'A travesty of democracy': Anger at committee over MSG Sphere vote

Artist's impression of the MSG Sphere in Stratford. Picture: MSG Company

Artist's impression of the MSG Sphere in Stratford - Credit: MSG

Critics have hit out at the committee which approved a new events venue in Stratford after elected councillors were out-voted by unelected members.

The Madison Square Garden (MSG) Sphere application was the subject of an hours-long debate by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC)'s planning decisions committee last week.

The committee voted six to four in favour of the plans, put forward by MSG Entertainment.

But all four votes against came from elected councillors.

The rest of the committee is made up of LLDC board members and independent planning experts.

Campaign group Stop the MSG Sphere called the decision "a travesty of democracy".

West Ham MP Lyn Brown, a long-standing opponent of the sphere plans, added: "I wish I could say I’m shocked by the LLDC’s decision to impose this enormous glowing blight on our communities.  

"Of the unelected committee members taking the decision, there’s only token local representation.

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"The LLDC’s version of the Olympic legacy has become tyranny."

An LLDC spokesperson said the application for the sphere and a separate application for advertising permission, which was also approved, were subject to "robust review" and a detailed report by officers.

The vigil at Stratford Station for cousins Jameel Muhktar and Resham Khan who were attacked with aci

Lyn Brown MP hit out at the decision to approve the sphere - Credit: Ken Mears

They added: “The proposed MSG Sphere has been one of the most complicated applications considered by the planning authority involving significant consultation with local people, businesses and other authorities.

“The composition of the committee is agreed by the London Legacy Development Corporation board and has been in place since 2013. 

"The decisions it has taken have resulted in some important legacy projects being developed."

If built, the venue would have a 21,500 capacity and be based on land to the west of Angel Lane. 

CGI of the proposed MSG Sphere. Picture: MSG

A CGI of the proposed MSG Sphere - Credit: MSG

In a statement read out at the meeting, Ms Brown said: "I feel that Newham does not need this flashy development designed for non-residents."

MSG Entertainment is already constructing the first MSG Sphere in Las Vegas.

But Ms Brown said: "Stratford does not want to be Las Vegas. It's not the venue, the spectacle or the image we want for Stratford."

She also has light, noise and transport concerns about the sphere.

"Stratford station has now officially become the busiest in the country.  It is too busy and the last thing we need is another venue in London disgorging its audience into an already overburdened transport hub."

Stop the MSG Sphere vowed to continue fighting the venue, which has also been opposed by a petition containing more than 2,000 signatures.

Newham Council said it would keep making "planning objections" to the scheme.

In a statement, it added: "We have always made the case that the sphere will have detrimental impacts on transport and residential amenities if it goes ahead.

"The visual impact will significantly affect the local area, as well as the wellbeing and health of our residents who will have to live with this for years to come."

The sphere will be 96 metres tall - the same height as Big Ben - and include the world's largest LED screen.

It is set to support around 1,300 jobs once open and MSG Entertainment is aiming for at least half of these to go to residents of the LLDC boroughs - Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest.

It is also estimated to bring £2.5billion to the capital's economy in its first 20 years of operation.

Richard Constable, executive vice president, global head of government affairs and social impact at MSG Entertainment, said: “We are pleased that the planning committee voted in support of our vision for MSG Sphere.

"The views of the local community are incredibly important to us, and throughout this process we’ve been listening to and acting on feedback.

"We are grateful for this collaboration, which is reflected in every aspect of our detailed proposal.

"We look forward to continuing to work closely with a wide range of stakeholders as we progress onto the next steps in the approval process.”

The scheme has also received many supporters, with University of East London (UEL), Theatre Royal Stratford East and London City Airport backing the plans.

A UEL spokesperson told the Recorder: "The development will bring thousands of technical and creative jobs and other benefits to our community as we contribute to building together a fairer and greener economy for Newham and east London.

"A global attraction and our developing reputation for the arts and creative industries could be transformational for Newham and provides much-needed support for this pandemic-hit sector."

In recommending the sphere for approval, LLDC planning officers said the sphere would “provide an attractive visual backdrop for people living, working, enjoying recreational time, visiting and travelling through the metropolitan town centre.”

The application, which is also subject to a section 106 legal agreement, will now be referred to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.