The entertainment arm of US live sports and entertainment giant Madison Square Garden Company has entered amended plans for its proposed MSG Sphere venue in London after overcoming objections raised by Network Rail.

In March 2019, MSG submitted a planning application for the project, with an array of eye-catching technology features part of the proposal. The plans for MSG Sphere were lodged with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), as MSG seeks to develop its first major venue outside of the United States.

Located in the heart of Stratford, East London, MSG Sphere’s main venue would have a scalable capacity of up to 17,500 seated, or 21,500 when there is a mix of seated and standing. The latter, in theory, would be greater than the official capacity of The O2, the nearby arena operated by MSG’s rival AEG.

The proposal includes a music venue, nightclub, members lounge, restaurants, bars, and new bridges to create pedestrian connections across the site. The building would be composed of a ‘skin’ of LEDs that would be programmable and could display images on the surface of the building, including adverts.

Following the conclusion of the second round of public consultation in January, LLDC reviewed the large number of responses and requested further information from MSG. Network Rail, which owns and manages most of the railway network in the UK, had raised concerns about safety at Stratford station. It had also highlighted the potential impact on drivers of glare from the venue’s LED skin and notices displayed on the illuminated surface.

MSG Entertainment said its new submission represents the culmination of an extensive process that included consultation and detailed technical discussions with key stakeholders. As a result of this work, Network Rail has withdrawn its objection to the MSG Sphere planning application, with MSG stating they now consider that all relevant risks and impacts have been identified, and appropriate mitigations and controls proposed.

MSG Entertainment has also presented a number of voluntary planning conditions for consideration by the planning committee that address feedback from the LLDC and the community. This includes parameters around MSG Sphere hours of operation, event timings, and external display, including restrictions on overnight lighting. And following extensive work with local operators, there are also additional measures to coordinate event arrival and departure times for attendees at MSG Sphere and other local venues.

The submission also includes a proposal to provide 111 Blue Badge parking spaces at Stratford International Station with a free mobility assistance service to the venue, an element which MSG claims represents the largest scheme of its kind for any UK arena.

In addition, MSG has submitted expert reports that were commissioned to provide further information on areas including road and rail safety, transport matters, and other operational plans. As an example, the updated operational plan sets out how the proposed additional entrance and ticketing hall at Stratford Station will improve access and reduce congestion. 

Jayne McGivern, executive vice-president of development and construction at MSG Entertainment, said: “We are pleased to provide additional details in support of our planning application for MSG Sphere, underlining our commitment to create jobs and boost the local economy.

“The materials reflect the constructive dialogue we have had with a range of local stakeholders, and further demonstrate the careful consideration that has gone into every aspect of our plans. We are confident our proposal thoughtfully sets out how we will deliver a world-class venue, and remain excited about the opportunity to bring MSG Sphere to London.”

A further round of public consultations is now set to commence, with a date to determine the success of the application not yet set.

In April, the MSG Sphere project in Las Vegas joined its proposed counterpart in London in suffering delays. In November, MSG revealed that the London venue was expected to open later than initially planned.

MSG said that while “significant” progress had been made on the Las Vegas project, the London arena continued to move through the planning application process. MSG said it remained focused on incorporating learnings from the Las Vegas project in London and as a result it was no longer possible for the latter to open a year after the Vegas Sphere arena.

Image: MSG Entertainment