Merton council to see controversial plans develop in 2024

By Harrison Galliven, Local Democracy Reporter

2023 was an interesting year for South London boroughs. 

Merton council has experienced its highs and lows. But, with 2023 slowly fading into the rear view mirror, we cast an eye forward to what will be a busy 2024 for the borough.

Last year saw the All England Tennis Club’s plan gain national attention for its ability to galvanize the local Wimbledon community in opposition. 

The plan could see the tennis club build a 500-seater stadium, 38 practice courts, and several maintenance facilities built on the historic Capability Brown-designed Wimbledon Park. 

The plan’s proposed location will fall under the jurisdiction of  Merton and Wandsworth councils. 

Merton council, which holds the lion’s share of the park and benefits from AELTC business rates, unsurprisingly voted for the plans to go ahead. 

Conversely, Wandsworth who doesn’t enjoy these benefits, sided with the Save Wimbledon Park campaign group and blocked the plans.

This impasse over these decisions means the plans sit with Sadiq Kahn’s deputy mayor for planning, Jules Pipe, who will decide whether to stop the plans entirely or call them in for review. 

Whatever the outcome, we can expect this debate to drag on well into 2024.

The ongoing saga around the possible closure of services at St Helier Hospital has also left many Merton residents feeling concerned. 

The plans – first proposed in 2019 – would see maternity and A&E services stripped out of  the hospital and centralised at a proposed new hospital in Belmont.  

Despite being in Sutton, Merton council issued an independent report that found about 50,000 Merton residents will have to be absorbed by St. George’s, Kingston, and Croydon hospitals if the plans were to go ahead.

In a letter to the secretary of state, council leader Ross Garrod said: “I believe this decision would be to the detriment of local people who rely on these vital services at St Helier Hospital, and that especially following the unprecedented increase in pressure on local healthcare systems following the pandemic.”

While the public sentiment is aligned with Epsom’s chief medical officer that St Helier is currently an “unpleasant environment”, most residents reject the proposed move to Belmont, instead favouring new development on the fields opposite. 

We can expect to see further developments in 2024, especially if a general election brings a change in Government and health strategy.

A spokesman for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Merton’s sickest and most seriously ill patients will be cared for by specialist doctors and nurses in a new state-of-the-art hospital, and will have faster access to the best care and treatment.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, backed by the Government, to build a new multimillion-pound emergency hospital while also making significant improvements to Epsom and St Helier Hospitals, where 85 per cent of patients will still receive care.”

Pictured top: CGI of the grounds including the proposed show court during the Wimbledon Championships (Picture: Wandsworth council)

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