Stratford scheme at centre of planning row with US backer MSG Entertainment warning investors to be ‘wary’ of developing in London
Plans for the MSG Sphere venue in Stratford have been officially called in by the government in the latest planning twist to hit the controversial scheme.
Housing minister Lee Rowley called in the proposed 21,500-seat venue, designed by Populous, over the weekend following Michael Gove’s decision last week to put the plans on ice for a second time by blocking a decision by London mayor Sadiq Khan in November to reject the scheme.
Khan’s decision had overruled a vote by the London Legacy Development Corporation to approve the building in March last year.
Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, had already put the first question mark over the approval by issuing an Article 31 holding directive in February this year to temporarily prevent it going ahead.
The 90m-tall spherical venue, 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.
Khan had described the proposals as “nuisance-generating” in his rejection order last month, and had 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 said last week that the government’s decision to take control of the scheme’s planning process 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 responding to the move, 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.”
Sphere Entertainment has been contacted for comment on Rowley’s decision to call in the scheme.
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, Sir Robert 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.