Caption for top photo

"Hello Radiolympia. This is direct television from the studios at Alexandra Palace!" *

THESE were the immortal words spoken to camera by Elizabeth Cowell and received at the big Radio show at Olympia, in West London. This was amongst similar test transmissions during August 1936, prior to the beginning of regular broadcasting just a couple of months later, on 2 November 1936.

Alexandra Palace was the birthplace of scheduled public, "high" definition television broadcasting in the UK and arguably, the world.

The American Modern Mechanix magazine of May 1935, described this as, England Will Broadcast First Chain Television Programs, to "Lookers".

BBC Studios A & B are the world's oldest surviving television studios.

YET in 2007, our People’s Palace was to be sold down the river by its very guardians – the Trustee – the London Borough of Haringey. The TV studios were to be destroyed with the connivance of the local council. Here is raw uncensored opinion and information about the scandal of the attempted fire-sale of our Charitable Trust’s asset, for property development. It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.

AFTER receiving a slap-down from the High Court (2007, October 5), two and a half years went by before the council finally abandoned its 15-year-old policy of "holistic" sale (i.e. lock stock and barrel). Then there was an attempt at partial sale ("up to two-thirds") to a music operator but without governance reform. To tart the place up for a developer, the council blithely sought about a million pounds towards this goal, a further sum of cash to be burnt.

THE local council has proved itself, to everyone's satisfaction, to have been a poor steward and guardian for over 20 years. Now, the master plan (below) developed under the new CEO Duncan Wilson OBE deserves to succeed.

It would be also be a big step forward to have a Trust Board at least partly independent of Haringey Council. 'Outside' experts would be an advantage. They'd likely be more interested, committed, of integrity and offer greater continuity. Bringing independent members onto the board and freeing it from political control would be the best assurance of success, sooner.


Firoka is out for good

The Alexandra Palace Trust issued the following
press release this afternoon (19 August 2008):

The Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust has received notification from Firoka Ltd that the developer is no longer interested in being involved in the future of Alexandra Palace.

This comes after over a year of negotiations between the Trust and Developer.

Matt Cooke, Chair of Trustees, said:
'As this option for moving forward closes I am determined that we will grasp the opportunity this now gives us to explore new ways of realising our objective of securing Ally Pally's future in an exciting and sustainable way.

'I will be taking proposals to the next meeting of the Board which will be about that future and learning the lessons of recent months, years and decades. The Trustees will now focus on reviewing the various options open to them in order to ensure that the charitable objectives of public resort and recreation are maintained. We will take this opportunity to ask the difficult questions and seek realistic proposals for the Palace's future.

'During this period of negotiation we have not been idle and a tremendous amount of work has been done in reinvigorating our trading company culminating in the appointment of a new Managing Director last week. This work gives us a solid foundation for the future - a future which could be tremendously exciting for the Palace.

'Local people and beyond see pure potential in the Palace, and we have a duty to Haringey and all of London to secure and realise this tremendous asset's future.'


Secrecy in Council decision-making

Or, Alexandra Palace and the code of omertà about the sale

THE intense secrecy pervading the sale of Alexandra Palace continues. The Palace is a Charity, paid for by all of us and whose beneficiaries are all of us. But its disposal, as a Developer Shell by Haringey Council to their favoured property developer, doesn’t feel like simply the sale of surplus land.

The sale is treated with all the secrecy of a big arms deal to a dodgy third-world dictator. Replete with bribes, kick-backs, immorality and government-subsidy, together with excuses of ‘commercial confidentiality’ – unlawful, but said to be in the interests of National Security. It’s surprising the press hasn’t been slapped with a D-notice!

Again and again, the Council uses commercial confidentiality to excuse the mystery about the deal. This is despite the fact that entering into these arrangements was ruled unlawful in the High Court last October and not least, because these arrangements were in defiance of the specific promise of a Government Minister in Parliament in 2004. The shady deal is currently stalled; since the High Court defeat, the silence from the developer himself has been deafening.

Even some Trustees of the main Trust Board have difficulty obtaining basic information from the coterie of council-cronies who control our charity.

Sometimes it is possible for the public to attend an entire Trust Board meeting. But often press and public are told to leave when the meeting agenda reaches Exempt Items. The items the council wants to conceal from the public are always labelled Exempt. These are said to be commercially sensitive but are probably politically sensitive or just plain embarrassing. They might reveal details of council ineptitude and the level of quality of the legal advice that the Council receives.

Some of the current negotiations about the sale of a Lease of 125 years, are believed to be about the need to provide for full disclosure (during the required Public Consultation) and to maintain commercial confidentiality (!)

Month after month, the general manager provides either verbal or written reports which say that there is nothing to report. The Council has been furnished with an Opinion from leading Charity Counsel, that shows that any Lease of AP cannot be solely for commercial purposes. But Haringey is unable to face the fact that this unlawful deal has to be called off.

What little information is released to the public, is carefully channelled and spun via the PR firm Lexington Communications, which our council-controlled Trust has employed at great cost since January 2005.

As for the two nominally autonomous committees which might be expected to have a say about the future of our Palace, the Council cares little what they might say. Nonetheless, the Council has artfully managed to muzzle those two watch dogs: the Statutory Advisory and the Consultative Committees.

Haringey council corrupts their proper independent functioning, by inviting favoured members of those committees to have access to documents on the strict condition that they are sworn to secrecy. By granting access to some members of those committees, the council divides those committees and extends the conspiracy of silence.

Those members selected for access will feel special and privileged and may do more than just keep quiet. They are likely to stifle any reservations they may have had and defend council policies against attack. But by agreeing to such restrictions, these members loose any basis for arguing that the documentation should be open to all, as it should be. Their position is compromised and their independence is shot. The Council has deployed the insidious technique of omertà in order to pervert both committees.

Each committee is also dependent on the council organisation for resources and facilities including venue, Minutes, administration and legal “advice”. The Consultative committee is chaired by the same Councillor who chairs both the main Trust Board and the Palace’s trading company.

Secrecy in local government is probably never likely to lead to good, well-rounded decisions. It can cover-up mistakes. An absence of scrutiny allows a culture of waste and inefficiency to develop. Councillors and council officers, of course, feel more comfortable in such a climate but it is not good governance.


• £3 mlln. loss to Council at Alexandra Palace Trust

IT IS REPORTED there is a £3,000,000 hole in the Council’s accounts caused by losses at the Alexandra Palace Trust. Mismanagement has been a chronic problem at the Council-controlled Trust, but the past year saw a ballooning of waste, mistakes and irresponsibility. The Council recklessly tried to give our Palace as a ‘developer shell’ to their favoured property developer (Firoka). And now the Charity Commission has opened a case about the matter, with two officers appointed.

The Trustees’ decision last year, to grant a temporary trading licence to Firoka, was like agreeing to sell one’s house for say, £1.5m. Then, on the day of Exchange-of-Contract, handing the keys over and giving vacant possession—without waiting for completion. All this, without taking any deposit, let alone receiving the purchase price.

Then, after you move out, you continue to pay the rates, gas, electricity, phone and insurance bills on your old house. You also still pay the wages of your old cook, cleaner and the gardener at your former home. And you pay for an odd-job man, plumber and electrician just as the new ‘owner’ requires. To do this, you’d have to be either a half-wit or Haringey Council.

