London is not Las Vegas. More searing insights from West End Final when we have it. But in all seriousness, it's difficult to think of two cities less alike.
One lies in the middle of the Mojave desert, the other enjoys a temperate oceanic climate. One has a population of 640,000, the other nine million. And one has an 18,600-seat sphere with 16K resolution wraparound interior LED screens, while the other has, well, we tore down the Marble Arch Mound.
As our City Hall editor Ross Lydall reports, plans for a Vegas-style sphere on the edge of Stratford's Olympic Park have been rejected by Sadiq Khan. The Mayor decided to block the (and these are Ross's words) "giant eyeball-shaped dome" proposed by Madison Square Garden Entertainment Company (MSG) on three grounds.
These relate to concerns about light pollution for local residents, the lack of green credentials and the impact the development would have on heritage sites in the area. For those wondering why the lights could not be turned off on the outside of the building (like, you know, most buildings), MSG claimed this would render the project, in part funded by advertising revenue, uneconomical. There would, however, be restrictions on luminance levels and overnight lighting. The decision now goes to Communities Secretary Michael Gove for his signature or veto.
It might be tempting to turn this episode into an allegory for how impossible it is to build anything in Britain. I mean, 'locally elected politician rejects planning application' is not exactly 'man bites dog' territory. But is the Mayor's rejection all that outrageous?
The London sphere would have been plastered in LED panels 360 feet wide and reaching 300 feet into the sky, equivalent to 25-30 stories. Unsurprisingly, this would have caused what City Hall called "significant light intrusion resulting in significant harm" to neighbouring properties. I'm not convinced free blackout blinds for locals would have done the trick. If nothing else, it would be quite nice to occasionally look out of your window without wearing those glasses worn during a solar eclipse.
Greater London Authority officers had commissioned an independent expert review of the MSG's environmental statement in order to assess the concerns about light pollution. It identified "significant errors and omissions” in the applicant’s assessment, according to City Hall, including a failure to correctly undertake measurements. In a rather salty reply, MSG said it now intended to focus on more "forward-thinking cities".
The UK economy is not stagnant because of our failure to build a large spherical object in Stratford. But there is still a broader question about our planning system. Some campaigners against the sphere say the site should now be used for affordable housing. But let's be honest, had MSG instead asked to build 100 affordable, carbon-neutral homes on the brownfield site, someone down the street would have galvanised 10,000 signatures in opposition
The problem with our planning system isn't that we can't build a giant electronic orb. It's that we can barely build anything at all.
In the comment pages, Matthew d'Ancona says it's still 'the economy, stupid', but the traditional indicators of inflation, mortgage rates and employment levels now tell only half the story. Ross Lydall hails the sparkling new Piccadilly line trains, but warns not to hold your breath on the Bakerloo. While Suzannah Ramsdale worries that celebrity older mothers like Tana Ramsay and Victoria Coren Mitchell are giving women false hope.
And finally, no bookings, no champagne and no VIPs. Meet Nick Bailey, the landlord dedicated to £5 pints at his new pub, The Robin, in Crouch Hill.
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