Artist's impression of the MSG Sphere in Stratford
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Newham mayor campaigns for social housing on Stratford Sphere site 

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz has launched a campaign to build social housing on the site of the scrapped Las Vegas-style sphere in Stratford. 

The Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz has backed a campaign calling for social housing to be built on land previously earmarked for a controversial spherical arena east of the Olympic Park. 

Madison Square Garden Entertainment (MSGE) withdrew its plans to build the 21,000-capacity venue on Monday 8 January following an uproar of opposition from residents and councillors in Newham as well as Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

The MSG Sphere London was to be built next to Stratford Westfield City, on a five-acre plot of land that has been vacant since the 2012 Olympic Games when it was used as a temporary coach park. Covered in LED panels, the 300-feet-high and 400-feet-wide spherical would have been identical to the $2 billion Sphere in Las Vegas which opened in September 2023. 

Throughout the planning process, nearby residents voiced their concerns about the one million LED lights on the building’s surface that would create substantial light pollution and could play videos from dawn till as late as 11 pm.

In a statement released on Monday 15 January, Ms Fiaz said: ‘The decision by MSG Sphere to withdraw their application is a fantastic outcome for our communities living in the Stratford, Maryland and Stratford Olympic Park area.

‘Newham is not another Las Vegas and the MSG Sphere structure – which would have been some 100 meters high and 120 meters wide – would have led to significant light intrusion for residents living in the area as well as negative health impacts.

‘We’ll now be campaigning for the site to be designated a housing and employment inclusion zone because we want our residents to benefit from homes they can afford and jobs that will increase household incomes.’

According to data published by Shelter, Newham has the highest rate of homelessness in London with one in twenty people sleeping rough. In November 2023, Ms Fiaz revealed that the borough had 6,000 families living in temporary accommodation, awaiting long-term housing from the council.

Nate Higgins, the Green Party councillor for Stratford Olympic Park, is actively campaigning for the former MSG site to be developed into social housing. He said: ‘I’ve been saying for a long time now that it’s time for a proposal to come forward that actually contributes to solving Newham’s problems, not making them so much worse. 

‘The site can and should be used for social housing to help address Newham’s desperate housing crisis, and I’m calling on Newham Council and the GLA to work to ensure that happen.’

The MSG Sphere was approved by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) in March 2022 despite overwhelming opposition in Newham. In November 2023, Mr Khan rejected the development due to concerns over light pollution, energy usage and adverse effects on heritage sites in the surrounding East London.

In December 2023, housing secretary Michael Gove attempted to overturn Khan’s decision against the sphere and wrote to the LLDC to prohibit it from implementing the mayor’s refusal. 

Despite having Gove’s support, the MSG Sphere’s developers withdrew their plans on January 8. In a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, Richard Constable, executive vice president of MSG, wrote:

‘After spending millions of pounds acquiring our site in Stratford and collaboratively engaging in a five-year planning process with numerous governmental bodies, including the local planning authority who approved our plans following careful review, we cannot continue to participate in a process that is merely a political football between rival parties.’

For more local news, read New 20mph speed limits have ‘devastating’ impact on London’s taxi trade.

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