The councillor-trustees agreed—probably unlawfully—to a similar sketch for our charity. With this background, is it any wonder that Firoka enjoyed such a long, profitable time in our house at our expense, before the Council reluctantly evicted them?

Despite spending three quarters of a million pounds on their own lawyers, the council appears meekly to have just signed every document placed in front of them by Firoka’s lawyers.

In May 2007, the current Trust Chairman inherited problems from the previous AP chairman, in the recurring cycle of this depressing saga. As the chairman has now been reappointed for another 12 months, sooner or later he and his fellow Trustees ought to begin to take responsibility. The likelihood is that in another 12 months the chalice will be passed on, without progress, to another set of inattentive amateurs.

As for this year’s £3.1 million loss that Haringey taxpayers are expected to make good, the chairman had this to say, probably drafted by Lexington Communications, the PR company employed by our charity:
“The Palace’s accounts are always discussed in open forum and this years’ discussions were no different, these figure have been a matter of public record for months. As unanimously agreed by councillors, a provisional deficit of £3.1 million is in line with the revised budget allocation confirmed by Haringey Council in the last financial year. Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust’s accounts are currently in draft and will be audited and agreed later this year as normal.”

Lexington’s language
  in effect means, ‘move along, there’s nothing to see here’. In attempting to pass off this huge loss as business-as-usual, the Board Chairman is correct in this respect: the poor decisions by the Councillor-Trustees are typical and they will continue – as long as Trustees are Councillors. A disaster is presented as not merely normal, its almost a matter for celebration. A unanimous vote that there is a deficit, is almost a triumph.

It seems presumptuous to state ahead of time and publicly, that the accounts … will be audited and agreed. An auditor of a private sector company would rightly take umbrage at such a statement, which no real CEO would be likely to make. Auditors are supposed to be independent. The chairman’s statement seems intended either to intimidate the auditor (as the trust bullies the Charity Commission), or it demonstrates little regard for the importance of the auditor’s function as an objective check on the Trust accounts.

The chairman also stated categorically that “We are not subject to any investigation by the Charity Commission”. And yet, when a member of the public asked the Council for an unredacted copy of the licence that permitted Firoka to occupy our palace, it was refused in writing by the Council itself, on the grounds that there was an on-going investigation. The apparent contradiction of this with the chairman’s statement, could be accounted for, if the running of our charitable trust by the Council is the subject of investigations by multiple regulatory agencies.

Most of the Trustees take little interest in this multi-million pound business. Trustees that do try to take an interest, are obstructed in obtaining the most basic information from the coterie of council-cronies who control our charity. One Trustee was informed that he would need to complete a formal Freedom of Information application to obtain a basic document.

Obsessive secrecy has long been a feature of this unfit-for-purpose body and the lack of scrutiny has led to huge losses. One bad decision begets and another bad decision. As a whole, the Trust Board has no shame and take no responsibility for their ineptitude. Meanwhile the opportunities of a community-based solution are brushed aside and council tax payer pick up the bloated bill for bungling.

Edited version
"Bill for Bungling has passed £3m"
Ham&High Broadway

Pally finances still in disarray'
published in Hornsey Journal,

16 July 2008


• A Civic Centre Casino – regeneration benefits?

HARINGEY Council intends shifting the Civic Centre up the road to Woodside House. Which leaves the big question of what to do with the old Civic Centre in Wood Green High Road?

This unlovely, uncared-for building needs re-development. Our Council Leader describes the current Civic Centre as “increasingly unfit for current requirements and inefficient, with an escalating maintenance bill.” As for future use, Cllr. Meehan said: “And we can deliver further regeneration benefits by releasing the existing civic centre site for an appropriate development.”

Has the Council considered converting the Civic Centre into a casino? Some councillors argued the case for a casino at Alexandra Palace in 2006, but were thwarted, at least temporarily.

The Council Chamber (renamed Casino Mayorale), would be a grand setting for roulette tables. The game with the highest stakes could be sited under the Mayoral dias, with one-arm bandits located where backbench councillors now sit. The long committee-room wing could house a large number of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), known colloquially as the crack-cocaine of gambling.

Necessary modifications would include: removal of any clocks; blacking out of windows, plentiful cheap food available on site and lots of lavatories. The big car park at the rear would encourage punters to come from beyond Haringey, enabling our Council to tax the residents of neighbouring Boroughs! Punters could be dropped off at the front porch by taxis and chauffeurs, just like the side entrance of the Ritz casino.

According to the Council report of 2006 Casino proposal at Alexandra Palace, a “Small Casino” would be permitted to have up to 80 category B gaming machines with a maximum jackpot of £4,000. But the volume of the Civic Centre would surely be sufficient to house a Large or Regional facility? The report argued strongly for the regeneration benefits of a casino at Alexandra Palace, saying that the impact of a casino at Alexandra Palace “would be of particular benefit to black and minority ethnic communities and socially excluded neighbourhoods,” so what is the Council waiting for? It surely follows that the larger the gambling premises, the greater the regeneration benefit?

The profits to the Council—and possibly to some Councillor supporters—would be huge and would take pressure off CPZ’s and parking fines as a means of lifting Council income (the social and family cost of such a facility is harder to quantify).

There would be no difficulty in obtaining a licence. The Council would apply to itself for a gambling premises licence just as it did with Alexandra Palace (the charitable trust it controls). Any licensing committee Hearing could be arranged to be chaired by one of the councillor casino-advocates, who might then finally get the full casino they want. We can find a precedent for that in the permission the Council gave itself in April for the off-track betting premises licence at Alexandra Palace.

Fortunately, gambling is not linked to crime. (Or at least, that’s what we were told by a solicitor acting for the licence Applicant at that Hearing, the Council-controlled company Alexandra Palace Trading Ltd.).

A Civic Centre Casino would be a fitting use for premises that have seen such gaming in the past and such gambling with the future of the Borough.


Beware bogus charity operating in this area

HARINGEY residents should beware of a bogus charity operating in this area. Using fraudulent claims, it has fleeced donors for huge sums over a long time, with the scam reaching a new intensity last year. Innocent donors do not suspect the true nature of this so-called “charitable” trust.

Do not hand over cash! Collectors for this charity are licensed by the Council but have been known to knock on doors and tell flat out untruths. Superficially respectable, they are easily identified by their pompous platitudes. Residents should close the door and refuse to believe claims made by it’s representatives.

Why should residents disbelieve it’s statements? Like all charities, this one has charitable aims and objectives, but unlike real charities, long ago these aims were forgotten. There is practically no charitable activity.

One example of the perversion of charitable aims occurred on Fireworks night last year. Donors had already paid for the fireworks for a display in a nearby park. Normally its costs are offset by profits from trading activities, but collectors held out plastic buckets into which the public were invited to make additional donations. Where did this cash go?

Unlike most charities, this one owns a valuable asset, rich in history and paid for (£100m?) over the years by donors. But it has been badly neglected. The trustees have been quietly trying to sell this huge asset, for a nominal sum, for property development. This would forever preclude any chance of fulfilling the original charitable aims.

The Charity’s solicitor has written to the Charity Commission, asserting that “casino use does fall within the objects of the Charity as a recreational activity”. The Salvation Army, this charity is not!

