Crossrail's operator is seeking to block plans for a “second O2” in London, over concerns flashing lights from the proposed entertainment venue could cause crashes, with trains travelling at up to 80mph.
US events company Madison Square Gardens wants to build the 21,500-seat MSG Sphere London in Stratford, across the river from the O2 Arena.
The entertainment and music complex, 120 m wide and 90 m high, will be almost as tall as Big Ben and also house shops, restaurants and a nightclub. If the venue gets the go-ahead, it would be the largest concert arena in the UK. Some 190,000sq ft of LED screens are planned to wrap around the exterior, displaying images and flashing lights that will be clearly visible 150 metres away.
However, MTR Crossrail says the venue “presents a significant safety risk”. Its letter of objection says lights from the Sphere could impede drivers’ ability to see signals. This, the train company says, “is a very significant concern of ours”. Advertisements and other images endanger “distracting” those in charge of the trains, the letter claims.
The intervention comes as some local residents have established campaign groups to prevent the building of the Sphere.
The spectre of an East London corporate battle between two major US companies also looms. The Madison Square Garden Company is a $4bn (£3.2bn) enterprise listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Alongside its eponymous Manhattan venue, it also owns basketball team New York Knicks and ice hockey’s New York Rangers.
The O2 Arena is owned by rival events firm AEG, headquartered in Los Angeles. It owns Major League Soccer team LA Galaxy and runs Wembley Arena on an operating contract. AEG, which is owned by US billionaire Philip Anschultz, has opposed the MSG Sphere, citing concerns over its proximity to Olympic legacy venues such as West Ham’s London Stadium and the Copper Box Arena.
It is understood Madison Square Gardens has opened what sources called “extensive dialogue” with Network Rail following the objections by MTR Crossrail. A number of revisions to the US company’s planning application have been made, while images screened on the outside of the sphere will require sign-off from the local council and Network Rail, which owns Britain’s tracks and stations.
Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, welcomed the proposal, saying it would “boost still further our city’s thriving night-time economy”. A spokesman for Madison Square Gardens said: “Throughout the 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.”