East London residents are being warned that light pollution from a controversial huge new concert venue – the MSG Sphere – will be “like a sun on Earth”. The message comes from neighbours of a Las Vegas version, more than 5,000 miles away.
Plans for the new concert hall in Stratford took a step closer to realisation last week when the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) approved plans for its advertising display covered with more than one million light emitting diodes that will show videos and adverts from dawn until late.
A similar building is scheduled to open in Las Vegas later this year, and last week the company behind the project tested out the lighting display. “It’s almost like building a sun on Earth,” said Las Vegas local Billy Cline, 36, after he saw the lights at the tip of the 111-metre-high spherical building being tested two miles away from his balcony.
Cline, who works in public engagement, predicts that once the Las Vegas sphere is completed it will increase light pollution coming through his curtains exponentially, especially with moving images. Some residents, he believes, will invest in big shutters to block out the light.
Cline adds that Las Vegas is “a city known for its light” and that he feels such a structure would never get the go-ahead in other US cities: “I don’t think this MSG Sphere would be built in San Francisco or parts of Los Angeles or Brooklyn. I couldn’t imagine something that bright in a residential area.”
Mick Akers, a sports business and transport journalist for Las Vegas Review Journal, said the Sphere may well be Las Vegas’s brightest building when it is completed but that “everyone here is already used to it”. If it were in the middle of a residential area, he added, “at night, it could bring some problems”.
Plans for the more residential setting of Stratford – which include a 21,500-capacity concert hall the width of the London Eye and the height of Big Ben, a nightclub, shops and restaurants – are seeing significant opposition, with the proposed venue labelled as a “monstrosity”. The site is an empty plot of land between Stratford railway station and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
MSG Entertainment claims the London venue will “reinvent” live music and entertainment through “the next generation of immersive experiences”. It also pledges to bring long-term investment to the capital, thousands of jobs and “billions of pounds of economic benefit for Newham, London and the UK”.
But opponents claim it will result in sleep-disrupting light pollution, noise and transport issues, and impact driver concentration, forcing those who can to move out of the area. They also highlight car parking issues, particularly for disabled visitors.
Meanwhile, MSG boss James Dolan has attracted headlines in the US over his use of facial recognition technology. Last month, it emerged that Madison Square Garden in New York was using cameras to ban employees of law firms that are handling cases against MSG properties. The billionaire broke his silence on the issue last week, citing the Bill of Rights on the US morning talkshow Good Day New York, hitting out at officials and saying that, as the venue’s owner, his actions were valid.
The UK planning application still needs to be referred to the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has the power to refuse it.
Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham, said the plans were being “imposed” on the community and could only now be stopped by either Khan or Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities. “It’s too big, it would be too intrusive. I would ask that they call it in and either scale it right down or reject it,” she said.
Pointing out that, unlike Las Vegas, Stratford is “not in the middle of a desert”, she added: “We are talking about a very urban environment.”
Sanch Kanagarajah, 39, who lives in a flat in a nearby tower block facing the site, fears the brightness will disrupt his sleep. “It could be moving imagery, which would make it even worse,” said the charity manager.
Nate Higgins, Green party councillor for Stratford Olympic Park, said many residents would move out of the area if the Sphere went ahead. He told the LLDC planning committee on Tuesday that residents “don’t want the Sphere at all” and do not want to be forced to resort to blackout blinds “in order to enable a private developer to build a massive advertising screen masquerading as an entertainment venue”.
Bo Chapman, Stratford resident and a member of the Against MSG Group since 2019, said that when she first saw a poster for the “globular monster” she thought it was a joke. The community digital artist, who has lived in the area since 1997, said: “It’s an unethical monstrosity. It’s a great concept but it’s in the completely wrong place. It’s another example of corporations getting profit at the expense of communities.”
An LLDC spokesperson said the proposed plans involved “significant consultation” and had been “subject to robust review and detailed officer reports”, with planning permission and advertisement consent approved in March.
MSG Entertainment said it had agreed to return to the LLDC planning committee with revised proposals for blue badge parking and that it would announce a timeline for construction after the planning process was completed, which it hoped would be later this year.
It insisted that the Sphere was not an advertising display, stating “advertising will be shown for only a small part of any day”.
Asked whether it would use facial recognition in London, the company said it is not yet at the stage of confirming such systems and procedures and that they would be “subject to discussion and agreement with the relevant authorities”.
A spokesperson said: “We are committed to being a good neighbour in Stratford and fully understand concerns of some residents. We are also mindful of the differences between Las Vegas and Newham.
“The London Sphere will be different from the Vegas Sphere in its operation, including measures such as limiting its brightness, the time of day it can operate, the amount of advertising it can display, and more.
“We remain fully 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.”
A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “As this is a live application that will be referred back to the mayor, we cannot comment in advance of any decision he may make.”