Gove calls in Populous’s refused Stratford Sphere proposal

Last week the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLHUC) told the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) it must hold off implementing the London mayor’s direction that reversed the corporation’s March 2022 approval.

Now the DLHUC has demanded a public inquiry into the controversial proposal for a sphere-shaped entertainment venue in Stratford (see attached letter).

The move comes even though the scheme’s backer, Madison Square Garden (MSG), appeared to have given up on its plans to build the project – at least in London.

Sphere Entertainment, the company set up to deliver the 90m-tall scheme on a former coach park next to Westfield Stratford City, had said it was looking to sell the land.

In response to the Gove decision, a spokeswoman for Sphere Entertainment said:  ‘The entire five-year planning process was hijacked by the mayor [at the] last minute.

‘Londoners should be dismayed that they are not going to benefit from this groundbreaking project, and others looking to invest in London should certainly be wary.’

She added: ‘[Everyone] should be alarmed by how easily the government’s established process was tossed aside by one politically motivated official. Gove’s action, although commendable, still appears to us to be more of the same, and we cannot continue to participate in a process that can be so easily undermined by political winds. As we said previously, we will focus on the many forward-thinking cities.’

The LLDC approved the project –  a smaller version of the recently opened Las Vegas venue also by Populous – early last year amid fierce opposition from campaigners. In February, Gove issued a warning that he might call in the application but chose not to do so ahead of the mayor’s ruling.

The mayor’s office said the decision followed a review carried out for the mayor by consultant WSP. This found ‘errors and omissions’ in the environmental and energy impacts on the original application in regard to UK government guidance on lighting.

After Khan’s ruling, a City Hall spokesperson told the AJ: ‘London is open to investment from around the world and Sadiq wants to see more world-class, ambitious, innovative entertainment venues in our city.

‘But as part of looking at the planning application for the MSG Sphere, the mayor has seen independent evidence that shows the current proposals would result in an unacceptable negative impact on local residents.’

The report added that officers identified ‘unacceptable harm to hundreds of residents’ and that because of the height, bulk, and massing ‘it is not a sustainable building due to high energy usage’.

But a spokesman confirmed to the Evening Standard that housing, planning and building safety minister Lee Rowley had – on Gove’s behalf – ‘decided to call in’ the planning application as well as the ‘associated application for advertisement consent for ministerial decision’.

Nate Higgins, a Green party councillor for Stratford and the Olympic Park, branded Gove’s decision to call in the scheme ‘disappointing and wrongheaded’ and something that ‘no one involved is asking for’.

Populous was contacted for comment.