Planners give go-ahead for Populous-designed attraction in east London

Controversial plans to for a 21,500-capacity spherical music venue at Stratford, in east London, have been approved.

The Sphere will be entertainment giant Madison Square Garden Company’s first venue outside the United States and was last night backed by members of the London Legacy Development Corporation’s planning decisions committee by six votes to four.

Aerial Earth Display - MSG Sphere - London

Aerial Earth display of the Sphere

An LLDC planning report recommended the proposal for the green light – despite hundreds of objections to the project submitted as part of the consultation process.

The document said 1,364 responses had been received with 852 opposing the plans, with the report adding that “recurring themes in opposition are the lack of need for the development as well as its scale, massing and form”.

The scheme has been designed by architect Populous, which was responsible for transforming RSHP’s Millennium Dome into the O2 venue. The firm also designed the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

Its plans for the Sphere will see the 17,500-21,500-capacity venue wrapped in triangular LED panels that will show a range of static and moving images including digital art, promotional material for the venue, and adverts.

The venue will occupy a 1.9ha triangular site between railway lines next to the Westfield shopping centre and close to the London Stadium – the former Olympic stadium – now the home of West Ham United.

A smaller 1,500 capacity venue is also planned at the Sphere site along with restaurant and retail space. The scheme will include building new bridges over neighbouring railway lines.

O2 owner Anschutz Entertainment Group called the scheme “seriously inadequate and flawed” and said the venue was in the wrong location given the London Stadium, the Copper Box as well as the O2 are all close by. AEG has said the scheme posed “a serious and dangerous impact on local transport infrastructure”.

Astronaut - MSG Sphere - London

How the Sphere will look

MSG said the 20,000-capacity O2 and the 12,500-capacity Wembley Arena were the only two venues in London capable of hosting bands that embark on world and European tours.

Historic England warned it would do some damage to nearby conservation areas because of its height, massing and “intrusive disturbance on their settings”.

However in a 209-page report, Daniel Davies, the principal planning development manager at LLDC, said the “development has been judged to be consistent with its town centre context and would diversify the cultural and night time offer”. It added there would “no direct harm” to heritage assets critics claim would be damaged such as the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and several local listed buildings including grade II Stratford Town Hall.

The report concluded: “Officers consider that the significant public benefits of the proposed development justify granting planning permission…with the proposed conditions and obligations to be secured by legal agreement [meaning] the impacts of the scheme can be neutralised or reduced to an acceptable degree.”

LLDC’s approval for the Sphere still requires the backing of London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Last week it emerged that Ian Feast, chief operating officer at the Battersea Power Station Development Company is leaving his post at the end of the month to take up a new role at the MSG.

Building understands that delivery of the Sphere is likely to be carried out as construction management scheme by MSG itself.

The project team includes planning consultant DP9, M&E engineer Me, acoustic engineer Arup and cost consultant RLB.