London mayor refused the “nuisance-generating” Stratford venue last month
Populous’s plans for the MSG Sphere venue in Stratford have been thrown a lifeline after Michael Gove blocked a decision by Sadiq Khan to refuse it.
The secretary of state for levelling up, communities and local government has issued a direction prohibiting the local planning authority from implementing an order from Khan on 20 November to reject the application.
The 90m-tall spherical venue in Stratford, a smaller version of a scheme recently completed in Las Vegas, has been highly controversial since its inception due largely to its facade, which will be entirely covered in giant triangular LED panels displaying advertising.
Last month Sadiq Khan overruled last year’s decision by the London Legacy Development Corporation to approve the 21,500-seat venue, calling the proposals “nuisance-generating”.
Khan’s letter said the extent of external illumination on the building would “cause significant light intrusion resulting in significant harm to the outlook of neighbouring properties, detriment to human health, and significant harm to the general amenity enjoyed by residents of their own homes”.
Gove, who temporarily froze the planning process for the application earlier this year with an Article 31 holding directive, has now put the scheme on ice again.
The secretary of state’s letter said: “This direction is issued to enable him to consider whether he should direct under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that the application should be referred to him for determination.
“The prohibition shall take effect for a period of 42 days from the date of this letter.
“This direction is for procedural purposes and should not be read as any indication of the Secretary of State’s attitude towards the application scheme.”
In a statement, a Sphere Entertainment spokeswoman said: “The entire five-year planning process was hijacked by the mayor and his bogus last minute report. 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.
“Moreso, everyone should be alarmed by how easily the government’s established process was tossed aside by one politically motivated official. Mr 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 developer has been building up its capacity over the past few years to start work on the Sphere with Ian Feast, former COO of the Battersea Power Station Development Company, joining last year to head up delivery.
But earlier this year Grant Findlay left MSG to return to Sir Robert McAlpine as executive managing director of a newly formed Buildings division while Mike O’Donnell, who left McAlpine in 2019 after more than a decade to join MSG, returned to the firm in the role of commercial managing director.
If the Sphere gets built, it is likely to be only let as a construction management scheme with Mace, McAlpine and McLaren all reportedly interested.
MSG’s first Sphere scheme opened in Las Vegas at the end of September – two years late and costing nearly $1bn (£825m) more than its original budget.
Designed by Populous and project managed by RLB, Aecom was appointed general contractor to the job in summer 2019 but was removed the following year with MSG becoming general contractor after costs ballooned.