UK government intervenes to halt London mayor’s decision to scrap MSG Sphere development

In a twist of events, Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has intervened to prevent London Mayor Sadiq Khan from blocking Madison Square Garden Entertainment’s Sphere development plan in east London. 

Gove’s move, reported by The Standard on Thursday (November 30), comes as he contemplates whether to call in the application for the controversial project situated in Stratford, which was previously used as a coach park during the 2012 London Olympics.

The reported move came over a week after Mayor Khan raised concerns about the proposed development, citing worries about light pollution for Stratford residents, environmental sustainability, and the broader impact on the area.

“The Mayor has seen independent evidence that shows the current proposals would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents,” a spokesperson for his office was quoted by The Standard as saying at the time.

Most recently, Gove’s department issued a letter instructing the London Legacy Development Corporation not to deny planning permission at this stage.

“The Secretary of State hereby prohibits Your Local Planning Authority from implementing the Mayor’s direction of November 20 to refuse permission. The direction is issued to enable him to consider whether he should direct under section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act that the application should be referred to him for determination,” Gove’s department said in the letter cited by The Standard. 

As Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Gove holds the authority to overrule Khan if he deems the plans appropriate, but the letter emphasizes that this temporary step doesn’t indicate a specific future outcome for the application.

The proposed MSG Sphere, designed by architecture firm Populous, received approval from the London Legacy Development Corporation last year despite local opposition. If built, the structure would stand 90 meters tall and 120 meters wide, creating a 21,500-capacity music venue.

The mayor’s rejection followed a review commissioned by the Greater London Authority, expressing concerns about potential harm to hundreds of residents. Gove had previously issued an Article 31 holding directive in February, putting the plans on hold to allow the government time to scrutinize them.

AEG, which operates The O2, another major music venue in London, had campaigned against the Sphere’a development. In November 2020, AEG Europe voiced strong disapproval, labeling the evidence in support of the MSG Sphere’s construction as “hopelessly inadequate.”

In a letter to the London Legacy Development Corporation, an AEG spokesperson asserted that “the Sphere would directly negatively impact the safe operation of The O2, and the health and wellbeing of local residents.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sphere Entertainment, a unit of MSG Entertainment, had earlier commented about Khan’s decision, saying: “While we are disappointed in London’s decision, there are many forward-thinking cities that are eager to bring this technology to their communities. We will concentrate on those.”

MSG first disclosed its plans to build the Sphere in Stratford in early 2018. The company, which was spun off from the Madison Square Garden Company (now MSG Sports) in 2020, owns globally recognized venues including New York’s Madison Square Garden, The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre and The Chicago Theatre. 

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