Government minister gives lifeline to ‘London Sphere’ arena project

The plan to build a 21,500-capacity Sphere venue in East London, replicating the screen-covered, state-of-the-art, domed arena in Las Vegas, has been given a lifeline by UK government levelling-up secretary Michael Gove, writes Christopher Barrett. The minister stepped in to temporarily block London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s rejection of the controversial project.

The proposed venue, modelled on the Las Vegas Sphere, which was recently opened with a U2 residency, would be located in Stratford, just four miles from AEG’s O2 Arena (cap. 21,000). MSG Entertainment has submitted a planning application to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) to transform a 4.7-acre site which has been left empty since it was last used as a temporary coach park during the London 2012 Olympics.

In January, the LLDC’s Planning Decisions Committee gave plans for the MSG Sphere arena ithe green light subject to a five-year review, the final decision lying with the Mayor of London who last month moved to block the project. Among his stated concerns was that the venue, covered in a ‘skin’ of LED screen panels, would have an “unacceptable negative impact on local residents”.

Gove is understood to be considering taking control of the application and has issued a directive to the LLDC ordering it to pause the process of denying planning permission.

Gove wrote: “The Secretary of State hereby prohibits Your Local Planning Authority from implementing the Mayor’s direction of November 20 to refuse permission.”

The proposed project has met with resistance from Newham Council, neighbouring east London boroughs, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, the local MP, rail operators, Transport for London, Historic England, and residents. It has also been met with fierce opposition from AEG.

Following the news that Mayor Khan had rejected the project, AEG Europe executive VP of real estate and development Alistair Wood said, “We do not oppose competition in the live entertainment industry, and specifically do not oppose another large music venue in London. However, this proposal had fundamental flaws from the beginning. It was the wrong design, in the wrong location, and this was the right call.”


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