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AEG questions MSG Sphere application

AEG, owners and operators of The O2 in London, have written to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) requesting that the application for the MSG Sphere is withdrawn and resubmitted.

The MSG Sphere is slated to be built next to the Olympic Park in London. The 21,000 seat domed arena would be capable of hosting a wide range of events, including immersive productions and attractions, screenings, concerts, sports events, artist residencies, family shows, award shows, corporate events and product launches.

The call for withdrawal of the application comes after global law firm Dentons analysed a new set of application documents submitted 18 months after the application was first lodged.

The latest set of planning documents comes after LLDC served a second formal request on MSG for further information in relation to their application. In response MSG has submitted multiple supplementary or revised documents, meaning there are now 1,922 documents associated with the main application alone.

Serious concern has been expressed that the consultation deadline of November 13 does not give interested parties, particularly local residents, sufficient time to be able to properly understand the changes made and absorb the new material.

Notably one of the few documents that has not been updated is MSG’s Statement of Community Involvement.

AEG said in a statement:

As a highly experienced venue operator in London, and world-leading venue and events business that has safely welcomed over 70 million people to and from The O2 since opening in 2007, AEG is particularly concerned that MSG’s analysis of the transport impacts remains incomplete.

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. MSG Sphere passengers will depart Stratford heading west at the same time as visitors departing from events at The O2 (and in worst-case scenarios from London Stadium events as well).

This would leave no capacity on the trains at North Greenwich for the arena’s visitors, leading to transport chaos and the risk of missing onward connections home and becoming stranded.

A lack of credible assessment on health and wellbeing of residents has also been raised by Dentons.

The exterior of the MSG Sphere is an area of 2 hectares and more than 90 metres in height (broadly the height of St Paul’s Cathedral), comprising a digital display of over a million LEDs. The display is described as a “fully programmable exterior that serves as a digital showcase for the venue, artists and partners” and “fundamental” to the proposals, although as they do not affect the operation of the building the assumption is that they are fundamental to generating advertising revenue and therefore the financial viability of the project.

There is no qualified professional assessment of the potential health and wellbeing effects of light, moving images, and visual distraction to local people, including vulnerable groups and children, and as a minimum the LLDC should commission independent specialists to assess the health and amenity implications of the advertising façade.

Dentons argue that the MSG sphere application should be withdrawn, substantially edited and consolidated. Failure to do so will leave any decision based on the present material open to challenge.  It does not appear that MSG have taken any measures to address the limitations on consultation posed by the COVID-19 restrictions, and as such the current end date of 13th November should be extended to allow interested parties and local representations a meaningful timeframe in which to respond to the extensive further information submitted.

A spokesperson for AEG said:

MSG’s additional planning submissions are hopelessly inadequate and continue to fail to address the issues arising out of its new London context and the specific constraints of the Stratford Site, breaching planning policy in several areas.

AEG have always maintained we do not oppose competition in the live entertainment sector, or another large music venue in London, but it should not be built so close to The London Stadium, Copper Box and The O2. It is imperative that it 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. We believe that MSG’s scheme is fundamentally the wrong proposal, in the wrong location, and is technically seriously flawed. 

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. 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 LLDC’s requests for further information.

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