Like Piccadilly Circus, but spherical: is east London ready for the MSG Sphere?

The prospect of illuminated advertising displayed on a giant globe the size of the London Eye has some Stratford residents worried –

MSG Sphere, a planned concert venue for Stratford, east London. Photograph: The Madison Square Garden Company

Between the Olympic stadium, the London Aquatics Centre, and the ArcelorMittal Orbit squiggle – not to mention Westfield shopping centre – the east London neighbourhood of Stratford has acquired more than its fair share of high-profile buildings in the last decade. But even as the Olympics recedes into the past, a new debate is now raging over what might be the most controversial proposal yet: the Madison Square Garden (MSG) Sphere.

In March this year, MSG submitted a planning application for a spherical entertainment complex, 90 metres high and 120 metres wide, containing restaurants, shops, a nightclub and the centrepiece: a 21,500-capacity auditorium. The same diameter as the London Eye and almost as tall as Big Ben, the giant sphere will be covered 190,000 sq ft of LEDs, programmable to display images on the exterior.

What MSG London executive vice-president Jayne McGivern describes as “a joyous ball of magic”, Newham councillor Harvinder Singh Virdee has called a “blob”, and another local activist “unprecedentedly monstrous”.

The project has received support from the Newham Chamber of Commerce and representatives of nearby Newham College and the University of East London. Other residents are more concerned, and have formed a campaign group called Stop MSG Sphere. Their main objections regard noise and light pollution, increased traffic and the resulting rise in air pollution, anti-social behaviour, and strain on public transport and roads. There are also worries that it will block out natural light to homes, some of which are located only 50 metres away.

Then there is the advertising. In the artists’ blueprints, the “skin” of LEDs displays wholesome scenes of the night sky or planet Earth, but the planning application allows for advertising, potentially presenting the opportunity for a kind of giant spherical version of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus.

Part of a campaign poster from Stop MSG Sphere.

“The advertising has been a whitewash,” says Lindesay Mace of Stop MSG Sphere. “They show very few examples [in the blueprints], and they’re all calming, blue background, which blends in with the sky. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that the reality won’t be like that.” MSG counter that under the plans submitted, advertising will be allowed for a maximum of 50% of the time the Sphere is illuminated, and that the facade will be turned off or placed in a low luminance “stand by” mode from midnight to 6am in the summer and 7am during winter and spring.

The Sphere would be located on triangular piece of land behind Stratford station. “It’s a densely populated residential area,” says Mace, “which is something that MSG have done their very best in their images and assessments to downplay: there are thousands of residential properties nearby.” MSG claim that impacts to the surrounding area will be minimal, pointing to the fact that the site is also surrounded by live railway lines.

There have also been objections from Newham Council, which in July backed a report critical of the Sphere, and voted that it be submitted to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) for consideration. But activists point out that McGivern, who has been the public face of the company locally, was a board member of the LLDC from 2012-16.

In November, campaigners also released correspondence between senior staff at the LLDC and MSG London, acquired through freedom of information requests, in which the two parties discussed the US company’s “strategy” to deal with “local resistance”. The emails also pointed to 33 unminuted meetings and apparently unrecorded hospitality for LLDC staff. MSG say there is nothing irregular or unusual in this.

Backers of the proposals point to a summer poll, commissioned by MSG Sphere, that found 85% support among local residents. They say it will bring employment to the area, in construction and in the culture sector.

Campaigners counter that only 21% of those polled had heard of the proposals, and only 11% of the MSG Sphere specifically.

Although promotional images show the MSG’s ‘skin’ displaying wholesome images, campaigners are concerned that the planning application allows for potentially invasive advertising.

McGivern nevertheless cites the poll as a major indicator of support. “The poll demonstrates overwhelming local support for MSG Sphere, including for the thousands of jobs and significant economic impact this state-of-the-art entertainment and music venue would bring,” she said.

The company is promoting the idea that London needs another music venue of that size. The planning application says the city “has an undersupply of dedicated large entertainment venues in comparison to other major world cities”, arguing that only SSE Arena in Wembley and the O2 in North Greenwich are capable of hosting the largest international touring acts. It points to New York, a similarly-sized city with seven such venues, though it does not mention London’s Alexandra Palace or its major park festivals – such as Hyde Park and Finsbury Park – which have capacities close to 100,000.

The proposed site is a triangular wedge of land behind Stratford station.

MSG also claims that a smaller venue also included in the planning application, with a capacity of 1,500, and a 450-capacity nightclub will have a positive trickle-down effect on smaller music venues and local acts in London.