In most respects, this charity is run as a private limited company. Unlike most boards of directors, this one rips off its shareholders. It is self-perpetuating and in practice is run for the benefit of its top-heavy senior management and professional advisor-hangers-on.

It is this Borough’s largest expense account. One of the ways it can be distinguished from most charities is by the fact that the Trustees pay themselves cash out of charity funds. It’s fine by the rules under which they operate, but dubious under Charity rules. It conducts much of its business in secret.

Trustees are transitory and are not appointed for their professional expertise. One was overheard to say “I don’t know what’s going on” – they do not take responsibility for mistakes that have cost its donors dearly.

The ‘donors’ are every resident and taxpayer in Haringey. The charity is part of a municipal empire and its name is Alexandra Park & Palace (registered charity no: 281991). It’s trustees are Haringey Council.


Recall at Amnesia Palace

Or, does Alexandra Palace cause memory loss?

SOME TIME AGO, the Alexandra Palace Trust Solicitor claimed that
our charity had never made a profit in “living memory”. This was a curious phrase, but it does contain a clue to a peculiar condition affecting council officials who control our Palace.

The Trust’s solicitor clean forgot that the AP trading company made operating profits in several years and in the 10 years to 2006, was modestly profitable overall.

In the first Board meeting after the High Court stalled the sale of AP, the Trust Solicitor told Trustees said that the Lease had been made available to the public – but forgot that the Lease was deliberately concealed at the time of the Charity Commission’s Public Consultation and a redacted version was made available, only later.

Memory loss is normally associated with old age, but the Council officials responsible for our Palace seem to be affected prematurely.

What is the evidence for Memory-Loss Alexandra Palace Syndrome (M-LAPS)?

The AP sale documents were so secret that the Trust’s beneficiaries (us public) were not allowed to see a single page during the Charity Commission’s Public Consultation in December 2006. The Council stated they were subject to “commercial confidentiality”.

But in a Council debate about AP’s future in July last year, the Chairman of the Trust said that it was “all in the public domain”. He had no recollection of any Council secrecy over the sale.

Our young chairman appears the worst afflicted by M-LAPS. The plans for a casino at AP remain a total blank. He said to me and others that a casino was a “myth”, but forgot it’s on Firoka’s architects’ drawings.

During the recent mayoral election, the chairman of our charitable trust was out canvassing for Ken. At least one Wood Green resident was told on the doorstep that, it is written into the Lease that it would be illegal to have a casino on the premises (!?). This is a big confusion.

If the chairman had read the Lease, then he completely forgot that, in the four brief paragraphs of clause 3.12 Restrictions affecting use of the Premises, there is not a word about casinos. But the lease is not silent on the subject of casinos: seven short paragraphs earlier (, the Borough of Haringey expressly gives permission to Firoka for use as a small casino.

The AP chair has insisted that a casino cannot happen, but the poor chap forgot that his own council already gave permission in the legally binding Lease. And this was drafted and agreed after the council executive voted against applying for a casino licence in 2006 at Golden Alexandra Palace. Such a muddle could cost taxpayers money if Haringey does renege on that contractual promise.

(The Council reminds us of the executive’s ad hoc decision not to apply for a casino licence at one time. But they forget that there has been no Full Council Resolution to institute a no-casino policy, leaving the door open to the casino wanted by at least one Member of the Executive, Councillor Lister.)

The forgotten Victorian Theatre, magically preserved in a time warp seems to have been overlooked by the Trust Board and may face an uncertain future with the Council’s favoured property developer, along with the Willis organ. Both were largely ignored in the ‘holistic’ sale of the entire building to the property developer.

Everyone associated with the property disposal overlooks that the so-called “old” and “disused” studios, are in fact the first television studios in the world. But the area of BBC Studios A & B are remembered in the plans: they’re earmarked for office space.

After prompting, the chairman managed to remember that the Lease gives permission for an office in the building, but due to chronic M-LAPS, he could not recall that it is to be 30,000 square feet’s worth of commercial office space in our charity’s premises.

THE CHAIRMAN's Xmas blog promised more openness and information. Months later, that is forgotten. The Trust Board always remembers how to exclude the press and public from the parts of meetings that are exempt (i.e. secret and embarrassing), but forgets that our Charitable Trust was set up for the benefit of the public.

Was M-LAPS responsible for the failure to renew the temporary licence to Firoka, whose Period expired on 1st August 2007, but whose occupation – and hyper-profits – lasted another five months before their eviction?

Is there something debilitating in the building that induces M-LAPS? Is it asbestos dust? Perhaps the world’s first television mast emits magnetic pulses which erase parts of Councillors’ memories. Or is it stress and exhaustion that causes M-LAPS at Amnesia Palace?

Ham & High
29 May 2008


• Is the Firoka deal dead or not?

THE CHAIRMAN of the Alexandra Palace Board of Trustees (for at least another month) recently wrote that “the Trust continues to explore” how to achieve the significant investment needed for the palace.

This may or may not be news to Firoka, the property developer with which the London Borough of Haringey signed a 125 year lease for our charity’s asset.

For some time now, the Trust and its PR company Lexington have claimed that Firoka will deliver £75m or £55m or - most recently – £45 million of “investment”. Why does the exploration for cash continue? Has the Trust in fact lost its way?

The contract with Firoka specifically promises a Casino in the User Clause section. Despite much obfuscatory bluster, this is not denied. The chairman has not yet offered an explanation for the casino clause or even acknowledged it. Is the reason for no comment that this Clause is a matter of embarrassment to the Council? Perhaps the next chairman will address it.

Another sign the deal is dead is that the Chairman has, for the first time, publicly opined that the casino “would be totally inappropriate at the Palace”. Is the reason that this was not said earlier, because of a fear of offending Mr Kassam, who insisted that there was the promise of a casino in the contract? But if the whole deal is off, it is now safe to make such a bold statement? Is this leadership?

If a casino fails to materialize at AP, it will be because either the whole Firoka deal is off or because Haringey renege on its promise to Firoka of a casino in the legally enforceable lease. The later to cost the Council a lot of money, but hey, its only our money they would pay to Firoka in damages!

For the past two years, the Council has described Firoka as its “Preferred Development Partner”

When Firoka were evicted from Alexandra Palace in December, following their unlawful occupation, the Trust issued some kind of ultimatum to Firoka.

This was followed in January with what the chairman then described as receipt from Firoka of a statement expressing the “clarity” the Trustees had been seeking and “fresh commitment” from their preferred partner. The commitment that was fresh then, now looks stale and even rancid.

And recently we heard a renewed offer to takeover AP from the current London Mayor, in which the Haringey council leader expressed glee and interest. Is this another signal the Firoka deal is dead?

The chairman is keen on always being clear, or at least saying he wants to be clear. Can he please clarify whether or not the Firoka deal is on or off? Will the Trust proceed with the Firoka deal or consign it to the dustbin where it always belonged? The uncertainty is not helpful and some of the Trust’s concerned beneficiaries would like to know.

