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East London MP calls for MSG Sphere plans to be rejected

By | Published on Wednesday 4 August 2021

MSG Sphere

Labour MP Lyn Brown has called on the London Legacy Development Corporation to reject the Madison Square Garden Company’s plans to build a new video screen covered venue in East London. She says that she is making this plea because local residents and the local council have little power to oppose or block the proposals themselves.

Plans to build an MSG Sphere alongside East London’s Olympic Park were announced in 2018, the proposed building being very similar to another venue being built in Las Vegas, with a high tech set-up both inside and out. The London Sphere has proven controversial for a number of reasons, with rival live entertainment company AEG raising various objections – particularly safety and transport concerns due to the proposed new venue’s proximity to its relatively nearby O2 Arena.

Most controversial, however, is the LED ‘skin’ that would cover the entire giant, spherical exterior of the building. This would display videos and adverts for as much as sixteen hours a day.

Network Rail previously raised concerns about the affect the glare from the outside of the venue could have on train drivers using adjacent railway lines – although its objections were withdrawn after plans were resubmitted in 2020. However, the concerns of local residents living in the area surrounding the site where it is proposed that the venue will be built have not been dampened.

“Many local residents have clear and serious objections to the light and noise pollution this development would cause, as well as the potential for increased antisocial behaviour and traffic”, writes Brown in a new article for The Guardian. “The giant venue will beam bright lights into the surrounding area until 11pm on some days; beginning again at 6am or 7am, depending on the time of year. One constituent has predicted that it will be like living next to the surface of the sun. Many residents feel that living next to the site will be a nightmare”.

The big problem, she says, is that residents have little recourse to object to the plans. While planning permission would normally be overseen by an elected local council – in this case the council of the London borough of Newham – this development comes under the remit of the London Legacy Development Corporation.

That organisation was set up by then London mayor ‘Boris’ Johnson as the planning authority for the area in and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park following the 2012 London Olympics.

“As the local MP, I have always made the case that new developments must meet local needs”, says Brown in relation to the projects and developments instigated in East London following the Olympic games. “Almost a decade on from 2012, I don’t think the LLDC has lived up to that promise. And, while the corporation has failed to deliver the positive changes that local residents need, I believe it is also removing the ability of local residents and their elected councils to have an effective say about what gets built in their communities”.

“There is no qualified professional assessment of the effects that noise, light, moving images and distracting advertising [at the MSG Sphere] will have on the environment and local people, including vulnerable groups and children”, she says. And raising transport concerns, she adds: “There’s currently no commitment to cooperate with other big venues, such as the London Stadium [in the Olympic Park itself] and The O2, to avoid overwhelming the Jubilee tube line and other local transport”.

There has been a “lengthy” public consultation, she admits, but “that doesn’t make it adequate”. A “drip-feed of extremely complex, technical submissions with more than 2000 separate documents” means that “the enormous scale of the submission has created huge barriers for residents, many of whom have had difficulty accessing the relevant information, properly understanding the implications or making an informed, democratic decision”.

“Newham’s residents have little power over the final outcome”, she concludes. “Newham council only gets two representatives on the LLDC’s planning committee out of a total of twelve members, including seven unelected committee members. I’m calling on the LLDC to refuse the application and protect Newham’s residents from yet another inappropriate development. I would hope they would listen to and act on what elected representatives say. Securing some of the promised benefits of the Olympic legacy depends upon it”.

A report prepared by planning consultancy DP9 plays down the potential affect of the new venue’s exterior screens on residential properties near to the site of the venue, saying that it will “create visual interest and intrigue from these properties”. Although it notes that “the visual experience and enhanced prominence at night time will depend as much on the personal preferences of the viewers as the content itself”.

However, it goes on, “the brightness of the sphere facade and other digital displays will be restricted and subject to ongoing monitoring to ensure the level of light emitted to properties in [the neighbouring] New Garden Quarter complies with relevant Institution Of Lighting Professionals guidance”.

A spokesperson for the LLDC tells The Guardian: “Like all local planning authorities, LLDC regularly discusses major strategic development sites with landowners, as is standard practice, works proactively with applicants to discuss development proposals and tries to resolve issues with developments prior to formal submission. The level of engagement with the applicant and other stakeholders through public consultation is entirely in-keeping with the scale and complexity of this particular application”.

With a decision already delayed from last year, the LLDC planning committee is now set to convene to make a ruling on the MSG Sphere on 28 Sep. The final decision will then be referred to London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was initially enthusiastic about the project in 2018. However, it remains to be seen if he will now side with those raising concerns over the project.