The MSG Sphere in London has received approval from the decision making planning committee after a long and reportedly heated debate that lasted several hours March 22.
This does not mean that construction can now begin. The decision is still subject to the completion of a so-called Section 106 agreement (see below) as well as final approval from the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
A comment from a LLDC spokesperson provided to Pollstar reads, “The proposed MSG Sphere has been one of the most complicated applications considered by the planning authority involving significant consultation with local people, businesses and other authorities.
“The applications have been subject to robust review and a detailed officer report. Following careful consideration, the independent Planning Decisions Committee has approved granting full planning permission for the MSG Sphere, subject to conditions and a s.106 legal agreement securing a wide range of mitigation.
In the UK, section 106 agreements are drafted when it is considered that a development will have significant impacts on the local area that cannot be moderated by means of conditions attached to a planning decision.
MSG Entertainment has taken on a set of section 106 obligations, including the funding and delivery of a new entrance to Stratford Station, as well as investment for new and improved roads, pavements, and cycle lanes, to improve the accessibility of the surrounding area.
The LLDC spokesperson continued, “The Committee resolved to grant advertisement consent subject to agreement on further additions to the proposed s106 legal agreement. These additions will be reported back to Committee for approval before the application is referred to the Mayor of London. The planning permission will not take effect until a s106 agreement has been signed.”
A MSG spokesperson said, “We are pleased that the Planning Committee voted in support of our vision for MSG Sphere. Throughout this process we have worked closely with a wide range of stakeholders, and are grateful for their collaboration which is reflected in our detailed proposal. We now look forward to progressing onto the next steps in the approval process.”
At the end of yesterday’s hours-long hearing, six members on the decision making committee voted in favor of the project, and four against it. Opponents of the project, particularly those representing the local community, take issue with the fact that all four votes against came from elected members on the planning committee, while all six members in favor have no public mandate.
The mayor of the London borough of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, told ITV News hours before yesterday’s hearing that the development wasn’t “appropriate for this part of the London borough of Newham. It’s too big, it’s going to have a significant impact on transport, and it’s going to have a detrimental impact in terms of community amenities.”
A major point of concern is the light from the Sphere’s 360-degree advertizing surface, and it’s impact on surrounding residents. The Sphere’s proponents said, the actual impact first had to be measured professionally, and would furthermore depend on various conditions, including atmospheric ones. They also suggested providing residents with black out blinds, which prompted one of the elected members of the committee, to reportedly ask during the hearing: “Is this the legacy of the committee? Blackout blinds for local residents?”
Update (March 24): AEG has been among the Sphere’s opponents, and has stated that it thinks, “the LLDC has made the wrong decision to resolve to grant approval for the MSG Sphere planning application in the face of strong objections from local residents, local community groups, ourselves and the local council, Newham, in which the venue will sit.” Referring to the pending decision by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, an AEG spokesperson said, “If it comes to it, we will be calling on the Mayor of London to uphold his election promise to do what’s best for Londoners, including the residents of Newham who are having this huge development forced on them, by directing refusal.”
“As we have always maintained, AEG does not oppose competition in the live entertainment industry, and specifically does not oppose another large music venue in London. But we do believe that Madison Square Garden’s scheme is fundamentally the wrong proposal, in the wrong location, and is technically fundamentally flawed. That is why we have consistently raised concerns and objections to the MSG proposals.”(Update ends)
MSG and LLDC remain confident that all concerns will have been addressed by the time the building is erected. The time between first submitting the planning application in 2019 and now has been used to “finesse many of the details, and consult with residents to best address their concerns and wishes. This includes changes to the entrances, a significant reduction in the amount of digital advertising billboards on the site and restrictions on when the Sphere will be illuminated,” a report on yesterday’s hearing by Estates Gazette reads.
Other benefits according to MSG and LLDC include local job creation; a boost to the economy of Newham and wider London economy (£2.5 billion in its first 20 years of operation, including £50 million in revenue every year for local businesses, according to a EY report); unlocking a vacant, largely inaccessible site; delivering a new music venue that would complement other high-profile cultural and artistic projects in the area and create a distinctive landmark on the London skyline; and more.
MSG is committed to pay workers at least the London Living Wage for all jobs onsite. The company also aims to give 35% of construction jobs and 50% of jobs once the venue is open to local residents, with priority given to Newham residents.
The MSG Sphere London would push technological boundaries, not just with its immersive audio system, or the vaulted screen within the Sphere, which will be over 60 meters high, more than 100 meters wide and capable of displaying a resolution of around 16,000 by 16,000 pixels.
On the outside, the building will have a diameter of 120 meters, a height of around 90 meters. Most of the Sphere’s surface will be made up of programmable LED panels, creating the largest LED Screen in the world. The advertizing displayed on it is crucial to financing the project. The seating capacity will be just over 18,000, which increases to more than 21,000, when there is a mix of seated and standing.
Approval from the planning decision committee marks a big step towards the realization of the MSG Sphere London, but the final decision still resides with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has voiced support for the project in the past.
Madison Square Garden is affiliated with the Azoff Company, led by Pollstar parent company Oak View Group co-founder Irving Azoff.