The chairman’s commitment to openness “in the coming months” was first made last Christmas, four months ago. Since then we have had the normal secretiveness and repeated exclusion of press and public whenever there needs to be discussed something that is politically embarrassing. The public – the beneficiaries – needs fewer vacuous platitudes and more information from this shady Trust.
Hornsey Journal
30 April 2007


Essential discipline

… But in a statement defending the spending Alexandra Palace Trading Company said:

"In the context of attempting to secure this massive investment to restore the Palace, we think people will understand that associated costs on advisers, legal fees and other expertise is money well spent.

The figures from this pressure group conflate spending with several different firms of advisers in several different essential disciplines over several years. It would be bizarre to suggest that the senior management and Trustees would have gone into a £45million negotiation with a property developer without legal advice, or that the trust does not merit the best advisers in essential areas.

Such claims just show how those focused on a single issue don't 'get' what it is going to take to really save Alexandra Palace".
Statement made to Ham and High newspaper
10 April 2008


THE STATEMENT from the Alexandra Palace Trading Company, defending the blazing spending again comes from a unnamed spokesperson. The statement uses PR phraseology and almost certainly comes from APTL’s expensive public affairs company, Lexington Communications. This PR company specializes in crisis management and are themselves a big part of the burning of our cash (£182 k worth of smoke and rising).

Yet again, the AP Trustees hide behind anonymous spin doctors instead of taking personal responsibility for their decisions.

APTL-Lexington’s argument, in essence, is that the big spending is a sprat to catch a mackerel; that the millions already gone are justified because they will gain much more from the sale. If this was truly the context, the spending might make sense.

First, the sale price is reported to be a derisory £1.5 million – a sum never denied by APTL and a sum now well exceeded by the sale costs. Secondly, the “massive investment” intimated by Firoka has been variously reported as £75m, £55m and now £45 million (what is it?).

APTL knows how much of these fantastic sums, allegedly to restore the palace, that they have received so far: not one penny. All these figures are illusory and none of them will materialize.

Last year Firoka served notice that they reserved the right to withdraw without notice; not even a single penny of the agreed sale price was received. In their hearts, the members of the AP Board know the truth about the extent of good faith demonstrated so far by their ‘preferred development partner’.

What Lexington language cannot re-cast is the reputation, in Oxfordshire over many years, of the Developer-of-Last-Resort. The Kassam Stadium, the Oxford United Football club and the deal with Oxford City Council are all public information. If ordinary members of the public can Google about this, why didn’t our local Council exercise due diligence on the reliability and trustworthiness of their ‘preferred partner’?

Lexington would have us believe the Trust Board has behaved responsibly. Nothing could be further from the truth! We think people will understand this by reading the High Court Judgment and the latest set of Alexandra Palace accounts.

The PR company adapts the truth when they say “the figures [have come] from this pressure group". As Lexington well know, the figures were required to be supplied by law from Haringey Council. They were provided unlawfully late and only after formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Lexington insinuate that SAP have exaggerated the wasteful spending. They try to minimize the size of the bonfire by saying that the figures conflate spending over “several” years – as stated, these figures are for the 24 months to November 2007. They may under-represent spending on the fire-sale, because there will have been sale-related spending before and after this period. The extent of spending on APTL’s law firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite is unknown and not included, because although asked for under the FoI Act, it was declined with flimsy excuse.

Lexington described the spending as being on “essential disciplines”. Interesting choice of words – would that be like the discipline the Council exercised over the Palace rebuilding costs in the 1980s or are we expected to believe that spending is now under strict discipline? The only discipline that is essential, is a flogging of the AP Board for wasting so much of our money!

Most of us would be wise to seek good legal advice if buying or selling property. It might be thought unsurprising that a PR firm raises in this context the subject of the need for legal advice.

It beggars belief that a PR company, even one specializing in crisis management, would have the brass neck to imply that in this case, the £800k plus spent on law firms, has been money well spent on the best advice and expertise.

Thanks to the Judicial Review, some of the veil of obsessive secrecy over the agreed Lease was lifted. We now know that this was a disastrous deal for the public who are the beneficiaries of the Trust. For all the protection we have, the Lease might as well have been written by the property developer’s lawyers (as it was) – and then simply signed by the Council without legal representation. That would have saved a lot of money. The £800,000 of lawyers’ fees bought us … nothing.

It would be interesting to know what Lexington has charged us – via the our charity – for their 120-word sound-bite of distortion, but we probably won’t see a breakdown to that detail. At our cost, Lexington send an spin-doctor to each Alexandra Palace Board meeting. Lexington will soon have a real crisis management job to perform on behalf of their client and it will be interesting to see how fast they can really spin!

Finally, the PR company misrepresents the role of the Save Ally Group campaign group whom they describe, not for the first time, using typical Lexington-language as a ‘single issue’ group. The mouthpieces of slave-owners probably described William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery campaign as ‘single-issue’. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a single issue, especially if it’s a good one. The main focus of SAP is to oppose the Council’s shameful deal.

However, SAP’s aims also include the preservation of the world’s first television studios (so casually abandoned by Haringey) and safeguarding the ‘Father’ Willis Organ and the Victorian theatre. And not least, to change the trustees away from the transitory local Councillors who have proved so inept over so long. SAP has already presented a positive alternative, The Way Forward.

The present managers are living in a detached bureaucratic-world where they seem to believe the amount of paper that they and their lawyers generate is equal to the likelihood of the Firoka fire-sale going through. It is those currently in charge of AP who do not “get it”, that giving away our charity asset to The Property Developer-of-Last-Resort, does not count as saving it!


Trust the lawyers, charity begins at home

MORE than £800,000 has been incinerated in Haringey Council’s futile attempt to sell our charity’s main asset, Alexandra Palace, by payments to law firms.

Via the Alexandra Palace Trust which it controls, Haringey has once again lost control in a firestorm of spending on lawyers. The following figures were obtained from the Council only after formal requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

They comprise £345,000 paid to the Trust Solicitor’s firm Howard Kennedy and a further £452,833 went up in smoke to Berwin Leighton Paisner (in both cases, only for the 24 months to November 2007). The monies paid to another law firm, Bates Wells and Braithwaite, is an undisclosed amount. All these law firms have a vested interest in flogging the dead horse of the sale of our People’s Palace.

On 13 February 2007 the Alexandra Palace Trust Solicitor wrote to the Charity Commission (para. 5.2.7):
“The Trustees accept the representations that the TV studios are part of the national heritage. However, the Trustees are without funds.”
But he could easily have added,
“but thankfully that problem doesn’t apply to my firm”.
The Trust’s Solicitor has enjoyed that role for many years. The regular turnover of Trustees, due to their being elected politicians, has meant that in practice, the persistent managers and advisors enjoy unusual and overweening power that they are able to exploit.

One of the reasons our Trust has less money than it would otherwise have, is because so much of our Charity’s cash has been transferred to the law firm hangers-on in connection with the flawed and failing attempt to sell the People’s Palace.

The Trust Solicitor guided the Trust through the field of Charity Law in the effort to dispose of AP to a property developer. The trail eventually lead to the High Court with the Trustees listed as the First Interested Party. Last year, the Trust’s Solicitor’s fees to our Charity were even larger than normal for two reasons.

Firstly, with the Judicial Review, the Trustee’s costs were run up in the belief (wrongly, as it turned out) that those costs would eventually be awarded against the Applicant, Jacob O’Callaghan. Secondly, not only was the Trust obliged to pay its own self-inflated costs, but the Judge also directed that the Trust, thanks to their conduct, must pay half the costs of Mr O’Callaghan.

