The All England Lawn Tennis Club's plans to expand Wimbledon Tennis Club by up to 39 new grass courts and a further 8,000 capacity court in time for Wimbledon 2028 have hit a potential double fault.
Hawk-eyed objectors have raised concerns not only about the alleged environmental impact of the proposed scheme, but also claiming that developing the site will breach a restrictive covenant against developing the site.
Restrictive covenants, which have been properly protected by registration on a freehold title, can prevent a landowner from freely dealing with its land and, therefore, shouldn't be ignored. A developer who presses on with its plans regardless of the restriction does so at its peril. At worst, it could be served with a court injunction, or find itself on the end of a significant damages claim. Arguments over restrictive covenants can also cause lengthy delays and substantial costs.
But, all may not lost be lost if a restrictive covenant exists. A court can agree to modify or even overrule a covenant altogether, if there are good grounds to do so. For example, a covenant may be obsolete, impede some reasonable use, or is contrary to public interest. Sometimes covenants cannot be enforced at all simply because the person with the benefit of it cannot be identified, or if the restriction itself is not sufficiently certain. Even if it is not possible to remove or modify a restrictive covenant, a developer can try to negotiate its release, or take out appropriate indemnity insurance, if available.
If planning permission for the new 67 hectare site is eventually granted, the ball will be firmly in AELTC's court to deal with the covenant. Otherwise, the restriction could be game, set and match for its ambitions expansion plans.
"A legal challenge could scupper plans to expands Wimbledon's tennis club due to covenants stating the land cannot be developed."