Merton council’s decision to press on with proposals to develop Wimbledon town centre into a business hub, which would involve significant development has been met with fury by local resident. Are they justified?

Many feel that the council’s proposals would eradicate Wimbledon town centre’s heritage, although few would debate that many stretches of the high street are in dire need of regeneration. Whilst some have dismissed the criticism of the council’s plans to modernise the centre of town as NIMBYism, many fear that the culture of the area may be buried under ubiquitous steel and glass monstrosities.

Wimbledon’s garish high street has never truly reflected the nature of the town and sensible regeneration may encourage smaller, independent business to move in, this would no doubt be welcomed by residents and would be greatly helped by a lowering in business rates. The forlorn facade of the high street is badly in need of a face lift.

Local residents point to the redevelopment of the YMCA in which residents were able to successfully lobby the developers to reduce the size of the building as well as ensuring the building quality remained high. They see this as the successful model for conflict resolution and it demonstrates that the council is will to listen to the needs of locals. However, the public consultations over these developments have sadly empty with few residents turning up. Whether this is due to an unengaged local community remains to be seen.

However, the council’s proposals would now doubt attract a host of jobs in a wide diaspora of industries. This can only be a good thing for the community. Companies are increasingly escaping the extortionate rates of the City and Canary Wharf and relocating jobs in leafier suburbs of London.

The main aspect of development which most irks campaigners is the proposal of 14 story buildings. Whilst activists claim that they are “contrary to Wimbledon’s heritage and character”, it has been argued that if done sensitively, these new monoliths may become part of the town centre’s evolving character.

Claims that Wimbledon will become a little Croydon should be dismissed as sensationalist, although it is important to consider that the built environment should be built around people rather than vice versa. Furthermore, the proposals are still in a preliminary stage and, as in all large infrastructure projects, may never see the light of day. Nonetheless, it raises the perennial conflict between social, lived experience and economic factors.

Residents are implored to scrutinise Merton Council’s Future Wimbledon Supplementary Planning Document by Friday 6th of March and take an active role in providing feedback.

Whilst Wimbledon is likely to undergo a large transformation in the next 20 years, turning from a sleepy commuter town to a bustling centre of business, there is no doubt that Wimbledon’s heritage will remain intact. It is ultimately for the community to decide.