved despite strong protests

Wimbledon have had planning permission approved to build an extra 39 tennis courts to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), however it did not go without opposition from a number of protesters claiming that the organisation should ‘hang their heads in shame’.

The All England Club intends to build 39 new grass courts, that includes a new 8,000 seat show court, on land that used to be Wimbledon Park Golf Club.

This intention moved closer to becoming a reality in the early hours of this morning, when Merton Council voted six to four in favour of the expansion going ahead after nearly five hours of discussion, with the verdict finally being made at 12:04am.

However, this meeting was abruptly called to an end after a climate protester shouted ‘hang your heads in shame’, and described the outcome as a ‘climate crime scene’.

This came as a result of much frustration from many others, with a number of protestors gathering together after a petition garnered up to 13,000+ signatures from those against the expansions.

Why do Wimbledon want to expand?

It is thought that the main motive behind these expansion plans is so that Wimbledon can hold qualifying on the main site, like the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

The Wimbledon grounds currently possess 18 match courts, 20 grass practice courts and eight clay courts, but do not currently hold qualifying for the main Championships, due to wanting to keep the grass in pristine condition for the start of the main draw.

While the Australian Open, Roland Garros and US Open hold qualifying on their main sites, Wimbledon hosts it three-and-a-half miles away at the Bank of England Sports Centre in Roehampton.

This venue has a total of 27 tennis courts and can welcome a total of 2,000 spectators per day, but has received criticism from players in the past.

Former world No.10 Ernest Gulbis is one of those to have criticised the facilities, “It’s terrible. It’s terrible. It’s like day and night [between qualifying and Wimbledon]. Here, you’re not treated like they want you here. You don’t have water, towels on the practice courts, you don’t have cold water in the showers. I’m not even talking about the practice courts here. Go check the practice courts – my lawn in the backyard is better than the practice courts.”

If Wimbledon succeed with this expansion they will be able to welcome an extra 8,000 spectators per day for the qualifying draw.

There are also plans for a new show court, that will hold a total of 8,000 seats and a roof, so that tennis can be played whatever the weather.

With these plans, the All England Club have also ensured that they will double the size of the wheelchair draw, as both the men’s and women’s singles draws currently only consist of eight players.

Wimbledon CEO Sally Bolton described these collective plans as the ‘greatest sporting transformations in London since the 2012 Olympics’, in last night’s meeting.

Will the expansion of Wimbledon definitely go ahead now?

While this move is a step in the right direction for the All England Club, nothing is solidified as of yet with the expansion still in its early stages.

With the northern part of Wimbledon Park actually sitting within the borough of Wandsworth, they must also have a planning committee meeting to approve these plans.

Wandsworth Council are hoping to hold this meeting before the end of the year, with the decision then being thrown into the hands of the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, as the development is taking place on Metropolitan Open Land.

Khan will have two weeks after Wandsworth Council’s meeting to decide his verdict, but even then the plans may not be fully approved!

There is also possibility of a judicial review, with the potential that the local residents and many other protestors could challenge the legalities of the decision to expand.

With all of these obstacles still to overcome for the AELTC, it seems unlikely that the courts will be ready for play until at least 2030.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.