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AEG urges Michael Gove to block MSG Sphere in East London

By | Published on Tuesday 21 February 2023

MSG Sphere

Live giant AEG has urged the UK government to block its rival MSG’s plan to build a big Sphere venue next to the Olympic Park in East London, after Michael Gove – as Secretary Of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities – recently indicated that he might intervene.

MSG wants to build in London a Sphere venue similar to the one it will open in Las Vegas later this year. The venue complex would have lots of hi-tech features, including it being covered by an LED skin that would beam out ads and other video content for big chunks of the day.

AEG has been a big critic of the proposal from the start, in particular arguing that the part of London where MSG wants to construct its Sphere is already well served when it comes to large-scale venues.

Within the Olympic Park there is the London Stadium and Copper Box, plus AEG’s own The O2 complex is just a few tube stops away. Adding in another venue complex would put a big strain on the local public transport network, AEG reckons, especially if all four buildings were to be in use at the same time.

There has also been plenty of criticism of the Sphere plan from local residents and politicians. That LED skin in particular has created concerns for those living near where the MSG venue would be built, them not being especially happy about the prospect of having an endless stream of ads beamed into their homes.

However, MSG has won the support of the London Legacy Development Corporation, which is still the planning authority for property developments in and around the site of the 2012 Olympics. It granted approval for the wider project last year and more recently signed off on the specifics of a 25 year licence that will allow MSG to pump out ads via that LED skin.

But, even with LLDC backing, the project also needs to be formally approved by London mayor Sadiq Khan, which means opponents to the Sphere plan continue to campaign against it, most recently targeting their campaigning efforts at City Hall.

Although there is now another route for possibly blocking the Sphere, because Gove has officially taken an interest. He last week issued a so called ‘holding direction’, basically telling the LLDC to “not to grant permission on the applications without specific authorisation”.

Welcoming that development, AEG said yesterday that “the LLDC’s decision to approve the MSG Sphere has been made against the backdrop of opposition unprecedented in the post-Olympics era, including from the majority of the area’s elected representatives. Gove’s intervention at this stage is significant because he has the jurisdiction to block the development entirely”.

Questioning the legitimacy of the LLDC and its planning powers in East London, AEG’s latest statement added that “the journey of the MSG Sphere application has highlighted the undemocratic nature of the LLDC’s planning process, exemplified last March when all the elected councillors representing the underlying East London boroughs voted unanimously against the MSG Sphere and approval was only secured for the controversial venue due to the votes of non-elected independent members, who voted as a bloc”.

It went on: “Many London stakeholders have questioned the democratic integrity of the LLDC, which is due to be disbanded at the end of 2024 – and have called for its significant planning powers to be discontinued and handed back to the local authorities in East London”.

The live giant’s EVP Real Estate And Development, Alistair Wood, then added: “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”, he continued, “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”.

Local MP Lyn Brown has also welcomed the latest development in the Sphere planning saga and urged Gove to block the proposed venue.

She wrote on Twitter last week: “Last year I wrote to the government and mayor of London about stopping the monstrous MSG Sphere. Michael Gove has now issued a legal notice and I’m hoping he’ll act. The undemocratic LLDC steamrolled all local elected opposition, so it’s only right to take the final decision out of their hands”.