Why has MSG axed plans to build a Vegas-style ‘Sphere’ in London?

Why has MSG axed plans to build a Vegas-style 'Sphere' in London?

Plans for a Las Vegas-style «Sphere» venue in east London’s former Olympic Park by the US company Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSG) have officially been withdrawn.

In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, MSG expressed that it was «extremely disappointing» that Londoners would miss out on the groundbreaking technology and thousands of jobs promised by the 21,000-capacity Sphere venue planned for Stratford.

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The company, having spent millions on acquiring the 4.7-acre site left vacant since the 2012 London Olympics, emphasised its frustration with a process it deemed a «political football between rival parties.»

What is the Sphere?

The Sphere Las Vegas displays 2024 during a New Year’s Eve celebration Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Las Vegas.Credit: David Becker/AP

Last year, a monumental spherical venue with a price tag of $2.3 billion (€2.19 billion) and a soaring height of 366 feet (111 meters) began illuminating the Las Vegas skyline.

Conceived by James Dolan, the executive chair of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers, the Sphere stands as a cutting-edge entertainment venue with a seating capacity of 17,600.

On 29 September 2023, the highly anticipated moment arrived where the Sphere was unveiled to the world for the first time, setting the stage for U2’s 25-show residency there.

Since then, the venue has hosted various events and screenings, including the premiere of Darren Aronofsky’s new film, «Postcard from Earth

Proudly claiming the title of possessing the world’s largest concert-grade audio system, the Sphere’s exterior is wrapped with 1.2 million hockey puck-sized LEDs, which can be meticulously programmed to produce dynamic and colossal image displays.

Why has the London Sphere been rejected?

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan attends the opening of the Battersea Power Station, in London, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.Credit: Alberto Pezzali/AP

Despite collaborative efforts over a five-year planning period and approval from local planning authorities, MSG felt compelled to withdraw from a process it viewed as entangled in political dynamics. 

The decision comes after London Mayor Sadiq Khan rejected the planning application for the Sphere in November last year. 

Khan’s ruling said the venue would cause “significant light intrusion resulting in significant harm to the outlook of neighbouring properties, detriment to human health, and significant harm to the general amenity enjoyed by residents of their own homes”.

In response, housing secretary Michael Gove exercised his authority to intervene and reassess the rejection of planning permission by Khan.

However, Sphere Entertainment, affiliated with MSG as a sister firm, had written to Gove, communicating their intention to withdraw the application and abstain from participating in the call-in process. 

According to a report by advisory firm EY commissioned by MSG, the Sphere was projected to create up to 3,200 jobs across the UK and contribute £2.5 billion (€2.9 billion) to London’s economy in its first 20 years.

A spokesperson for Sphere Entertainment reiterated the company’s commitment to work with «forward-thinking cities around the world» that are «serious» about hosting the project.


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