Plans for London’s LED-coated sphere are at risk as minister takes action

A gigantic advertising-covered orb in London’s former Olympic Park, backed by US tycoon James Dolan, is at risk of being blocked after ministers forced a restraining order on a development that critics say will be an eyesore for much of the city. UK capital.

This week, level secretary Michael Gove temporarily halted any decision-making on Stratford’s 300-foot-tall spherical music and entertainment venue, the first step towards further examination of the controversial scheme.

Gove is now considering whether to have final say on the project. The government made a similar move before launching a public investigation into the rebuilding of ITV’s studios last year.

The holding directive will temporarily halt decision-making on the scheme by the Mayor of London or the London Legacy Development Corporation, the public body that has granted extensive planning and other powers over the areas developed for the 2012 Olympics.

At the heart of the objections to the London Sphere are plans to cover the giant ball with LED screens that will display advertising and video. Critics say the site will flood the area’s already crowded public transport and pollute thousands of homes with light pollution.

The cost of the sphere was not disclosed, but the builder, Madison Square Garden Entertainment, is building a similarly sized sphere costing $2.1 billion in Las Vegas, which is due to open in September with concerts by U2.

The website for the proposed MSG Sphere © Charlie Bibby/FT

The group, which also runs New York’s Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, the arena used by the New York Knicks basketball team, is controlled by Dolan.

He recently caused an outcry by using facial recognition technology to block lawyers working on litigation against his company from entering both locations.

The proposed 21,500-capacity venue in the UK capital has drawn strong local opposition, including from West Ham MP Lyn Brown and Newham Council, as well as rival entertainment group AEG, which owns the O2, the distinguished venue just a stone’s throw away. a short distance across the River Thames.

The LLDC approved plans for the sphere in March last year after about 850 residents and opposition groups filed objections to the scheme, with more than 350 groups providing statements of support.

The decision was criticized as undemocratic by local politicians because the deciding votes were cast by unelected independent members of the LLDC.

Much of the concern centers around the sphere’s potential to disrupt residents. The site, close to Stratford station, is very close to a block of student flats owned by Unite Students, with another housing development, New Garden Quarter, overlooking the north side of the site.

    James Dolan
James Dolan owns MSG Entertainment, developer of the sphere © Brad Penner/USA Today Sports/Reuters

Brown, the deputy for the local constituency, said residents were “clearly not happy” with the idea that they would have this “huge bloody development stuck in front of their windows”.

Referring to an offer by MSG to provide blackout curtains for properties within 150 meters, Brown said: “My view from the outset has been that there is not an understanding of the nuisance, the real damage that will be done to living conditions for people in the area. ”.

She expects Gove to call the project in for a detailed planning review.

A spokesperson for MSG Sphere London said: “We always hope the government will take the opportunity to review our application and their formal notice has absolutely no impact on our plans in any way.”

The sphere “will offer many cultural and economic benefits, including creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of pounds for the local, London and UK economy,” he added.

The next step in the process will be a referral to the Mayor of London. Both Rokhsana Fiaz, the mayor of Newham, and AEG wrote to Gove and the mayor of London this month, urging them to turn down the application.

In letters seen by the Financial Times, AEG said the scheme “was designed for downtown Las Vegas and transposed into a restricted parking lot in Stratford, towering over hundreds of neighboring residential properties”.

The letter added: “It is totally inappropriate for your location. The plans see neighboring residential occupants forced to live face-to-face with a huge, glowing advertising ball.”

Fiaz’s letter this week said the scheme would have an “adverse impact” on the health and well-being of local residents due to its “scale and inadequacy”.

The sphere has an outer “skin” of programmable LEDs. In its letter of objection, AEG said that this façade would be “equivalent to forty-two times the size of the screens in Piccadilly Circus”.

The letter said that “the nature of the illuminated façade means that the proposals will also change London’s skyline”.

MSG agreed that advertising would only be displayed on the Sphere about a third of the time it is lit, with the screens displaying “artistic” content. He added that they would shut down entirely overnight.

“We are aware of the differences between Las Vegas and Newham. The London Sphere will differ from the Vegas Sphere in its operation, including measures such as limiting its glare, the time of day it can be illuminated, the amount of advertising it can display and much more,” it said in a statement.

Nate Higgins, Newham Council Green Party councilor for Stratford Olympic Park, said all elected representatives for the area were opposed to the scheme. “It’s being driven by unelected officials who are overriding elected councilors,” he said.

An LLDC planning report acknowledged criticism of the project’s scale and its impact on Stratford station and local residents, but said the sphere would also “establish a strong sense of place at a scale that is not considered excessive, taking into account the established scale of the surrounding buildings”.

An LLDC spokesperson added that the applications “have been subject to robust review and detailed official reporting.”

An EY report for MSG said that up to 3,200 staff would be employed each year across the UK and would bring £2.5 billion to London’s economy in its first 20 years of operation.

But Higgins questioned whether the project was the right way for the LLDC to protect the area’s Olympic legacy.

“Do they really expect people to accept that a giant dystopian sphere, as tall as Big Ben, covered in advertising screens, is the best we can do?” he asked.

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