Thus, the ordinary taxpayer has been burnt twice because of the conduct of the Trust and its principal legal advisor.

The process of needing to satisfy various statutes lead to an unusual situation which would be unfamiliar to many lawyers. It was at least as important to get the deal finished as to get a good deal for the client paying him (the Council controllers). In order to convince the Charity Commission of the merits of the case for sale, the lawyer advising his client as seller was also, in effect, representing the interests of the buyer.

We now know that it was a terrible deal for us public as beneficiaries of the Trust, whose interests appear to have been represented by no one.

This blurring of normal legal relationships lead to unusual representations. For example, on 7 July 2006, the Trust Solicitor wrote to the Charity Commission (extract from letter forced into the public domain thanks to the Judicial Review) arguing,
“that casino use does fall within the objects of the Charity as a recreational activity”.
Was he acting for us beneficiaries of the Trust, or for the property developer? The Council’s favoured property developer is well known to want a casino at Alexandra Palace and casino use was later specifically agreed to by the Council at User Clause

Huge legal bills will keep burning for the foreseeable future as the Trust is hell-bent on flogging the Palace to Firoka. If the process ends up in the High Court again, the Trustees will be defeated again and legal costs will be generated again.

Just two things seem to be missing in this farrago from the Council: judgement and leadership.


• Crisis too big for crisis managers

AP crisis not responsibility of PR crisis managers

THE High Court defeat (October) of the Alexandra Palace Trustees saw costs were awarded against them, severe criticism and the quashing of the shady sale of the whole Palace to Firoka for £1.5m.

It could be said that the policies of the Board of Trustees (Haringey Council) are in crisis and in need of the attention of professional crisis managers.

But shouldn’t the flawed policies of the majority group be defended by the elected politicians responsible for them, rather than getting one of London’s most expensive PR companies to put a gloss on what is going on?

More than that, why are our funds, public funds, nay, charity funds being used for this purpose? Wouldn’t it be better that this money was spent on maintenance of our Trust’s main asset, something Haringey has been remiss over in recent times?

For example The chairman now claims the world’s first TV studios are “riddled” with contamination and that that contamination is “serious”. Why wasn’t this job – started 20 years ago – finished? It is said that an extra £225,000 is needed to finish the job, so the public can visit them again.

In the last two years, our Alexandra Palace Trust, a registered Charity and overseen by local Councillors, has paid over £182,000 to one of London’s largest public relations companies. Lexington Communications boast on their website that they specialize in Crisis Management.

Some of this vast sum was spent in an effort to show that the publicity for the tendering exercise was huge and so as never to be repeated. The tender that lead to a “preferred development partner” (i.e. the developer-of-last-resort) that lead to the consultation and then to the High Court.

Alexandra Palace, mismanaged by Haringey Council since 1980, is certainly in need of better public relations but spending all that money on PR doesn’t change the facts on the ground.

The local Council lost control of re-building costs after the fire of 1980 and (unlawfully) lumped their huge cost overruns onto the accounts of the AP Charity. Now other costs appear to have been allowed to spiral away. Who is in control?

PR spin cannot substitute for well-thought-through policies in the first place. They cannot disguise the fact that Haringey has made a mess of the sale of AP in the same way that they’ve made a mess of the management for years.

In truth, we need new, non-political Trustees. Trustees who have the long-term interests of AP at heart and who are not trying simply to sell the idea of a sale. We need spokesman who do not need to speak through PR firms at great public expense in order to persuade us, because they would be committed, responsible people of integrity and would naturally speak the unalloyed truth.


Open letter from Jacob O'Callaghan

"To the Mayor and all Councillors, London Borough of Haringey as Trustee of Alexandra Palace

Dear Mr Mayor and Councillors,


YOU know from previous letters to you all that I challenged the financial information on which the application to the Charity Commission was made for the "holistic" disposal of the whole Palace. I then successfully applied for Judicial Review of the Commission's Order authorizing the lease, on the obvious grounds of insufficient information given to objectors. The Alexandra Palace, a building of national and international importance, is governed by Acts and Orders of Parliament.

IN COURT the judge placed heavy emphasis on the undertaking of Fiona Mactaggart MP to Parliament in proposing the 2004 APP Order that there would be sufficient public consultation about any proposed lease. He was astonished that the Commission, and the Trustees, appeared to have ignored this solemn promise to Parliament.

OF COURSE, what Ms Mactaggart had also solemnly promised Parliament during the debate in answer to concerns raised by MPs, and the Commission and Trustees and their advisers had equally overlooked, was that any proposed lease would not be allowed simply to be a commercial one.

I AM sending to you with this letter a copy of a legal Opinion I have obtained on behalf of the Save Ally Pally Campaign from Francesca Quint, a well- respected charity law barrister who has been legal adviser to the Charity Commission, about the extent of the legal powers and restrictions of the Mayor and Burgesses of Haringey regarding leasing the Alexandra Palace, This has already been sent to the Charity Commission and the Attorney General via the Treasury Solicitor. Our solicitor sent it to Howard Kennedy, solicitors to the Board, so that it be brought to the attention of the trustees as well. I am re-sending it now to members for ease of reference in time for Tuesday's Board meeting.

WHAT this Opinion now confirms is that the 2004 APP Order does not allow the grant of a long lease of the Palace simply to earn a financial return. The User Clause of any lease granted by the trustees must continue to safeguard the continued free use of the Palace for recreational - that is, charitable recreational and educational - purposes. ("Recreational" has, in a charity context, a more restrictive meaning than its common use.)

WE are advised, and we feel it would be in the interests of all parties and helpful to pass on this advice to the charity trustees, that the scope of consultation by the Commission about any new application for an Order authorizing any lease would have to take account of the principles in Mrs Quint's analysis, if that consultation is not to be again challengeable by judicial review.

WE have now had sight after various FoI applications of most of the putative Master Agreement, the Lease and the Project/Building Agreement. So we are, additionally, quite confident on the basis of this Opinion that these agreements would have in any event not survived a separate challenge in the Chancery Division under charity law should the JR not have succeeded, as will any similar new agreement most if not all of whose terms, of course, will now have to be disclosed to the beneficiaries of the charity in connection with any new consultation.

WE believe that the trustees must require of those negotiating for Haringey that the basis of any negotiations must be that any new agreement must be fundamentally different from the former one, in the light of this Opinion and the continuing public concern and opposition to what has been disclosed including ensuring public access to and preservation of the historic TV studios, to CUFOS and to other areas, by a requirement to sub-lease them at a peppercorn or no rent to charitable or not-for-profit bodies, which the trustees have powers to do, and ensuring preservation of the Willis organ.

HOWEVER Keith Holder, who has been conducting the negotiations with Iain Harris, has told the recent meeting of the Statutory Advisory Committee that he thought that there would be no fundamental change in the terms; in which case the trustees should direct that no further time nor money is wasted on pointless further talks with Firoka.

