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London Sphere developers claim plans were “hijacked” by Mayor Sadiq Khan in “bogus” and “last minute” refusal

Developers of the London Sphere have spoken out following the rejection of plans to build the venue in Stratford – claiming that the refusal is “bogus”.

The plans for the new UK venue were first announced back in 2018 by the Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp (MSG) – the same company behind the iconic Sphere venue in Las Vegas.

However, following five years of back and forth, it was revealed last month that the venue would most likely not be coming to the UK as Mayor Sadiq Khan intervened in the decision, citing the “unacceptable negative impact” it would have on the local residents.

These included the strains on local infrastructure and health risks tied to the development. Similarly, the London Assembly environment committee warned of the unacceptable light levels that would be made by the venue – with the finished product set to have an estimated one million LED light bulbs on its exterior.

Following his decision, MP Michael Gove questioned whether the choice to scrap the project was a mistake, and it was reported that he was working to instruct Khan not to abandon planning proposals via a letter to the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Now, MSG have shared a new statement in light of Khan’s decision, and claimed that the progress was “hijacked” by a “bogus last-minute report”.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan leaves Millbank Studios after conducting media interviews on August 29, 2023. CREDIT: Carl Court/Getty Images

“The entire five-year planning process was hijacked by the mayor and his bogus last-minute report. Londoners should be dismayed that they are not going to benefit from this groundbreaking project, and others looking to invest in London should certainly be wary,” a Sphere Entertainment spokesperson told NME.

“Moreso, everyone should be alarmed by how easily the government’s established process was tossed aside by one politically motivated official,” the statement adds. “Mr Gove’s action, although commendable, still appears to us to be more of the same, and we cannot continue to participate in a process that can be so easily undermined by political winds. As we said previously, we will focus on the many forward-thinking cities.”

The latter part of the statement refers to the previous comment the company shared with NME in light of the refusal of plans, stating that they were disappointed in the decision and will now be directing their developments to more “forward-thinking cities” instead.

As previously mentioned, the motion to develop a Sphere venue in London first emerged back in 2018 when plans were laid out to create a 21,500-capacity venue which would be the largest in the UK.

The developers (MSG) requested that a 1.9-hectare (4.7-acre) site in Stratford, which was originally used as a coach park during the 2012 London Olympics, be turned into a music venue. Futuristic mock-up images were later published in 2019.

The company then shared further details about the new space in September the following year – including the news that Network Rail had withdrawn its initial objection to the construction of the arena.

Plans to build a smaller 1,500-capacity venue inside the arena were also drafted, set to  provide a platform for grassroots artists, as well as shops and restaurants.

Rendering of the MSG Sphere in London. CREDIT: Press

However, around this time more interjections arose but despite these concerns, the MSG Sphere was still approved by planning authorities at the London Legacy Development Corporation in March 2022.

Back in February, Gove temporarily paused planning progress by issuing an Article 31 holding directive – which temporarily blocked the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and the Mayor of London from signing off proposals for the venue. Further doubts came following reports that the Las Vegas equivalent, which opened at the end of September, had lost $98.4million (£80.5million) since opening.

From its launch, the Las Vegas Sphere has had a residency by U2 and, following the opening night, NME gave Bono and Co. a glistening five-star review for their performance at the venue – praising them for creating an atmosphere that “truly takes your breath away”.

It was also shared in October that U2 were to extend their residency at the new Sphere venue in Las Vegas, adding an extra 11 dates to the run. Originally, the residency was scheduled to run until December 16, however, the shows will now run into the new year.

Over the weekend, it was reported that Phish are set to become the next band to take up residency at The Sphere. The Vermont band are due to play in April 2024, where they will play the LA venue for four nights.

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