One of the most cutting-edge live entertainment venues – featuring the world’s largest LED screen and capable of hosting the biggest stars – could be built on Kent’s doorstep.
And if it gets the nod, it could knock the O2 in Greenwich off its perch as the go-to arena for Kent music fans.
The MSG Sphere is being proposed on land by the Olympic Park in Stratford – just a 12-minute train journey from Ebbsfleet International station and only a little over 30 minutes from Ashford on the high-speed line. It is a route already used frequently by the county’s West Ham fans attending home matches at the London Stadium.
And if it gets the go-ahead, it will emulate the breathtaking Sphere in Las Vegas which has set social media ablaze after rock band U2 became the first band to perform inside its visually stunning auditorium last Friday. It won’t come cheap though, with a completion cost of some £800 million.
However, the London scheme is facing fierce opposition from locals – opposed to the impact it will have on those living nearby. In particular its exterior dome which will be completely encased in LED screens.
The plans were given the green light by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) – which runs the former London 2012 site – last year and would, if given full permission, be built on a currently empty piece of land between the domestic Stratford Station and the Olympic Park.
But London Mayor Sadiq Khan has to confirm if LLDC can grant planning permission or direct it to reject the application.
Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Minister, Michael Gove, has also hinted he could intervene.
Residents claim they will be dazzled by the images on its exterior which will spew light pollution into the skies. Other concerns include pressure on the nearby Stratford station – a 10-minute walk from Stratford International – and added traffic.
It comes after one resident in Las Vegas – where its dome can be seen from two miles away – described it as “like building a sun on Earth”.
A group of local residents in the borough of Newham have formed the campaign group Stop MSG Sphere coming to east London.
It says: “The site of the proposed scheme is as close as 250 feet to residential properties and is surrounded by densely residential buildings on all three sides.
“The proposal aims to bring up to 60,000 people daily to Stratford for a minimum of 300 days a year.
“The mega-structure will be 120 wide and 96.5 meters tall, towering over Stratford's residential properties with bright advertising and events planned all through the day and night.”
There have also been concerns voiced from AEG – owners of the O2 in Greenwich.
Yet if it does get the nod it could prove an irresistible draw to those in the county courtesy of the high-speed rail links.
So just what are the plans and what, exactly, would make The Sphere so special?
Unless you’ve avoided social media over recent weeks, the chances are you’ve seen clips or images of The Sphere in Las Vegas – a vast dome wrapped in LCD screens allowing single images to coat it. Images you may have seen include it being transformed from the Moon or a blinking human eye. It’s even ‘become’ an NBA basketball.
Visually stunning from the outside, the inside is perhaps more eye-opening.
With a capacity of 18,600 seated or 20,000 standing, the steeply raked seats are surrounded by a 16K resolution LED screen that wraps around the audience.
As anyone watching clips of U2 perform, the artists are comfortably eclipsed by the visual spectacle.
Now the same company behind the Las Vegas landmark – MSG Entertainment, which also runs Madison Square Garden in New York plus a host of other major venues – wants its second to be in London.
And it is promised to be no less spectacular.
The proposed Stratford site would see a scalable capacity of up to 17,500 seated or 21,500 seated and standing. The O2’s capacity is 20,000.
Inside, it would boast “the largest and highest resolution LED screen in the world” along with an “adaptive acoustics system that delivers crystal-clear audio to every guest” as well as “a haptic system that will convey bass so the audience can ‘feel’ the experience”.
MSG adds: “It would attract a wide variety of artists and content. We look forward to delivering something for everyone: concerts, residencies, immersive experiences, family shows, corporate events, award shows, product launches and select sporting events.”
Like the O2, it will host boast a host of restaurants, shops and other facilities within its screen-coated dome.
The O2 has proved hugely popular since it opened in 2007. An easy car journey up the A2 – although now sitting within the ULEZ charging area – it has proved hugely popular with Kent entertainment fans.
The Sphere would look to emulate its success – although Kent fans will, rather than the car, look to access it via rail. But only if it can avoid its ambitious plans being rejected.
MSG Entertainment said: “To date, we’ve engaged with more than 3,000 people through in-person consultations and our dedicated website to better understand priorities and questions.
“We are thrilled that 86% support the idea of bringing another world-class, large-scale entertainment venue to Stratford.
“In addition, we commissioned a poll amongst residents of each of the 20 wards in Newham to better understand perceptions of our plans for MSG Sphere.
“The poll again demonstrated overwhelming support for MSG Sphere amongst local residents, with 85% of 1,019 adults polled supporting our plans for MSG Sphere in Newham and only 4% opposing.”