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Populous’s Sphere delayed as planners ask for more details

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The developer behind Populous’s east London Sphere has pushed back the arena’s anticipated opening date due to the sluggish progress of its planning application

Sports and entertainment goliath The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) had planned to start building the 90m-tall sphere in Stratford during summer 2020 and open the venue in 2022. 

This would have been 12 months after the opening of the MSG Sphere in Las Vegas, a larger version of the London proposal and also by Populous, which is under construction. However, a planning decision is not now expected on the UK scheme until mid-2020.

In an earnings call last month (8 November), bosses at the New York-listed company told investors: ‘The company is continuing to move through the planning application process [for the London MSG Sphere], which is now expected to run into calendar 2020.’

‘It is no longer possible for the London venue opening to be one year after the opening of MSG Sphere in Las Vegas.’

MSG submitted a planning application to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) in March, with December 2019 earmarked as a potential date for a decision.

But the LLDC has requested further information about several aspects of the proposed scheme. The LLDC said it would consult with the public on the new information, with a final decision set for 2020 ‘at the earliest’.

It comes after a consultation by its planning department received around 800 responses to the Sphere’s planning application, with roughly 60 per cent objecting the scheme.

The London boroughs of Newham and Hackney will both have input on the application as neighbouring parties, while the scheme would also have to be rubber-stamped by the Mayor of London.

What further information did the LLDC want on the Sphere’s planning application?

The LLDC wrote to MSG saying: ‘The approach to a number of topics has not adequately identified effects on the wider travelling public’.

It asked for more information on issues including:

  • The impact on rail routes, bus networks, cycling and coaches.
  • The arrival and departure profile of customers: how and when people will get to and from the venue.
  • The impact on the highway network: specifically on the effects of a high number of vehicles departing an area at a short time, to pedestrians and other road users. LLDC is also wanted more information on whether the Sphere could distract drivers.
  • The impact on car parking. LLDC wrote: ‘It is not accepted that visitors would not park on local roads.’
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