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Christian Eede
27 February 2023, 19:40

London's controversial MSG Sphere development could be called in by government

Plans for the project have been halted by Michael Gove MP

London's controversial MSG Sphere development paused temporarily

Plans for the development of the MSG Sphere, a controversial new gig venue and immersive experience in London, could be called in by the government, The Evening Standard reports. 

A directive issued by Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), suggests that the government may wish to further scrutinise plans for the proposed 21,000-capacity, 90-metre-tall sphere-shaped venue, which is intended to be built near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Westfield shopping complex in Stratford.

Since it was first announced in 2019, plans for the venue's construction have been met with stiff opposition from a range of individuals and organisations. Those voices grew louder after planning permission was granted last year. In January of this year, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) approved advertising boards on the venue's exterior, which would be covered in triangular LED panels. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had yet to approve these plans. 

Gove is now said to have issued an Article 31 holding directive, which will temporarily block the LLDC and the Mayor of London from signing off further proposals for the venue while he decides whether or not to "call in" plans for further scrutiny. 

Newham Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz has reportedly urged the minister to call in the plans, saying: "I've consistently expressed concerns about the MSG Sphere and its adverse impact on our residents. I've written to Michael Gove asking that he call in the application for his determination...The health and well-being of Newham residents must come first."

If the project does ultimately go ahead as intended, it will become the biggest arena venue in the UK. There are also plans to add a smaller 1,500 capacity venue inside the building, as well as shops and restaurants.

The plans for the venue have been highly controversial, with those who oppose it having voiced concerns about the impact on local residents and the area, particularly due to its tall structure and the potential for light and noise pollution from the external LED panels that will surround the sphere-shaped structure. The panels would be in use from early morning through to 11pm, with over 1 million LEDs set to be put to use.

AEG, which runs another large London arena venue in The O2, has also objected to the development. Alistair Wood, of AEG Europe, said in a statement: "More than a decade after the Olympic Games, the LLDC's planning decision process is now at odds with the views of the communities that it was set up to support and develop.

"With the LLDC due to be disbanded at the end of next year, it would be democratic for the government to intervene and back the wishes of elected councils in east London who want this inappropriate development blocked to protect the wellbeing of local people and existing businesses.

"Since these proposals first emerged back in 2017, AEG has consistently raised its objections to the unacceptable impact that this proposal will have on the operation of The O2 and the hundreds of residents who will be even more directly affected."

In a statement shared with DJ Mag, a spokesperson for MSG Entertainment said: “MSG is pleased with the progress our planning application is making. We always expected the government to take the opportunity to review our application for MSG Sphere London and their formal notice has absolutely no impact on our plans in any way. MSG Sphere will bring unique entertainment experiences to London and deliver many cultural and economic benefits, including creating thousands of jobs and generating billions of pounds for the local, London and UK economy.”