US stadium developer Oak View Group has secured consent to create a 23,500-capacity arena in East Manchester. Contractor Bam Construction will start building the venue in November.
Eight of the nine planning committee members voted to approve the project while chair of the committee Cllr Basil Curley abstained.
However, Secretary of State Robert Jenrick has received an anonymous request to call in the application and subsequently it will not be formally approved until the request is considered.
Manchester City Council planning officer Dave Roscoe described the development, located next to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, as “game-changing”.
The proposals, submitted in April, were supported by various ward councillors who welcomed the investment and opportunity to create “local jobs for local people”.
ASM Global, the operator of the rival and recently rebranded AO Arena in the city centre, has been an outspoken critic of the scheme, claiming Manchester cannot support two large arenas.
Approval of OVG’s proposals would put ASM’s own redevelopment plans, a £100m investment to upgrade the existing arena, in jeopardy, according to the ASM.
Both OVG and ASM commissioned market growth reports in light of the proposals for a second city centre arena.
OVG predicted there would be an additional 2.5 million annual arena visits in the city by 2035, representing threefold growth from current levels, supporting the developer’s case for a second arena.
Meanwhile, ASM’s study predicted a more conservative level of growth, at around 5%, adding that an out-of-town arena would negatively impact on the city centre, a claim echoed by various businesses who operate in Manchester.
Speaking on behalf of OVG, Jon Cooper, partner at Deloitte Real Estate, planning consultant for the Eastlands arena project, criticised ASM for portraying the city centre economy as fragile and said there was “robust evidence of market growth to support two arenas”.
Roscoe said it was “unsurprising” the two parties had produced different predictions of market growth, but an independent survey by consultancy Hatch, commissioned by the council, found OVG’s forecast to be more accurate and that ASM’s was “pessimistic”.
Tim Leiweke, OVG’s co-founder and chief executive, said: “We’re delighted that Manchester City Council has given our proposals the go-ahead, and we can’t wait to get started, bringing £350m of private investment, creating thousands of jobs, and delivering one of the world’s best arenas to this amazing city.”
Cllr Pat Karney said: “Today’s decision is about confidence in our city, Greater Manchester and the North West. The city centre, our communities and the wider city will be strengthened by our newest neighbour, Oak View Group Manchester. This is the next chapter in East Manchester’s regeneration.”
The Eastlands arena project was designed by architect Populous. Declan Sharkey, Populous senior principal and project architect, said: “In line with Oak View Group’s vision, the new arena in Eastlands has been designed to attract even more global headline events and acts to Manchester and become a catalyst for further economic and cultural investment for the city.”
OVG expects the arena to open in 2023.
A spokesperson for ASM Global said: “We are wholly disappointed in today’s decision, which we feel completely negates the concerns of both ourselves and many key city centre stakeholders.
“This decision will have a significantly adverse impact for our existing arena, and the wider city centre businesses and attractions it supports. Clear evidence has been presented on multiple occasions that demonstrates the application for an Eastlands Arena relies on flawed research, impossible market projections and is in defiance of national and local policy.
“Fundamental questions remain as to whether this is truly the right choice for Manchester, particularly in the current climate. We firmly believe, and are supported in analysis from the likes of Charles River Associates, Oxford Economics and Grant Thornton, that this second arena will instead pull visitors, footfall and spend away from the city centre. There is simply no business case to support a significant investment if the market is halved.”