London Mayor Sadiq Khan has rejected Madison Square Garden’s long-standing proposal to build a Sphere arena in London, less than two months after the company debuted its first Sphere project to critical acclaim in Las Vegas.
News of the rejection came by way of a letter from Khan to Anthony Hollingsworth, director of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), which oversees London’s Olympic Park properties. On Nov. 6, Hollingsworth had written to Khan to inform him that “the local planning authority is minded to grant planning permission” for the Sphere project. In the letter dated Monday (Nov. 20), Khan explained to Hollingworth that after considering a 111-page report commissioned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) advising the mayor to reject the plan, he was now ordering the LLDC to “refuse planning permission” for the venue.
A statement from Madison Square Garden Entertainment officials said they were “disappointed in London’s decision” but added, “There are many forward-thinking cities that are eager to bring this technology to their communities. We will concentrate on those.”
A proposal for the venue was submitted in 2018, and Sphere London initially survived key votes by the city’s local planning authority. But with his letter, Khan has seemingly doomed the project.
The mayor said his main reason for rejecting the proposal was the impact he believed the venue would have on the surrounding area, writing that Sphere would “cause significant light intrusion resulting in significant harm to the outlook of neighbouring properties.”
He also said the size of the venue — 300 feet high and 400 feet wide — “would result in a bulky, unduly dominant” facility” that failed “to respect the character and appearance of this part of the town centre and the site’s wider setting.” Lastly, he criticized the venue’s high “energy intensive use,” which he says “does not achieve a high sustainability standard, and does not constitute good and sustainable design.”
“GLA officers have concluded that to grant permission would be contrary to the Development Plan,” adds Khan in the letter, citing a document that lays out the spatial development strategy in London for the next 20 to 25 years. “[It] would prejudice the implementation of the policies within the Development Plan relating to residential amenity, good design, and the conservation and enhancement of London’s heritage.”
The Sphere project had previously faced pushback from some local residents as well as AEG, which operates London’s O2 Arena, located just four miles from the proposed site of the venue. In January, after the London Legacy Development Corporation’s Planning Decisions Committee greenlit MSG Entertainment to initiate work on the project, AEG called on Khan to reject the project in a statement that read in part: “The advertising façade is at a wholly unprecedented scale for London and totally out of keeping with the surrounding area. The design was conceived for the heart of Las Vegas and has been transposed onto this east London site: it’s the wrong design, in the wrong location.”