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Design & Development

Mayor of London rejects Sphere arena plans

Featured image credit: Sphere Entertainment

Featured image credit: Sphere Entertainment

Plans for a new Sphere arena in London have been rejected by Mayor Sadiq Khan on the grounds that the current proposals would have an “unacceptable negative impact” on local residents.

Sphere Entertainment, formerly known as Madison Square Garden Entertainment, is seeking to build a venue with 17,500 seats in the heart of Stratford, East London. The company recently opened a Sphere venue in the US city of Las Vegas, with the arena featuring the world’s largest LED screen.

In March 2022, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) approved plans for a Sphere venue in the English capital. At the time, Paul Westbury, executive vice-president of development and construction at Sphere Entertainment, said the application had passed through a “thorough assessment”, adding that the venue would help make Stratford “a global destination for music and technology”.

The project subsequently moved on to the desk of the Mayor of London, who yesterday (Monday) rejected the plans due to the level of light pollution it would create, its electricity bill, and the impact it would have on local heritage sites. The London Sphere has been designed by Populous, which also designed the Vegas venue.

A spokesperson for the mayor said: “London is open to investment from around the world and Sadiq wants to see more world-class, ambitious, innovative entertainment venues in our city.

“But as part of looking at the planning application for the MSG Sphere, the mayor has seen independent evidence that shows the current proposals would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents.”

One of the issues highlighted by Khan was the “significant light intrusion” that the Sphere would cause to local residents. An independent review of the plans was commissioned by the Greater London Authority, which found that the project would be a “detriment to human health”.

Sphere Entertainment has already purchased the 4.7-acre site, which has been left empty after last being used as a temporary coach park during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The privately-funded arena would have a diameter of 120 metres and be 90 metres tall at its highest point.

A spokesperson for Sphere Entertainment said: “While we are disappointed in London’s decision, there are many forward-thinking cities that are eager to bring this technology to their communities. We will concentrate on those.”

Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, will have the final say on the Sphere plans.

AEG, which operates The O2 in London, has been a vocal critic of the Sphere plans. In November 2020, AEG called for the planning application to be withdrawn and resubmitted due to “significant concerns”.

AEG has previously raised concerns over Sphere Entertainment’s analysis of the transport impacts of the project and said that crowds generated by the new venue would pose a “serious and dangerous impact” on local transport infrastructure.

Following yesterday’s announcement, Alistair Wood, executive vice-president of real estate and development at AEG Europe, said: “We welcome the Mayor of London’s decision to direct refusal of the Sphere’s planning application today.

“We do not oppose competition in the live entertainment industry, and specifically do not oppose another large music venue in London. However, this proposal had fundamental flaws from the beginning. It was the wrong design, in the wrong location, and this was the right call.”

Earlier this month, Sphere Entertainment revealed that the Vegas Sphere arena posted an operating loss of $98.4m (£78.5m/€89.9m) for the first quarter of the 2024 fiscal year. The arena posted revenues of $7.8m for the quarter.

The arena’s revenues were primarily driven by event-related revenues of $4.1m, reflecting the opening of the venue on September 29 with the first of 36 performances from U2.

The Vegas venue was built at a cost of $2.3bn and has drawn attention for its eye-catching visuals. The arena formed a key part of the street circuit for Formula 1’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, which took place at the weekend.