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Crossrail warns of safety risk from Populous’s glowing Sphere

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Crossrail chiefs have warned that Populous’s high-profile Sphere scheme in east London could compromise safety on the £18 billion rail link

MTR Elizabeth Line, which will run the trans-London train service, lodged a formal objection against LED advertising plans on the 90m-tall entertainment venue with the London Legacy Development Corporation last month.

Populous submitted plans for the scheme in March 2019 on behalf of the Madison Square Garden Company (MSGC). A decision was initially anticipated before Christmas but this was pushed back until later this year after the planning authority requested a raft of further information.

The main application is accompanied by an advertisement consent request, and it is this which MTR Elizabeth Line has objected to.

Expressing its ‘significant concerns’, the rail body said the giant illuminated advertisements would make it difficult for train drivers to pick out signals vital for the safe running of trains at high speeds on a complex part of the network. Elizabeth Line services will stop at Stratford and Maryland stations either side of the Sphere, with tracks running close to the site boundaries.

‘There is a lack of a full rail-focused human factors report into the distraction risks posed by the project, with assumptions made within the report entitled Road User Distraction Assessment November 2019 that the principles identified would be generalisable [sic] to a rail context, which we do not believe to be an accurate assumption,’ said MTR Elizabeth Line operations standards manager Imran Chaudhry in the objection letter.

The impact of the Sphere screens could be severe at stations in the area, Chaudhry warned.

He said the organisation’s concerns included ‘significantly increased distraction risk during safety-critical platform duties, leading to an increase in incidents such as incorrect stopping position; trap and drag events; wrong side door releases leading to passengers falling from trains to adjacent tracks; and dispatch irregularities at Maryland and Forest Gate Stations where the MSG Sphere is likely to be visible.’

The Mayor of London’s planning team last year raised ’significant concerns’ over the venue’s intention to display giant illuminated advertising on its walls.

Populous has designed the scheme for a 2ha former coach park next to Westfield shopping centre close to the former Olympic Park.

The vast concert arena would have a diameter of 120m and a maximum height of 90m. Inside, the main arena would have a scalable capacity of up to 17,500 seated, or 21,500 including some standing. 

The team behind the proposals said in initial planning documents that the venue would ‘revolutionise the audience experience, bringing unforgettable nights out for music and entertainment fans’. 

It added: ’To create a dramatic and dynamic spectacle, the sphere façade is covered with LEDs. This will allow the surface to be illuminated with content that is topical, show-related, exhibitions, media and advertising. The imagery could be fixed or moving. The illuminated sphere façade will have a constantly changing appearance, which will instantly establish the venue as a new London landmark.’

However planning consultancy DP9 wrote to the planning authority last year on behalf of the development team, amending the application following a number of consultations, and outlining voluntary planning conditions for the scheme.

These include that the scheme would be ’designed to avoid dazzle and glare which could cause hazard or distraction to operators of the railway’.

A number of ‘digital billboards’ were cut from the proposals in the amended plans.

An MSG spokesperson said: ’Throughout the planning process we have listened to feedback and revised our plans as appropriate with the goal of bringing MSG Sphere and its many economic benefits to Stratford.’

No date has been set for determination of the application.

Site plan for Populous' Sphere in East London

Site plan for Populous’ Sphere in East London

Site plan for Populous’ Sphere in East London

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Readers' comments (2)

  • London wants to revisit the Dome idea twenty years after the first one... after all, the first one proved a highly successful venture.....
    Sticking LED lights on it to take advantage of our populations similarity to moths somehow makes this a well thought out proposal.

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  • Hideous, unnecessary and surely now completely unworkable.

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