London’s MSG Sphere concert venue comes one step closer to reality

Planning committee to discuss fears project will blight area with light and noise pollution

It is a giant, globe-shaped music venue that has been described as a “monstrosity”, a “glowing orb” and an “eyesore”.

But now the MSG Sphere, a new concert hall planned for Stratford in east London – which would be as wide as the London Eye and as tall as Big Ben – could soon move a step closer to reality.

Local residents, councils and an MP have long opposed the project over concerns that the 21,500-capacity spherical arena will blight the area with light and noise pollution from its huge video and advertising displays.

On Tuesday evening, the planning committee of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) will meet to consider its developer’s plans for managing the advertising display and its impact.

The US firm Madison Square Garden Company (MSG), owner of the New York concert and sports venue, wants to plant the orb and a new nightclub, shops and restaurants on an empty parcel of land between Stratford station and the Olympic park.

Lyn Brown, the Labour MP for West Ham, has called on the authority to use its “last chance” to block the development of the Sphere, whose facade will be covered with more than 1m LEDs and show videos and adverts from dawn till late.

“The proposed development is a monstrosity,” said Brown, adding the meeting was “the LLDC’s last chance to demonstrate they are able to prioritise residents’ health and wellbeing over MSG’s interests and profits”.

Last March, the LLDC approved MSG’s plans to build the music venue – measuring more than 90 metres high and 120 metres wide – on land which was used as a coach park during the 2012 Olympic Games.

How the MSG Sphere in London could look.
How the MSG Sphere in London could look. Photograph: The Madison Square Garden Company

However, the approval was conditional on reaching agreement for a five-year review of the building’s advertising display.

The company has already been granted 25-year advertising consent for the Sphere, although MSG was required to ensure that “appropriate controls would be in place to ensure that any unforeseen health and wellbeing impacts could be addressed should they arise,” the LLDC said in a report.

MSG has outlined how it would meet these controls, including providing blackout blinds for homes within 150 metres, and with a direct view, of the Sphere, as well as creating a complaints telephone line.

If the LLDC approves MSG’s plans for the LED display, and for providing some car parking for disabled visitors, the final verdict will be referred to the mayor of London, as is standard with major planning decisions.

Local councils, including Newham, where the Sphere would be built, have long opposed the project, and residents joined forces to create a group called Stop MSG Sphere.

Those living close to the site predict the advertising display will be unacceptably bright, with one likening it to “living next to the surface of the sun”.

The role of the LLDC has also been contentious.

The authority, which was given planning powers for the area around and including the Olympic park following the Games, is coming to the end of its life. It has promised to return planning decision-making to the four neighbouring boroughs of Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest by the end of 2024.

The planned sphere has been compared by some to Rover, the balloon that featured in the 1960s TV programme The Prisoner.
The planned sphere has been compared by some to Rover, the balloon that featured in the 1960s TV programme The Prisoner. Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

The Sphere project does have some local backing, and MSG has said the venue will give this part of the capital an economic boost.

A spokesperson for MSG Entertainment said the company “remains committed to bringing MSG Sphere to London and to deliver its many cultural and economic benefits, including creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of pounds for the local, London and UK economy”.

The scheme is also opposed by rival entertainment group AEG, which owns the O2 Arena, located on the Thames at Greenwich, which has raised concerns about the advertising display and the impact on local public transport.

Alistair Wood, executive vice president for real estate and development at AEG Europe, called on the LLDC to refuse MSG’s advertising strategy: “The advertising facade is at a wholly unprecedented scale for London and totally out of keeping with the surrounding area.”

MSG’s first Sphere, costing $2.2bn (£1.8bn), is scheduled to open in Las Vegas later this year. This is part of the reason for Stratford residents’ concern, who say a building designed for “Sin City” does not belong in a densely populated part of the capital.

In recent days, the Sphere has lit up the sky above Vegas as the company appears to have been testing out the exterior lighting display for the project.

During the London Sphere’s lengthy road to realisation, MSG Entertainment has seen its Vegas development costs increase because of inflation and supply chain disruption, while its share price has slumped by nearly a third over the past year.


Joanna Partridge

The GuardianTramp

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