Wimbledon Park Masterplan Consultation Response

Please find below a copy of the consultation response I have submitted with Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, regarding Merton Council's masterplan proposals for Wimbledon Park. The consultation is open for comments until 22nd August, so do make sure you have your say. To view the proposals in full, and to respond to the consultation, visit http://wimbledonparkconsultation.com/.

'We are writing to you as the local MPs whose constituencies will be most impacted by Merton Borough Council's proposals to redevelop Wimbledon Park.

Wimbledon Park is a fantastic local space for both our communities and all year round is well used and well loved. It has a wonderful heritage, having been designed by Capability Brown and we are incredibly privileged to have it on our doorstep. The key is getting investment in the park to make the most of its potential in terms of being a wonderful park for local people, but also a place for sports activities with investment in the athletics ground in particular, and finally to support the flora and fauna that are there, which is easily overlooked but also makes Wimbledon Park what it is.

We have received correspondence from a significant number of concerned residents who are worried about a number of elements of the proposals and we wanted to make sure that these concerns were represented at consultation phase. Whilst residents from both our communities will have directly sent in their views, we feel it is important a collective view is expressed.

With such a large project that will impact both on local residents living nearby, and the broader public who use the park and its facilities, it is really important that this project takes a community-led approach. It would have been sensible to survey local residents and park users extensively before drawing up proposals, so that any options put forward could incorporate feedback from park users about what they think works well, and what could be improved.

There is a real sense of disconnect between these proposals and those that a more community driven approach might have proposed, which would have brought together not only residents but also the other neighbours of the park - whether the All England Lawn Tennis Club, The Wimbledon Club, or the Hercules Athletics Club. The Friends of Wimbledon Park have sought to develop a broader approach for how the Park could be invested in and it is important that their ideas are taken seriously as a potential way forward.

Sports and Leisure
The focus of the Sports and Leisure provision in the proposals does seem to centre around the Athletics track. We visited the track only last month and it is clear that the track requires significant investment as the current facilities are well below standard. Aside from the low usage because the site is normally kept secure, the facilities don't really encourage young people to want to do sport there. The changing rooms were probably the original ones built in the 1950s or so, were very dirty, and there were no curtains or doors on any of the shower cubicles. The site is ripe for investment which would make it one that could truly provide great athletics facilities on the doorstep of not only residents but local schools. This could include a gym and studio space which would be hugely beneficial for the athletes using the compound and would enable more serious field sports training to take place alongside track events. The studio space could also be rented out when not in use. It would also be preferable to remove the storage containers and incorporate equipment storage underneath the stadium thus making this area more attractive. The track could be upgraded to have an 8 lane track around its entirety.

Wimbledon is home to the UK’s top hockey club, which made ambitious plans for the infield. These plans would see an international quality hockey pitch built but see the club significantly contribute to the new facilities described above. It is also clear that the training activities of an athletics club could still be incorporated in the park if a plan is developed sensitive to all users. We regard it as extraordinary that Merton Council has not properly engaged with the Club and its ideas. 

As it is positioned alongside the edge of the lake, there could be an opportunity to open the view up here, or work in a new pedestrian walk which runs outside the perimeter of the track to allow users to walk all the way along the water’s edge. What is clear from speaking to local residents is that there is understandably strong opposition to moving the athletics track to the railway boundary and directly backing onto homes, discussed in more detail further on in this response. There is a real opportunity with this redevelopment to not only significantly improve the sports facilities provided on the athletics track site, but also to make this site add to the park as a whole.

Landscaping
The broad overview of the landscaping proposals are favourable and we look forward to seeing the more detailed proposals for the lake. There is again opportunity to improve the lake area and we are aware that the silt at the bottom of the lake is now thick, to the extent that a programme of de-silting will improve the water quality, both for the wildlife on the river and also park users who use the watersports centre.

In relation to the specific options, we have set out views below, building in the feedback we have received from local residents, who we have also encouraged to formally respond independently. From the information provided from the consultation website, it is felt that there is some context missing, in particular relating to the historic views which was the focus of Capability Brown’s landscaping. Some schematics comparing each of the concept areas as they stand now, and as they were landscaped by Capability Brown, would have been helpful in assessing the merits of some aspects of the proposals, as well as providing a visual example of how the proposals would reveal or restore the historic landscape. This heritage is critical to Wimbledon Park and should shape how it is invested in, but seems to have been missed.

None of the options really delivers on what our local communities are actually keen to see, and we would welcome much better engagement once the consultation stage has concluded, or better still this consultation stopped and a whole new resident and user driven process started.

Option 1
Of the 3 specific options, Option 1 is the most suitable, and most supported option locally. Broadly, local residents and park users feel that the park does not need significant redevelopment or massive redesign, it is more a question of the right investment to help make the most out of the existing park provision. Any major redevelopment will inevitably lead to some disruption for park users, and potentially local residents who live on the park’s perimeters. It seems much more sensible to have the investment focused on improving the park itself, rather than expensively shifting around the athletics ground.

The proposals to move the café and to upgrade the Bowls Pavilion to incorporate a new café overlooking the lake are welcome, but should be of a high quality design that is sympathetic, and in context with its surroundings. The Watersports Centre at present does look incongruous to its surroundings and is a visual block to the view of the river as you look from the eastern side of the park over to the west and therefore removal of the centre and relocation to a less visually obtrusive space could work effectively. The new facility should also be of a high quality design, and suitable storage for watersports equipment should also be incorporated.

The upgrading of the white kiosk at the southern entrance to the park would be welcome and new toilet facilities and refreshments at the perimeter of the children’s playgrounds seems a sensible provision, particularly if the café is moved from its current location.

Option 2
The overwhelming feedback from residents is that option 2 is highly contentious and not supported, particularly in the Southfields area of Wandsworth where the athletics track is proposed to be moved to the east of the park, backing onto residential streets. Residents are of the view that the maximum intervention proposal is completely unnecessary and disproportionate, given the parks existing offer on the whole is strong. Residents are very concerned about the impact of moving the athletics track to back on to a residential street, particularly as residents already have the railway line backing on to their properties. Residents feel there is no need to move the track as its existing position works well and is discreet, particularly when school sports days and events are held, which generate more noise and higher footfall. These are concerns we share.

The upgraded Bowls Pavilion would again be welcome, as would the integration of the café which would overlook the lake. Some residents have highlighted that they feel there are not enough toilets available in the park for the public and therefore moving the café to this location would serve to add additional toilets for those using the green area of the park. The position of the watersports centre to the southern end of the lake would be welcome as it is less intrusive.

Options 3
Similarly to option 2, residents are strongly opposed to the relocation of the athletics track. The removal of the Bowls Pavilion and Bowling Greens are some cause for concern as this is a much loved offer and there are no similar facilities nearby. This provision in particular is used by older park users and it is important that they too have improved facilities.
We are aware that the top tennis courts are not used much due to their deteriorating condition and recently have been used as ad-hoc netball courts. There may be an opportunity here to rework this space as outlined in option 3 for some new sports and recreation facilities but these should be consulted on properly with park users so the facilities most preferred by park users are installed. This could include the park gyms which have proven popular in other parks in Merton, and could be used by a wider demographic of park users.

On the whole, investment in the park is welcome however this should be in context with the existing park, and critically, should reflect the views of the local community and park users. This should not be an opportunity to impose a project which is not supported locally, at the cost of its taxpayers. We will continue to represent residents’ views on the proposals and would welcome the opportunity to work closely with both Merton Council and Wandsworth Council to ensure that the lasting legacy of the park is positive, and community driven'.