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UK government steps in to stop London MSG Sphere plans from being scrapped

The UK government have made a push for a Las Vegas-style Sphere to be created in London, following initial plans being scrapped by Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Plans for the venue – which would have a capacity of 21,500 – were first announced back in 2018 by the Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp (MSG), the team behind the iconic New York venue of the same name. It would have been the largest concert arena in the UK.

However, after five years of planning for the venue, hopes of it coming to fruition were quashed last month, when the London Mayor intervened in the decision, citing the “unacceptable negative impact” it would have on the local residents.

This comes after the proposed venue raised concerns from those living in the area, who highlighted the strains on local infrastructure and health risks. 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 1million LED light bulbs on its exterior.

Now, it has been reported by The Standard that MP Michael Gove has ordered a six-week pause, as he considers calling in the Mayor’s decision.

According to the outlet, Gove’s department is working to instruct Khan not to scrap planning proposals via a letter to the London Legacy Development Corporation. This would ask the Mayor to “consider whether he should direct under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act that the application should be referred to him for determination.”

“The Secretary of State hereby prohibits Your Local Planning Authority from implementing the Mayor’s direction of November 20 to refuse permission,” the letter reads.

The secretary of state has the power to overrule the Mayor in his decision to scrap the plans for the London Sphere, and Gove has suggested that he wants an opportunity to look over the plans for the development.

Rendering of the MSG Sphere in London. CREDIT: Press

In the 2018 planning application for the venue, 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shared further details about the new space in September the following year – including the news that Network Rail had withdrawn its initial objection to the construction of the arena.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 orb-like arena that could provide a platform for grassroots artists were also documented by the MSG, as well as shops and restaurants.

It was around this time that more interjections about the proposed venue arose, however, despite these concerns, the MSG Sphere was still approved by planning authorities at the London Legacy Development Corporation in March 2022.

Back in February though, 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 doubt about the venue arriving in London came following reports that the Las Vegas equivalent, which opened at the end of September, had lost $98.4million (£80.5million) since opening.

Sphere seen during the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Sphere seen during the F1 Grand Prix of Las Vegas at Las Vegas Strip Circuit on November 17, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CREDIT: Clive Mason – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Upon having plans rejected by Sadiq Khan, the operators for the company issued a response, stating that they were disappointed in the decision and will now be directing their developments to more “forward-thinking cities” instead.

“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,” a spokesperson for Sphere Entertainment said in a statement to NME.

The multi-billion dollar venue opened on September 29 with a residency performed by U2. The company reported revenues of $118million, but it is down 71 per cent from a year ago, according to The New York Post.

That being said, following the launch of the Nevada venue, NME gave Bono and Co. a glistening five-star review for their opening night at the site – 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.

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