Sadiq Khan is being urged by City Hall politicians to refuse planning permission for a controversial rival to the O2 Arena, amid concerns over its impact on wildlife.
Members of the London Assembly’s environment committee have warned that the proposed MSG Sphere – a ball-shaped 21,500-seater arena and 1,500-capacity nightclub on a former Olympic coach park close to Stratford station – would produce disturbing light levels.
The project is backed by Madison Square Garden Entertainment, the company behind the famous venue in New York City. It received permission from the London Legacy Development Corporation – which controls planning decisions around the Olympic Park – in March 2022, but still requires sign-off from the mayor.
In February Michael Gove, the levelling-up secretary, issued a holding directive, preventing the project from progressing until he decides whether to “call in” the project for further scrutiny.
In a new report examining light pollution in London, the environment committee urged Khan to refuse the scheme permission, “when and if” it is passed back to him, “to prevent light pollution impacts on the surrounding environment and residents”.
The recommendation was supported by five of the seven committee members. Two Conservatives chose not to support it, citing concerns around “pre-determining” live planning applications.
The report also called for the mayor to devise a ‘light pollution strategy’ for the capital, noting that there is “strong evidence of the detrimental impacts of artificial light at night on the migration, reproduction and feeding patterns of bats, birds and insects”.
A spokeswoman for Khan did not directly respond to the report’s MSG Sphere recommendation, but said the mayor already asks boroughs to develop their own night-time strategies to address “all aspects of life at night”.
While it did not have any power over the application, Newham Council filed an objection and has asked Khan and Gove to stop the scheme.
Greenwich Council also filed an objection, saying that it was too close to the O2 and that the impact on transport networks such the Jubilee Line had not been properly considered.
AEG Europe, which operates the O2, has also spoken out against the project, saying last year: “[The Sphere] has been transposed directly from Las Vegas to a mixed-use area of London, with a significant volume of residential properties immediately adjacent to the development site – is the wrong development, in the wrong location and should be refused.”
A spokesman for the MSG Sphere declined to comment. The project’s website says “several steps” will be taken to reduce light pollution, including set operating hours and “fully-programmable” exterior lighting.
Zack Polanski, a Green member of the London Assembly and chair of the environment committee throughout its investigation, said: “The damage light pollution is causing to our environment is something that has gone unnoticed for far too long.
“These issues are exacerbated by the fact there is no national strategy in place, and the mayor has an opportunity here to make a real difference and to set the standard nationally.”
He added that the committee’s investigation had “highlighted the damage artificial light can have, and the threat it poses to wildlife and the biodiversity of London”.
Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain
Noah Vickers is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority, based at the Evening Standard. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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