Local scepticism, however, derives in part from the experience of hosting the Olympics, for which tens of thousands of jobs were promised by the LLDC that protesters pointed out this summer have still not materialised. “Obviously the Olympics left positives, like the park and the sports facilities,” Mace said. “But it has also left us with the LLDC, an unelected corporation without any real accountability, a planning authority for a lot of land that was previously under local authority control. Seven years on from the Olympics, what we’ve seen is lots of developments, with little visible benefit for local people.”

What would be visible, of course, is the sphere itself, for miles around, an issue that Mace emphasises has not been properly discussed. “The size and illumination of it will be unprecedented – we believe in the UK, and quite possibly in Europe.”

  • This article was amended on 12 December 2019 to correct references to the amount and duration of advertising proposed for the Sphere

West of England councils tender £40m Professional Services contract for infrastructure works

The West of England Combined Authority, in collaboration with regional Councils, has gone out to tender with a contract for professional services to support its regional infrastructure projects worth an estimated £40 million.

The four year professional services Framework Agreement will have a single multidisciplinary lot and will be limited to 3 suppliers.

The core authorities party to the Framework Agreement are:

  • West of England Combined Authority — Lead Authority
  • Bath and North East Somerset Council
  • Bristol City Council
  • North Somerset Council
  • South Gloucestershire Council

The Framework Agreement will also be open to a number of other local authorities.

Network Rail signs first Heritage Partnership Agreement

Network Rail has signed its first Heritage Partnership Agreement, improving the management of “architectural gem” London King’s Cross.

Network Rail, Camden Council and heritage public body Historic England have signed a Heritage Partnership Agreement (HPA) to ensure the efficient future management of the nationally significant site.

The arrangement will streamline the formal listed building consent process, making it easier to make minor improvements to the station.

It comes amid a major, multi-million pound investment in the infrastructure at King’s Cross that will significantly improve train travel to and from London on the East Coast Main Line.

Only then can Camden Council grant Listed Building Consent to the changes. Thanks to the HPA, we will also save time and money.

An architectural gem

Councillor Danny Beales, Camden Council Cabinet Member for investing in communities and an inclusive economy, said: “Camden is rich with architectural gems, including King’s Cross Station, one of the best-known locations within the borough.

“The station will now benefit from the clear approach set out in the Heritage Partnership Agreement and the council’s desire to protect all our historical buildings, whilst facilitating the changes that these working buildings require.”

Tom Higginson, director of Planning and Land Services for Network Rail, said: “We are always looking for ways we can run the station more efficiently and this agreement, which is a first for Network Rail, is a perfect example of that.

“We have worked incredibly closely with Historic England and Camden Council and this agreement will save all of us time, which can now be spent in other areas, and means that passengers can benefit from improvements to the station more quickly.

“This will also help to reduce our costs, which is incredibly important to us as a tax-payer funded organisation.”

The HPA signs at London King’s Cross

What’s an HPA?

Statutory HPAs were introduced in 2013 because of reform powers from the government to help manage change efficiently while maintaining a site’s special qualities.

King’s Cross joins a handful of statutory HPAs, including Stow Maries Airfield in Essex, Battersea Power Station in London and the University of Sussex.

The agreement at King’s Cross is a pioneering project that Historic England hopes will inspire similar sites to consider it as an option for sound, efficient heritage management.

LED lighting to save Wigan Council £1m a year

A recently completed street light replacement scheme is going to save Wigan Council £1m a year. The borough’s illuminating programme, which was completed last year, has helped to significantly reduce the council’s energy consumption and lowered its carbon footprint with more than 36,500 LED lights fitted across the network of roads.

As well as saving £1m a year through reduced energy and operating costs, the lights also have a number of other benefits in comparison to traditional sodium street lamps.

In 2018 Wigan Council was awarded the Most Improved Performer at the APSE Awards, which recognises excellence in public services.

Much of this success has been based on the local authority’s project to replace its conventional street lights for more environmentally-friendly light-emitting diode bulbs. They have a longer lifespan, require less maintenance and use nearly 60 per cent less energy.

The lights give off virtually no heat and contain no hazardous substances, do not need replacement lamps and can be controlled by a central computer system, all while providing bright, high-quality lighting on to the street. Coun Carl Sweeney, cabinet member for environment at Wigan Council, said:

“Implementing our award-winning street lighting project across the borough was key in making changes that will ultimately have a positive impact on our environment for the next generation.

“Some authorities are switching lights off to save money but we knew it isn’t what our residents wanted as they are an important part of helping people feel safe and secure both in their communities and while on the roads.

“This innovative scheme helps us to save money through The Deal, which in turn means we have been able to freeze the general element of council tax for the sixth year in a row. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every single person who has been involved in making this scheme a success.”

Residents can report a fault with a street light direct to the street lighting team, visit and search for street lighting for more information.

