Last month (20 November) London mayor Sadiq Khan refused the controversial proposals for a 21,500-capacity sphere-shaped entertainment venue in Stratford.
But Gove has now told the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) in a holding letter that he is weighing up whether to decide the application himself.
This means the LLDC, as the local planning authority, must wait six weeks before implementing the mayor’s direction to refuse planning while Gove’s department considers whether he should override Khan.
But Gove’s last-minute intervention may have come too late. According to recent media reports, the Sphere and MSG chief executive James Dolan have said they have no intention to appeal the mayor’s decision.
Dolan told the Evening Standard: ‘We have expended quite a lot of capital. To be very honest, there is no process that makes us want to continue the effort. We can’t keep banging our heads against the wall in London while there are other cities that want us.’
Dolan added that Khan’s decision was ‘the end of the line’ for a London Sphere and that MSG would begin the process of selling the land – a process the AJ understands will go ahead despite Gove’s intervention.
‘We are going to sell the land,’ he said. ‘We are exiting the market. It hurts me to say that. We wanted London to be the second place where we opened up a Sphere. Chasing this in London is not the right thing for the company.‘
Hitting out at the mayor’s decision, a spokesperson for Sphere Entertainment previously told the AJ it would consider cities outside of the UK. A considerably larger Sphere venue – the first of its kind – opened this year in Las Vegas.
The LLDC previously approved the project in March 2022 amid fierce opposition from campaigners, before Khan ruled against it. In February, Gove issued a warning that he might call in the project 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.
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’.
Nate Higgins, a Green party councillor for Stratford and the Olympic Park, said in a statement that for Gove to call in the scheme would be an ‘assault on democracy’ given the opposition of the mayor and local Labour MP for West Ham, Lyn Brown.
He said on X: ‘We’ve all seen the MSG Sphere for what it is: a massive advertising billboard masquerading as an entertainment venue that would have inflicted misery on people’s lives, including blackout blinds and incredible disruption at Stratford station.
‘Sadiq Khan was right to reject the application on solid planning grounds. These are the reasons the LLDC should have rejected this Sphere in the first place.
‘MSG have already said they’re moving on and are selling the land, which Greens have now called to be used for social housing.’
The planned arena would have sat on a former coach park next to Westfield Stratford City and had a circumference of 120m and a maximum height of 90m.
More than 1,000 objections had been submitted to the LLDC before the mayor’s decision while there were also more than 300 messages backing the scheme.
Populous and MSG declined to comment.
My statement on the news that @michaelgove is considering calling in the MSG Sphere application. We’re confident this would be yet more public money wasted just to reach the same conclusion that every single representative of the area reached.
Khan listened, and now must Gove. pic.twitter.com/dB1CO4ipMh
— Nate Higgins (@natehiggins) November 30, 2023