Sadiq Khan blocks Stratford ‘Sphere’ plan over light pollution

An artist's impression of the planned MSG Sphere in Stratford, east London
An artist's impression of the planned MSG Sphere in Stratford, east London - POPULOUS

Sadiq Khan has rejected plans for an “unduly dominant” concert venue that developers wanted to build in Stratford, east London.

The “glowing orb” MSG Sphere is based on a similar arena in Las Vegas and had been planned for a site at the edge of the Olympic Park.

It would have been as wide as the London Eye and as tall as Big Ben, with thousands of LED screens that would have turned the building into a giant, spherical billboard.

In a victory for local residents, the Mayor of London rejected the plan on the grounds of excessive light pollution.

The Las Vegas Sphere opened in September with a performance by U2
The Las Vegas Sphere opened in September with a performance by U2 - L E BASKOW/LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL

Campaigners had argued that the glare from the LED screens would be visible from miles away, with light pollution posing a danger to local residents and passing drivers. The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) had offered to supply blackout blinds to homes within 150 metres of the sphere.

A spokesman for the mayor told the London Evening Standard that the city was open to more “world-class, ambitious, innovative entertainment venues in our city”.

However, he added: “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.”

‘Harm to heritage buildings’

A report commissioned by City Hall concluded that the Sphere’s lighting would have “significant adverse effects” on nearby residential properties. It added that the building’s size would make it a “bulky, unduly dominant and incongruous form of development” that would cause harm to the setting of a number of heritage buildings, including the Grade II listed Stratford Theatre Royal.

Nate Higgins, Green Party councillor for Stratford Olympic Park, said he was “absolutely delighted” by the decision.

“London’s cultural venues are incredibly important, but this application was always completely inappropriate for the site and the 24-year advertising consent the applicants demanded show they were not interested in contributing to our capital’s cultural scene – only bombarding the residents of Stratford with endless advertising,” Mr Higgins said in a statement.

“This incredible victory goes to show the value of community organising and listening to residents.”

The Stratford application will now pass to Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, for a final ruling.

The $2.3 billion Las Vegas sphere opened in September with a concert by U2.

‘David can win over Goliath’

MSG said in a statement to the Evening Standard: “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.”

Welcoming the decision, the Stop MSG Sphere campaign group said: “We are proof that David can win over Goliath. While MSG could appeal, we don’t advise it, because we’re not going anywhere.”

The plans had been approved by the London Legacy Development Corporation’s planning committee last year, but had to get a green light from Mr Khan.

The application proposed staging up to 300 events a year. Campaigners argued that, in addition to the light pollution, the venue would create noise and potentially lead to overcrowding of the local transport system.

They also claimed that the project would have a detrimental effect on wildlife in the Olympic Park.

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