Between April and December 2018, Wigan Council spent £1.8m on street lights, according to financial data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Across England, spending on street lighting has fallen by 11 per cent in the last five years and many local authorities have slashed their budgets by 50 per cent or more. Money saved by switching off street lights can come at the cost of personal safety, the Royal Society said. It added that the risk of driving or walking in darkness “may ultimately lead to lives being lost” if councils are not careful. Head of road safety Nick Lloyd said: “Councils should only reduce lighting if they are sure that it will not lead to an increase in accidents, or put personal safety at risk, and accident rates should be monitored.

“It is also important that councils do all they can to warn drivers, riders and walkers that lights are being switched off or dimmed, and give advice about what they should do to protect themselves.”

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New LED street lighting project will reduce carbon footprint and Kent County Council’s energy bills

First year of drone programme delivers £750k efficiency savings for Severn Trent

In the first year of use since Severn Trent made the strategic decision to invest in the use of drone technology, the water company’s fleet of drones are generating huge savings in time and through improved efficiencies, as well as significant health and safety benefits.

The drone industry expanding at an exponential rate as sectors start to unlock the potential that UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) offer. The utilities industry in particular has embraced the drone revolution – partnering with Commercial Drone Experts COPTRZ has seen Severn Trent make savings of over £750,000 in the first year alone.

In their second year, they are expecting to double this figure, with more savings beyond that. Other utility companies have found similar savings, and this is expected to grow as the technology develops.

By using their UAV drone fleet to carry out the unmanned inspection work, Seven Trent has removed the need for scaffolding, enabling them to save time and increase safety for their staff who no longer need undertake physical inspections.

Duncan Turner, Severn Trent’s Drone Team Lead said:

“It’s been an incredibly exciting time to be involved with UAV’s at Severn Trent. It feels like we are at the forefront of innovation which is unlocking new ways of working within the business using this cutting edge robotics technology. With our customers at the heart of what we do we can pass on the saving making sure our customers’ bills remain low and are helping to keep our water Wonderful on Tap.”

COPTRZ was formed in 2016 and provides specialist services to the commercial UAV market to help businesses to access the benefits of drone technology. COPTRZ are working with some of the largest utilities companies in the UK, including Severn Trent and Thames Water.

Steve Coulson, Founder and Managing Director at COPTRZ, commented:

“It’s great to see more companies seeing the benefit that drone technology can have for them and their business. Not only do they save money, but they also save time and improve safety. This example is only one of many, and I’m sure in the future there will be a huge number of companies that decide to make the small immediate investment, to unlock the huge savings potential moving forward.”£750k-efficiency-savings-for-severn-trent

Highways England new gritters take to the road

A fleet of new look gritters, using state of the art technology are on the road this winter following a multi-million pound investment by Highways England.

The first delivery of the new gritters took place in October and will improve safety for drivers and workers due to the vehicles improved technology, ergonomics and enhanced visibility.

Despite being 26 tonnes and measuring a maximum of 2.5 meters wide, Highways England has seen a number of incidents where gritters have been struck by vehicles.

Research carried out by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) shows that vehicles stand out more if painted in one block colour and are solid in shape which is where the new design has come from.

As well as a new design, the latest vehicles contain innovative technology which includes being able to pre-programme gritters with information specific to each gritting route. This enables salt to be spread onto the road automatically, taking into account any specific requirements for bridges, landscape and other road features allowing drivers to give their full attention to driving at all times.

Highways England’s winter fleet manager Jane Wilkins said:

“Safety is our top priority and we are always looking at ways we can improve our winter resilience. Using the research carried out by TRL and our own data, we have looked carefully at the number of incidents involving gritters to see what more can be done to improve safety and the service we provide.

“The roll out of this £30million programme started this year with 34 new vehicles in East Anglia. The remainder of the 157 vehicles, will be replaced over the next two years.”

Highways England is working closely with gritter manufacturers Romaquip on the roll out of the new fleet.

Romaquip technical director Stephen McKeown said:

“We are excited to be working with Highways England, manufacturing a new generation of winter vehicles with numerous safety and technical advances. It is a pleasure to work with an organisation that strives to develop and improve their service, actively partnering with us to achieve these goals.

“It is clear to see that the specification of these vehicles has been derived from consciously deciding to improve safety for both operators and other road users, and that the innovation to improve efficiency and functionality has also been thoroughly considered.

“Romaquip is committed to delivering the best quality machines to all of our customers, we welcome this improvement and look forward to working with Highways England over the years to come.”

Highways England currently has 535 winter vehicles patrolling the 4,400 miles of motorways and major A roads across the country.

For more articles like this, please visit Highways Industry News website.

Reducing noise for Wakefield residents

A new pioneering noise barrier which will improve the lives of residents living next to the M1 at Wakefield will be installed later this year.

Living next to a motorway has its benefits, it makes it easier to access surrounding towns and cities to visit friends and family, or commute to work, but the noise of the motorway can be an issue for some communities.