IT IS irrelevant, though ironic, that while I and the Save Ally Pally campaign were imaginatively accused by an anonymous poison pen letter of somehow being both a front for the Liberal Democrat party and at the same time in the pay of the unsuccessful bidder for the lease, the company which a Labour council were proposing to make an agreement with, Firoka Limited, contributed (as is its right) £10,000 to Mr David Cameron's election as Leader of his party, and another £8,000-odd to the Conservative Party itself, as recorded on the Electoral Commission's current register on their web site. In fact our campaign has members of all three main parties, and none.

HOWEVER, since the Palace is an educational charitable trust and you also must undertake due diligence, please do carefully reconsider a 125 year lease to a developer
  • whose principal was described in an Evening Standard article as going "From slum landlord to Mr Ally Pally" (2 February 2006, and see entry on Mr Kassam in Wikipedia);
  • whose dealings with Oxford City Council regarding Oxford United's ground, and what they have ended up with, are now publicly bitterly regretted by that Council (not to mention Oxford United fans) and apparently the subject of challenge by Oxford's District Auditor for not providing best value (see for instance
and subsequent articles);
  • who proposed gambling casinos, which are known to attract crime, as suitable uses both at Oxford and in the Palace, an educational charity much used by children;
  • who apparently demanded, and got, a late change in the Master Agreement so that it could claim completion of the lease while the Order was yet subject to Judicial Review;
  • who then threatens you with possible court action;
  • who occupied the Palace for eight months, under yet another secret arrangement, at the charity's expense, during which time we and local press were sent accounts of allegedly terrible staff relations, and
  • who it seems pocketed, under this agreement, perhaps over a million pounds of profits which should have gone to the charity, thus necessitating a huge subvention from council funds; and
whether some of this surely merits just a few second thoughts about what Haringey and London may be saddled with for 125 years.

Perhaps Board and Council members should also give some thought to who was responsible we do not really know for advising them and protecting their and the charity's interests, regarding all this.

Surely there are better alternatives to that. Save Ally Pally is saying that there is an alternative. We have, of course, no connection whatever as a group with any unsuccessful tenderer: we simply believe that another option is viable and preferable and in the best interests of the charity. Some of our members are helping to prepare a formal submission to you and the Commission, because the presence of viable and preferable alternatives to alienation of the main asset must weigh on the Commission in reviewing any renewed application by the trustee for an Order.

I am writing personally to you because firstly, I really do not want the charity or the council to clock up any more bills than necessary for legal correspondence; and secondly because we should surely be all on the same side as residents of Haringey, in wanting the best deal for both the people of London as beneficiaries, and the council taxpayers of Haringey, in ensuring the future of this landmark, world-famous building and its park.

We would rather we did that in partnership than at loggerheads, and the energy and passion of our campaign was applied constructively in finding permanent solutions ensuring the Pally's future rather than years of legal battles with the trustees. The choice now lies with yourselves.

Best wishes

Jacob O'Callaghan

cc Lynne Featherstone MP, David Lammy MP, Howard Kennedy, Solicitors to the Trustee


Why all the secrecy about the agreed Lease?

UNLAWFUL secrecy was the main reason why the High Court quashed the first attempt to sell Alexandra Palace. But why was the secrecy about the Lease so great?

The Trustees remain embarrassed at what was revealed in court about what they were prepared to agree to and probably are still prepared to agree to, in the Lease.

The recent letter by the current trust chairman deliberately avoids relevant clauses in the final Lease agreed between the Council and Firoka.

A difference in weight attaches to promises made, on one hand, by a transitory councillor, to the public in a letter to a newspaper and on the other hand, promises made by the London Borough of Haringey to a property developer in a 125-year Lease, plus Master and Project agreements, all legally binding.

The Trust chair is a continuous supporter of the Lease. On 5 October 2007 he sat in court and watched it quashed. Within days he vowed to run it again.

Office Plan: the secret size:
The figure for the area for commercial offices has not been denied. In the secret Firoka User Clause (No. it is shown as 2,788 square metres, which sounds less than 30,000 square feet. This change-of-use alone might be worth £18 million pounds to Firoka.

The true size of office development was not even hinted at in the Palm Court Display and the sheer scale was one of the biggest secrets in the Lease. Sketchy outline proposals never showed how the huge swathe of offices might spill into the East wing.

Firoka’s architects’ plans showed – in place of the world’s first television studios – the single word ‘office’. There’s a difference between an office and thirty thousand square feet’s worth.

Surprisingly, the chairman holds up the Palm Court Display as a model of consultation. Yet he sat in court the whole day when it was analyzed for its worth as consultation. The Palm Court effort was found so unsatisfactory that it contributed to the High Court defeat (including costs awarded against the Trustees because of their conduct). However, in deciding on the unlawfulness of the overall Consultation, the biggest factor for the Judge was the secrecy of the Lease.

Unsurprisingly, the Trustees do not speak about this court defeat. Full details online at:

The council itself may not be keen on the idea of a casino, so why did they nonetheless agree to a casino in the Lease? The Firoka User clause contains:
    use as a small casino (as referred to in section 7(5)(c) of the Gambling Act 2005).
If, in order to licence a new casino, Council had to apply to the Casino Advisory Panel by the end of March 2006, as claimed, why did Haringey agree to provide for a casino in the Lease by the end of that year? If a casino was mere “talk … back in 2005” as claimed, why did the Council agree to the casino clause in the Lease in 2007?

The secret casino clause is in the contract stalled by court action in October, and it would be in force already, but for the quashing secured by Jacob O’Callaghan.

The chairman claims that “a casino is simply not possible”. Firoka must believe a casino is possible, otherwise they would not have thought it worthwhile to insist on the clause. Since the Council has already approved the casino-clause, it will be harder to refuse a casino licence at a later date; Firoka could lever this clause in court.

Casinos may become popular in the next 125 years and a future lessee could say that the Trustees are behaving unreasonably in withholding permission. The casino Lease clause is the fulcrum on which a future Lessee can force the Trustees to approve the casino already in the Lease.

Will the clause still be in the Lease that the Council still wants to run? Is APTL still applying for a permanent track-betting premises licence on behalf of Firoka? The clause and permission reinforce each other.

World’s first TV studios:
After the 1980 fire, huge public monies were spent on rebuilding. One of the jobs undertaken was to remove asbestos from the studios. How much money was spent on the first removal work and why was that not completed? If Council-approved work was not done fully, how big a task would it be to finish the job?

Buildings are either contaminated or not, but it is claimed that the studios are contaminated “seriously”. Is this a smokescreen or is the councillor prepared to publish the inspection reports? Publishing these reports would be in the spirit of openness and accountability claimed.

Even if there is some contamination, would that be a good enough reason to demolish the world’s first television studios? Is Firoka aware of the magnitude? Thus far, the issue doesn’t seem to be a problem for Firoka, who would replace the studios with an ‘office’.

Asbestos is a mineral. It is not nuclear waste but asbestos dust is hazardous. If it exists, it is a technical issue and manageable. It is far easier to deal with, than the toxic talk of a trustee seeking to demonize an old building material for political purposes.

It took an Act of Parliament to permit a term as long as the 125 years of this Lease. If any lease is sufficiently long, in the marketplace it acquires the characteristics of a Freehold. For practical purposes, a ‘lease’ of this length is as bad as a freehold sale.

A long lease is a negotiable asset and can be used as security and borrowed against. The Lease can also be sold on, which could be how Firoka intend to make their killing. An ultra-prime seven-acre building-site with panoramic views over Europe’s biggest city is worth more than £1.5 million.

