Talks of London’s very own Madison Square Garden (MSG) development have been in the works since early 2019. But nearly two years and one pandemic later, the Stratford-based Sphere is still awaiting planning permission.
A decision by the London Legacy Development Corporation, which oversees the area around the 2012 Olympic site, could come by the end of the year.
With its futuristic dome design, the venue promises a “fully immersive space” including a live music space, augmented reality experiences and the largest and what it says is the highest resolution screen in the world.
Aside from innovation, the MSG Sphere would also address what its developers say is becoming a key city shortage: London’s lack of large indoor arena spaces (i.e. Tier 1 venues that have more than 14,000 seats).
There are currently 465 Londoners for every seat at the O2, which the MSG developers claim is the only London venue equipped to handle “large-scale” global artists, with Wembley Arena built way back at the end of World War II.
By contrast, the developers point to two Manchester venues (one under construction) and two in Birmingham. New York has three – including Madison Square Garden itself.
The developers say a new space like MSG Sphere would generate an estimated £2.5bn for London’s economy, creating thousands of jobs, and investing in an industry that was already growing 5 times faster than any other before the pandemic broke out.
The Mayor of London estimates that for every £10 spent on tickets at music venues by Brits, £17 is spent on ancillary costs for the wider economy. To the developers, it’s an untapped market.
However, not everyone sees it that way. The Stop MSG Sphere campaign, led by a group of Newham locals, is calling for plans to be scrapped. Many have pointed out the LCD screens on the outside of the venue will contribute to light pollution, as well as overcrowding. The plans have also piqued West Ham United, who had expected to remain the prime attraction in the Stratford area.
A previous group, the Newham Action Group, was wound up after it became apparent that it had ties to a PR firm engaged by the owners of the O2 Arena – currently the capital’s only ‘Tier 1’ venue.
AEG, owners of the Greenwich site, say the Sphere will cause chaos on the Jubilee Line as event-goers from both the Stratford site and the North Greenwich-adjacent O2 get on the same tubes.