ASM Global, operator of Manchester Arena, has today (Friday) lodged a formal objection to the planning application submitted by Oak View Group (OVG) for a new arena in the English city, highlighting the “astounding nature” of the market projections for the rival project.

Today’s news marks the latest development in an escalating war of words between ASM Global and OVG, with the latter having submitted a planning application to Manchester City Council back in April.

ASM Global’s protest is being supported by a group of entertainment, retail, hotel, property and hospitality businesses, who have stated their concern over the new project’s impact to city centre trade, at a time of challenge for many businesses amid COVID-19.

The group includes shopping centre Manchester Arndale, Aviva Investors, DTZ Investors, Living Ventures, Manchester Hospitality Network and Prestbury Investments. ASM Global states that while the initial plans for a second arena emphasised that the venue would benefit leisure offerings within the city centre, the planning application incorporated 181,000-plus square feet of out-of-town Class A food & beverage and retail space.

ASM states independent analysis from global consultants Charles River Associates (CRA) details “significant flaws” in the evidence supporting the planning application. ASM claims this raises legitimate concerns around the impact a second major venue, for which it has consistently maintained there is no market need, would have on Manchester Arena, its redevelopment and the vibrancy of the city centre economy.

In March, ASM revealed an early-stage redevelopment vision for Manchester Arena that would expand its overall capacity to 24,000, making it the largest indoor arena in Europe. In its objection, ASM states CRA’s recent analysis shows that OVG’s projections for event attendance are at odds with historic projections. ASM claims the event attendance levels needed to sustain two major arenas in Manchester are even higher than the proposal’s projections.

ASM added that further analysis from Air Quality Consultants and transport consultants Blacc has also raised a number of concerns related to the city’s air quality and transport network. A statement from ASM Global read: “We have clear reasons for opposing a new arena in Eastlands, and have never shied away from making our voice heard. We firmly believe that this planning application presents a very real threat to not only our venue and transformative redevelopment plans, but to our neighbouring hotels, bars, restaurants and stores, at what is an already fragile time.

“This application relies on evidence that fails to consider the full picture in Manchester, and during these times it is essential that any major changes to the city are in the best interests for its people and businesses. It is also counter to planning policy in the Manchester Core Strategy and the National Planning Policy Framework, which aims to protect city centres and towns from major out-of-town developments.

“Independent analysis clearly demonstrates there is no demand for a second major venue in Manchester. To introduce another would risk running the other out of business, taking with it the visitors and spend it positively contributes to surrounding businesses. Analysis from leading consultants demonstrates the astounding nature of the market projections included within the planning application – projections which rely on cherry picked data and ignore historical growth.

“We ask that this application receives proper scrutiny, and takes into consideration the concerns of local people and business, especially given the risks it poses to Manchester’s culture, economy and environment.”

In April, OVG appointed the Royal BAM Group (BAM) as its preferred construction partner and Populous as the principal architect and designer of its planned new arena (pictured). Located on land adjacent to Etihad Stadium, home of Premier League football club Manchester City, the project will be OVG’s first outside its US homeland and the largest privately financed venue in the UK, with £350m (€389.7m/$440.7m) direct investment going into the city.

The maximum capacity of the proposed arena is 23,500, significantly larger than the current regular operating capacity of the existing Manchester Arena, which OVG states operated at under 15,000-capacity for 90% of events from 2014 to 2018.

US global venue development, advisory and investment company OVG has been working in partnership with City Football Group (CFG), parent company of Manchester City, on the proposed project. Subject to successful planning approval, it is envisaged the venue would take three years to build, with the first events planned to be held in 2023.

In response to today’s news, Mark Donnelly, chief operating officer of OVG International, said: “Manchester is a city with a proud music and sporting history and a huge appetite for live entertainment but it’s currently losing market share in the national live entertainment industry. A new venue, with world-leading technology, would help to grow the overall entertainment market within Manchester and attract a wider range of larger and more impressive live events to the city.

“Manchester has developed a thriving tourism and entertainment market and we are completely confident that a new venue at Eastlands would happily co-exist with the current arena, as well as other venues in the city centre and across the region.

“Economic analysis submitted as part of our application shows that a new arena would bring an additional £36m per year in direct annual local spending and at least £1.3bn of additional economic activity from two arenas over 20 years. City centre business would account for 85% of visitor expenditure from two arenas, significantly increasing jobs and economic activity compared to the current position.

“We look forward to reviewing the existing arena’s full analysis as the little released so far seems to paint a negative view of the market, and the city’s position within it, which we and expert industry analysts simply do not recognise. The live entertainment industry is supportive of our proposals as they foresee ongoing growth in the market post-COVID, with a great opportunity for Manchester to play a leading role in that.

“Other major UK cities are thriving with two or more arenas and we are so confident in Manchester’s potential that we are willing to commit £350m entirely privately funded investment to the city, creating 3,350 jobs during the construction phase, and a further 1,000 once open in 2023.

“We want to partner with businesses and the wider community in Manchester and, following a successful planning process, OVG could be onsite as early as October, beginning to create new construction jobs straight away – vital to help the region recover economically from the current crisis.”

Images: OVG