Much hot air is spoken about plans for Alexandra Palace. What counts is what is in the enforceable, legally-binding Lease. And that is the document about which the chairman says little.

Abridged version published in Ham & High Broadway
7 February 2007


• Ally Pally Fact or Fantasy – Charity Begins At Home

CLLR Matt Cooke, Chairman of The Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust (APCT) is unable to separate fact from fiction in his letter of 31st January edition of the Ham and High. His letter has provided a one sided view and is not presenting the truth of the horrors that await us should Firoka get the lease.

CLLR Matt Cooke is a fantasist if he wishes the public to believe in his and the trustees desperation that to flog Alexandra Palace on a 125 year commercial lease is in the public or charity’s best interests. Firoka, naturally, want to buy it on Firoka’s commercial terms i.e. on the cheap. It must be remembered that the Council have spent over £50 million pounds after the 1980 fire to the mid 1990s, funded by an insurance claim and £8.5m dowry from GLC. This ended up being £30 million over budget, paid by the taxpayer, and unauthorised by the Charity Commission. Since the rebuild, the Council have been charging Alexandra Palace approx £1m p.a. of interest out of Alexandra Palace profits. In the Firoka sale, the £30 million overspend can never be repaid to the taxpayer anyway. It is a travesty therefore that the Council now wish to give Alexandra Palace away to a developer on the taxpayer’s behalf.

CLLR Cooke’s letter states that APCT as the landlord will ‘oversee the development ensuring all the covenants are met’. This is another fantasy. This is a Board that has allowed Firoka to move in and take over trading without lease being signed. APCT’s legal advice here seems to have been questionable at the very least as Firoka were allowed to occupy Alexandra Palace and its businesses at the same time as the Charity Commission Order was issued in May 2007. It is normal for 3 months to elapse in case a Judicial Review manifests. Cllr Cooke omitted to say all its revenue income from May 2007 till January 2008 were kept by Firoka who have not paid rent or upkeep. APCT are left with but not restricted to £2.46m debt projected over 12 months due to dear PR (Lexingtons -£182200 since Jan 05), poor legal representation and excessive retainer fees for consultant managers.

Unprotected under this commercial lease are the first TV Broadcasting Studios in the world, a Victorian Theatre, the finest 100ft concert Willis Organ in Europe and CUFOS. Haringey Council is deliberately making the financial position of Alexandra Palace worse and further neglecting the gems it has in its charge on our behalf. Imagine what could have been if the Council had used some of this expenditure to develop these hidden treasures!

The highlight of Cllr Cooke’s letter, out of so many that beg to be addressed, is the TV Studios. These have been closed for years out of the public gaze according to Cllr Cooke and The Council due to asbestos ‘contamination’. It is the public’s right to see these reports since this is the only reason as to why the Council will not allow anyone in.

Clearly it is not in Firoka’s interest as a developer to renovate the 1936 studios. It is a pity that Cllr Cooke himself doesn’t think that the television studios are part of his heritage :
‘TV studios would be left untouched until year 3 of the development in order to allow for those wanting to create a facility celebrating their heritage to compile their business plans, raise cash needed and then work with the Trust and Firoka to develop them’.
Its sheer fantasy to expect Firoka interests to lie with the setting up of a national television media centre when the APCT have already allowed 30,000 sq feet of office space in the lease to go over the site of the TV Studios, after 2 years have lapsed. It does not guarantee the first TV Broadcasting Studios in the world will be in their original location and to a diminutive scale. Further, the developer is to charge a market rent and grant between 15 to 20 years term maximum.

Should a world tourist attraction and heritage site not deserve terms greater than a 20 year commercial lease? When Firoka comes to assign the lease for Alexandra Palace or parts of it, does that mean the new owner may not renew?

The fact is that the lease, apart from being commercial, is weighted to Firoka. It states that the accommodation of the TV Studios Museum is not to exceed 558 m2. How did APCT arrive at this exact figure? Why not state it as a minimum?

In July 2006, The Alexandra Palace TV Group handed a 1600 signature petition to Keith Holder, then Consultant General Manager of Alexandra Palace, now Consultant Development Manager and driving force negotiating the Firoka sale. In presenting the petition to APCT, Mr Holder had summarised the petition and some say weakened the presentation, as none of the numerous comments were reported to the Trustees. It is not surprising that Haringey Council did not want the detailed contents of the lease be known to the trustees let alone be made public and precisely why Lord Justice Sullivan quashed the Charity Commission’s Order to grant the lease in October 2007.

The objects and purposes of The Ally Pally charity were set out in the 1900 Act, s 17: "the park palace and other lands shall be available for the free use and recreation of the public for ever". This would not be so if the Alexandra Palace were sold to Firoka under a commercial lease.

It is vital that APCT actively preserve the historic areas of Alexandra Palace and open up the building for greater use as befitting its charitable status for us, the beneficiaries. It is timely now to change APCT from a board of councillors to a board of experienced and capable CEO and trustees who can develop each area of Alexandra Palace operations to expand its existing profit, pride and jobs in Haringey for our lifetime and future generations. Lets not give it away, charity begins at home.

L Zilkha
Guest Writer


• Flogging the failing Firoka deal at AP

SO THE Alexandra Palace Board is still trying to flog the failed Firoka deal. The smell of big profits means that Firoka overlook the behaviour of their partner and has given a ‘fresh commitment’, whatever that means. The Chairman claims that “Firoka has provided the clarity the board wished to see”. For the public, the only clarity is the clarity of named documents obtained from Haringey Council, grudgingly, under the Freedom of Information Act.

The reported sale price agreed is £1.5 m and that figure has almost certainly now been exceeded by sale costs. The deal only makes sense to the property developer-of-last resort.

It would be easier to believe that the AP Board will keep its responsibilities as guardian of this precious and much-loved building uppermost in mind”, if the Board had not already agreed to a huge swathe of commercial offices (30,000 square feet) and to demolish the world’s first television studios. In the agreed Lease, there is also provision for a casino. The Chairman said the casino was a myth and was not in the final proposals. A casino is arguably not within the aims of our Charity.

In his High Court Witness Statement, Mr Kassam of Firoka attested
“If the deal that was finally agreed, after an extremely long negotiation process … and which has cost so much … for both FAP and/or Kings Cross, is not allowed to complete in the terms agreed, the current intention is to abandon any interest in Alexandra Palace”.
The judge had no difficulty in calling Firoka’s bluff over the withdrawal threat, but Mr Kassam also described the negotiations as “difficult, protracted and complex”. We can believe that. How likely is it that the public – kept in the dark – will get a different and better deal? Now the two sides want to drag it out further. We are told that discussions will proceed – but how much longer?

After nearly suffocating the trading company, the Board has only just revived it again and they’ve claimed it needs to generate the maximum profit possible. Is the Board standing by to shut it down again? Uncertainty hanging over APTL hobbles its future.

If the deal goes forward to Haringey-style consultation, it is likely to end in the High Court again and with the same result as before.

The council needs to act decisively. Any idea of selling to an asset-stripper must end now.


