A giant advertising-clad sphere in London’s former Olympic Park backed by American tycoon James Dolan is at risk of blockade after ministers forced a halt order on a development critics say will be an eyesore for much of the world. part of the UK capital.

This week Michael Gove, the leveling secretary, temporarily halted any decision making on the 90-metre-tall spherical music and entertainment venue in Stratford, the first step towards further scrutiny of the controversial scheme.

Gove is now considering whether it should have the last word on the project. The government made a similar move before launching a public inquiry into ITV’s studio redevelopment last year.

The retention directive will temporarily suspend decision-making on the plan by the Mayor of London or the London Legacy Development Corporation, the public body given extensive planning and other powers over areas developed for the 2012 Olympics. .

At the center of the objections to the London Sphere are plans to encase the giant ball with LED screens that will carry advertising and video. Critics say the site will overwhelm the area’s already crowded public transportation and ruin thousands of homes with light pollution.

The cost of the sphere has not been disclosed, but the developer, Madison Square Garden Entertainment, is building a similarly sized sphere costing $2.1 billion in Las Vegas, set to open in September with U2 concerts.

The site for the proposed MSG Sphere

The site 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 outrage by using facial recognition technology to prevent lawyers working on litigation against his firm from entering both locations.

The proposed 21,500-capacity venue in the UK capital has drawn 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 signature venue that It is located a short distance on the other side of the River Thames.

The LLDC approved the plans for the sphere in March last year, after some 850 residents and opposition groups filed objections to the scheme, with more than 350 groups submitting 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 revolves around the sphere’s potential to disturb residents. The site, near Stratford station, is in close proximity to a student apartment block owned by Unite Students, with another housing development, New Garden Quarter, overlooking the north side of the site.

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

Brown, the site’s constituency deputy, said residents were “clearly not happy” with the idea that they were going to have this “massive bloody development plastered outside their windows”.

Referring to a bid by MSG to provide blackout blinds to properties within 150 metres, Brown said: “My view from the outset is that there is no understanding of the nuisance, of the actual damage that is going to be to the living conditions of the people of the area”.

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

An MSG Sphere London spokesperson said: “We have always hoped the government would 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 the creation of thousands of jobs and the generation of billions of pounds for the local, London and UK economy,” he added.

The next stage in the process will be a referral to the Mayor of London. Both Rokhsana Fiaz, the Mayor of Newham, and AEG have written to Gove and the Mayor of London this month urging them to reject the request.

In letters seen by the Financial Times, AEG said the scheme “has been designed for downtown Las Vegas and moved to a restricted parking site in Stratford, towering over hundreds of surrounding residential properties.”

The letter added: “It is totally inappropriate for its location. The plans see neighboring residential occupants forced to live face to face with a huge, shiny 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 external “skin” of programmable LEDs. In its objection letter, AEG said that this façade would be “equivalent to forty-two times the size of the screens at Piccadilly Circus.”

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

MSG agreed that advertising would only be displayed on the Sphere for about one-third of the time it is illuminated, and that the screens would display “artistic” content. He added that they would shut down completely overnight.

“We are aware of the differences between Las Vegas and Newham. The London Sphere will be different to the Vegas Sphere in how it works, including measures such as limiting its brightness, the time of day it can be illuminated, the amount of advertising it can display and more,” he said in a statement.

Nate Higgins, Newham City Council Green Party councilor for Stratford Olympic Park, said all the area’s elected representatives opposed the plan. “It’s being pushed by unelected officials overriding 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 said the sphere would also “establish a strong sense of place on 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 it would employ up to 3,200 staff each year across the UK and add £2.5bn 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 heritage.

“Do you really expect people to accept that a giant dystopian orb, as tall as Big Ben, covered in billboards, is the best we can do?” she asked.


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