The innovative design being installed at the Denby Dale junction has never been used before in the UK. The barrier not only reduces noise but will also act as a safety barrier.

Highways England’s project manager Sujad Hussain said:

“There has been a long standing issue of noise from the motorway at this location and by installing 4 sections of barrier we will be able to improve noise levels for residents living nearby.

“We are planning to start work in November but before then we will be holding a drop in session in September for people to find out more about the work. I would encourage people to come along and ask the project team any questions they may have about the barrier and the work that is planned.”

Highways England is installing the barrier on 4 sections of the M1 at junction 39: On the southbound carriageway and southbound entry slip road and on the northbound carriageway and northbound exit slip road.

The barriers, 3 at 3 metres high and 1 at 1.85 metres, will be constructed off site meaning there will be less chance of weather having an impact on the work. It will also be safer as there will be fewer vehicles moving around the work site.

During the work a 50mph speed restriction will be in place for safety reasons. The hard shoulder and lane 1 on the main carriageways will be closed along with lane 1 on the northbound exit and southbound entry slip roads so a temporary safety barrier can be installed while the work is taking place. The same slip roads will be closed overnight with clearly signed diversions in place.

Anyone interested in the work can come along to a drop in event on Wednesday 5 September, 2pm-8pm in the Boardroom, second floor, Cedar Court Hotel, Denby Dale Road, Calder Grove, Wakefield, WF4 3QZ

The media is invited to attend the event between 2.30pm and 3pm. Please confirm attendance with Highways England Media Relations Manager Michaela Maunders on 07701295018.

For more articles like this, please visit Highways Industry News website.

Enfield Council protects vulnerable road users with PeoplePanels side protection for trucks

Enfield Council has become the first local authority in the United Kingdom to fit new purpose built safety devices to its vehicles to help prevent fatal collisions with cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.

Invented by a former Metropolitain Police motorcycle sergeant, PeoplePanels are designed to prevent people from becoming entangled along the sides of lorries, therefore significantly reducing the risk of injury during a collision.

PeoplePanels protect pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists as well as workers such as refuse collectors who have to operate near the sides of large vehicles while carrying out their jobs. Produced by Dawes Highway Safety, PeoplePanels are prominent warning signs with messaged warning people to stay away from the near side of the vehicle at junctions.

James Dawes, Dawes Highway managing director, said: “Prominent warning signage displayed on the side of large vehicles helps prevent collisions happening because it draws people’s attention to danger zones and politely reminds them to take extra care near the vehicle – that’s why it forms part of the mayor’s ‘Direct Vision Standard for London’ (due for launch in 2019). We have worked in close partnership with Enfield Council’s fleet manager Julian Minta to create a PeoplePanel design that truly reflects Enfield’s commitment to enhancing road safety.”

“By choosing PeoplePanels Enfield has gone even further than basic fleet safety expectations by combining enhanced visibility with specially manufactured and impact tested flat panels that completely cover traditional ‘open rail’ side guards.”

“PeoplePanels effectively close the gaps people could fall into during a collision where they risk becoming entangled and suffering serious or even fatal consequences. This is an important step forward in protecting vulnerable road users in London and follows examples set in New York, Washington DC and Boston where upgraded side guards are fitted on all municipal vehicles.”

“Having witnessed and attended many serious collisions in my former career I am delighted that Enfield have chosen to make our streets safer and lead the way for municipal operators in the UK.”

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Eurovia Contracting | £5m scheme win in Colchester

Eurovia Contracting has been awarded a £5m design and build scheme which will reduce congestion on one of Colchester’s busiest through roads.

Essex County Council appointed Eurovia Contracting to carry out the work on the A133 which will include the widening of St Andrew’s Avenue into a dual carriageway and the reconfiguration of two double roundabouts

The double roundabouts at the junctions to Ipswich Road and Harwich Road will both be combined into single roundabouts, which it is hoped will ease the build-up of traffic.

Improvements will also be made to the surrounding local road network, along with the installation of a new retaining wall alongside the adjacent railway line which is on the main Norwich to London route.

Eurovia Contracting was awarded the contract by Essex County Council through the Eastern Highways Framework (EHF2) and is expected to take 18 months to complete.

Eurovia’s bid was given a score of 96%, which was awarded based on 40% quality and 60% price.

Neil Huntington, Eurovia Infrastructure Regional Director, said: “This scheme will ease the pressure on what is a heavily congested route for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

“It will undoubtedly be a challenging scheme that will require a number of utility diversions during the works, while incorporating the needs of stakeholders including local businesses and Network Rail.

“We are confident we can meet those challenges and, once complete, the improved A133 will support Colchester’s growing infrastructure for many years to come.”

Utility diversions are due to start next month and the scheme is due for completion by the end of 2019.

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