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AEG calls reworked planning application for MSG Sphere venue “hopelessly inadequate”

By | Published on Friday 6 November 2020

Madison Square Garden Company

Live music giant AEG has claimed that plans from its rival the Madison Square Garden Company for the proposed new Sphere arena in Stratford, East London are “hopelessly inadequate” and called for them to be rejected by local authorities. While insisting that it does not “oppose competition”, AEG claims that the plans do not properly take into account transport and safety issues related to a venue set to be built so close to its own O2 Arena.

The MSG Sphere will be – if planning is approved – the Madison Square Garden Company’s first major venue outside the US, and it aims to be particularly eye-catching. The design of the building includes an LED ‘skin’ covering its visible area entirely, which can be used to display images and video, including adverts.

This skin formed part of a number of objections to the proposed new venue put forward by railway operator Network Rail in September. It raised concerns about the effect the glare from the building would have on the drivers of trains using nearby railway lines. Network Rail also brought up issues relating to safety at Stratford Station. However, after MSG’s plans were recently resubmitted, the rail operator withdrew its objections.

Now AEG has submitted its own objections to the revised plans, with transport still a key issue. It states that the “safe and efficient movement of visitors to and from The O2 relies heavily on there being sufficient capacity on Jubilee Line trains when they reach North Greenwich”.

The problem, argues AEG, is that “MSG Sphere passengers will depart Stratford heading west [towards Greenwich] at the same time as visitors departing from events at The O2”. And, in “worst case scenarios”, audiences from events at the also Stratford-based London Stadium could also be flowing onto the local transport system as well.

“This would leave no capacity on the trains at North Greenwich for the arena’s visitors”, it says, “leading to transport chaos and the risk of [audience members] missing onward connections home and becoming stranded”.

AEG also takes aim at the glare from a building completely covered in lights, saying that no proper assessment has been made regarding the implications of this on nearby residents. It says that independent experts should be brought in to assess this.

“MSG’s additional planning submissions are hopelessly inadequate”, it claims in a statement reckoning that AEG, which is also building a Sphere venue in Las Vegas, hasn’t taken into account issues relating to constructing such a venue in London, let alone “the specific constraints of the Stratford Site”. As a result, it is “breaching planning policy in several areas”.

Again insisting that “we do not oppose competition in the live entertainment sector, or another large music venue in London”, the statement goes on to say that this one should not be built so close to The O2, the aforementioned London Stadium, and its neighbouring Copper Box venue.

“It is imperative that [MSG’s venue] does not add to congestion or overcrowding in this area of the city, or on the public transport network, especially the Jubilee Line which is critical for the movement of guests to and from The O2”, the statement goes on.

“We believe that MSG’s scheme is fundamentally the wrong proposal, in the wrong location, and is technically seriously flawed”, AEG goes on. “It appears far from being conceived to reflect its locality, MSG have taken their original concept developed for downtown Las Vegas and transposed it directly onto a tight and constrained site overlooked by hundreds of residential properties in Stratford”.

“As proposed the Sphere would directly negatively impact the safe operation of The O2, and the health and wellbeing of local residents”, it continues. “Eighteen months since first being lodged, and despite dozens of additional planning application documents, MSG have failed to address conflicting reports, or substantiate and justify the wider impacts of the development, despite objections from statutory consultees and the London Legacy Development Corporation’s requests for further information”.

“On this basis, AEG requests that the application should be withdrawn”, it concludes, “and the applicant asked to reconsider their plans for the site”.

Plans for the MSG venue were first announced in February 2018. It is planned to have a capacity of between 17,500 and 21,500, and as well as the LED skin MSG promises other technological innovations including super high-quality audio and some virtual reality stuff.

When the initial request for planning permission was submitted in March last year, AEG immediately piped up with concerns. Many of those concerns remain unchanged now – it said way back then that it wasn’t opposed to competition, but felt that this venue would be too close to The O2, and thus impact on transport congestion in the area.