Plans for London’s LED-coated orb are in jeopardy as minister moves

A giant advertising orb at London’s former Olympic Park, backed by US tycoon James Dolan, is under threat of being blocked after ministers forced a freeze on a development that critics say will draw eyes from much of the UK capital to cause.

This week Michael Gove, the raising secretary, temporarily halted a decision on the 90m-tall, spherical music and entertainment venue in Stratford, the first step towards further scrutiny of the controversial plan.

Gove is now considering whether he should have the final say over the project. The government took a similar step before launching a public inquiry into ITV’s studio makeover last year.

The holding directive temporarily halts decision-making on the scheme by the Mayor of London or the London Legacy Development Corporation, the public body given comprehensive planning and other powers in the 2012 Olympic areas.

At the heart of the objections to the London Sphere is that the giant ball will be wrapped in LED screens that will carry advertisements and videos. Critics say the site will overwhelm the area’s already congested public transport and pollute thousands of homes with light pollution.

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The cost of the sphere has not been disclosed, but the developer, Madison Square Garden Entertainment, is building a similar-sized, $2.1 billion sphere in Las Vegas that will open in September with concerts by U2.

Site of the proposed MSG Sphere

Proposed MSG Sphere Website © Charlie Bibby/FT

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

He recently sparked outrage by using facial recognition technology to prevent lawyers working on litigation against his company from entering both locations.

The planned 21,500-seat venue in the British capital has sparked fierce local opposition, including from West Ham MP Lyn Brown and Newham Council, as well as rival entertainment group AEG, which owns the O2, the iconic venue a short distance from the town. on the other side of the Thames.

The LLDC approved the sphere’s plans in March last year after about 850 residents and opposition groups raised objections to the scheme and more than 350 groups submitted statements of support.

The decision was described as anti-democratic by local politicians because the decisive votes were cast by unelected, independent LLDC members.

Much of the concern is that the sphere might disturb the residents. The site, near Stratford station, is very close to a block of student housing owned by Unite Students, with another housing development, New Garden Quarter, facing the northern side of the site.

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

Brown, the site’s constituency representative, said residents were “obviously not happy” at the idea of ​​having this “big, bloody development stuck outside their windows”.

Referring to MSG’s proposal to provide blackout blinds for properties within a 150-metre radius, Brown said: “My view is that they don’t understand the annoyance, the real damage, to the living conditions. the people in the area.”

He hopes Gove will invite the project in for a detailed planning review.

A spokesperson for MSG Sphere London said: “We have always expected the government to take the opportunity to review our application and their official notification will not affect our plans in any way.”

It added that the sphere “will bring a range of cultural and economic benefits, including the creation of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds for the local, London and UK economy”.

The next stage 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 to refuse the application.

In letters seen by the Financial Times, AEG said the system was “designed for downtown Las Vegas and will be transplanted to a limited parking lot in Stratford that towers over hundreds of surrounding residential properties.”

The letter added: “It is totally out of place. According to the plans, neighboring residential buildings will be forced to face a huge, glowing advertising ball.”

According to a letter from Fiaz this week, the scheme will have a “detrimental impact” on the health and well-being of local residents due to its “scale and inadequacy”.

The sphere has an outer “shell” of programmable LEDs. In its letter of objection, AEG said this facade would be “forty-two times the size of the Piccadilly Circus screen”.

The letter states that “the nature of the illuminated facade means that the proposals will also change the London skyline”.

MSG agreed that ads would only appear on the Globe for about a third of the time it was lit, otherwise the screens would show “artistic” content. He added that they would be turned off completely overnight.

“We understand the differences between Las Vegas and Newham. The London Sphere will operate differently from the Vegas Sphere, including measures such as limits on brightness, the time of day it can be lit, the amount of advertising that can be displayed and more,” it said.

Nate Higgins, Newham Council’s Greens councilor for Stratford Olympic Park, said all the area’s elected representatives opposed the plan. “This is being pushed forward by unelected officials who are outmaneuvering elected councillors,” he said.

An LLDC planning report acknowledged criticism of the scale of the project and its impact on Stratford station and local residents, but stated that the sphere “creates a strong sense of place on a scale that cannot be considered excessive given the established scale.” about the surrounding buildings”.

The LLDC spokesperson added that the applications were subjected to thorough review and detailed officer reports.

According to an EY report on MSG, it would employ up to 3,200 staff a year in the UK and bring £2.5bn to the London 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 heritage.

“Do you really expect people to accept that a giant Big Ben-high dystopian sphere covered in advertising screens is the best we can do?” asked.