More honesty and less secrecy is needed in AP debate

COUNCIL management of Alexandra Palace has generated heated criticism over the years. Unfortunately, little new light was shed on the shady affairs of our Trust in the article (Ham and High 17/01) run over the name of its Chairman. It seems the public – the owners and beneficiaries of the Trust – are still expected to be content with bluster and platitudes.

IT IS possible that the article may have been drafted or edited by Lexington Communications, one of London’s more expensive Public Relations companies. Since 2005, that PR firm has been retained at a cost to our Charity of more than £180,000. According to their website, Lexington specialize in crisis management and one of their jobs has been to represent Trust-bungling to the public in the best possible light. The possible PR-hand in the article may explain the welter of warm woolly words of waffle.

Who is the real ‘Burden’?

WE are told that the trading company (APTL) has to generate the maximum profit possible to lighten the burden of the Palace from the Haringey taxpayer. This is misleading because:

(a) Councillor-trustees deprived our Charity of hundreds of thousands of pounds by agreeing prematurely to let Firoka take possession of trading operations (early 2007) without completion; (b) the ballooning of the deficit in the last 18 months was caused by wasteful expenditure relating to the council’s bungled sale attempt; (c) the council evaded the large recurring cost (up to 2006) of maintaining the associated public park: the burden was carried by our Trust; (d) the council, in defiance of the 1996 ruling of the Treasury Solicitor, lumped their huge interest costs into Palace’s accounts and (e) on the whole, AP has been subsizing the council and not the other way around, as the council would have us believe.

For the ten years to the end of 2006, the AP trading operations were modestly profitable. The Trust accounts have been analysed by an independent accountant whose findings can be seen at:

Myth of the White Elephant

The chronic council-burden is represented by fitful control exercised by transitory, inattentive trustees who occasionally authorize reckless spending. Alexandra Palace is not a burden on the council; it is the other way around.

Progress and development in 27 years?

IT IS misleading to characterize the opponents of the sale to Firoka as having an “obsessive agenda against development and progress”. In the High Court filings (Statements of Fact and Grounds of Challenge #4), for SAP it was warranted:
It should, however, be noted that the claimant and the members of the ‘Save Ally Pally campaign’ of which he is part, are not by any means opposed in principle to the granting of leases by the Trustees or to appropriate development of Alexandra Palace”.
It is council stewardship which has lacked flair and vision: the only vision the council could see was that of a property developer. The lack of progress and development over the last 27 years is not the fault of any one councillor, but a monument to Municipal meddling. Yet the potential of the building is huge, possibly as a world-famous tourist attraction, The Birthplace of Television with panoramic views across Europe’s biggest city.

The article recognizes that the Palace is an ‘historic asset’ but there’s no mention of why it is a potential UN World Heritage Site. It is a great pity that the Lease agreed by the council made no provision for keeping the world’s first television studios and indeed, there was expectation that they would have to go. Why must ‘securing the future’ necessarily mean demolishing the past?

Simply by not caring, Haringey has distressed the asset, but when Listing issues are raised, it is not unknown for developers to speed up the distressing of assets – it eases the wholesale (“holistic”) development of the prime parts. The irony is that the world’s first public TV broadcast was the inspiration for the council’s logo for 40 years.

Chronic council misleading
THE council never released any AP sale-related documents before the end of the Public Consultation (5 January 2007). Heavily redacted versions of some documents were released after formal application under the Freedom of Information Act and some documents were never released.

Yet in July 2007 in a council debate, the Chairman asserted (all recorded on web-cam) that AP’s future was “all in the public domain”. This kind of misrepresentation will continue as long as AP remains a political football.

It would be nice to be able to overlook council conduct in these matters; but anyone in doubt about Trust deceit and duplicity has only to read the evidence and Decision of the High Court.

The successful Judicial Review shone a powerful spotlight on Trustee machinations and Justice Sullivan delivered his decision to quash the Lease in cool, reasoned terms.

The suggestion of AP “as a centre point of our community; alive with people from all over our borough” misses the point that the building is more than just a Borough or London asset: it is nationally and internationally important. The article’s sentiment about community also needs to be contrasted with earlier statements from Palace spokesmen which implied the need to offload the venue was more desperate than ever.

We need the misleading and the misrepresentation to end. The only purpose it serves is to promote mistrust of the Trust.

A vision not shared: a casino and 30,000 square feet of offices

The article speaks of the need to create “a Palace fit for the people of Haringey and beyond to enjoy for many years to come”. That enjoyment may refer to the small casino, which the chairman has said was a myth and never part of the final proposals.

But is it not the case that after a fire-sale to Firoka, the People’s Palace could see conversion to 30,000 square feet of offices, likely to be let at full market rental? Would this office space replace only the world’s first TV studios or would it spread into most of the East Wing?

The User Clause in the agreed Firoka Lease (finally obtained under the Freedom of Information Act 2000) provides for:—use as a small casino (as referred to in section 7(5) (c) of the Gambling Act 2005); and—use as offices for community based uses and other uses, not exceeding 2,788 m2 of Net Internal Area within the area shown [ ] on the Plan.
The article spoke twice of a shared vision with the public. The Trustees so little wanted to share these visions, that they did all in their power, including unlawful actions, to ensure they never saw the light of day. It took no less than defeat in the High Court for these visions to be ‘shared’. And within days of that defeat in October, the Trust had resolved unanimously to persist with the agreed Lease.

Was the big office development shown in the Palm Court display? Perhaps for the Trust Chairman, “providing a range of exciting uses” does include a huge swathe of commercial office space, but it may disappoint locals who hoped for something even more interesting.

What we need is plain speaking and an end to public relations spin which only promotes cynicism about the council. What is meant by “move forward together with a mutual aim of securing our palace for everyone”? Sorry to appear so rude, but does that mean selling the building for £1.5m to Firoka for offices, or not?

Obsession with secrecy

ANY resident daring to ask to see documents relating to the sale of our asset (under the Freedom of Information Act) was refused on grounds of commercial confidentiality. As was found by the High Court, Haringey council put great pressure on the Charity Commission to throttle public information and make an utter farce of the Consultation.

The article speaks of “working harder to ensure the public knows what is going on up at the hill”? But the current chairman has often chosen to exclude press and public from Board meetings. Will this policy change? Allowing us beneficiaries to hear deliberations of our Charity would be a good start. Perhaps that is what is meant by “new means of engaging with local people”?

We need the obsession with secrecy and control to end – they serve no purpose except to reduce public confidence. We need transparency, information and questions answered. For example, why should a council company (APTL) be applying to the council for a permanent gambling licence at the Palace? In that decision, what role was played by the public or the advisory or consultative committees?

Previous policies have kept the public in the dark and stifled debate, even though AP is our building and owned by our charitable trust. It has been our misfortune it has been controlled by a single, skint council. Understandably, the chairman does not want to discuss how the present situation arose. The lost opportunities of 27 years, the bloody-minded policy to get rid of AP for a pittance, the waste of money in that pursuit, all happened before the current chairman’s tenure.

Effect on APTL staff and customers

PERHAPS the most damaging and regrettable aspect of the seven-month period in which the Trust let in Firoka to run the Palace, was the effect on staff morale and the lives of workers. Firoka’s aggressive management style drove away staff and customers.

Firoka bosses turning up the heat, may have been calculated to reduce the viability of the existing business and prepare a situation for flexible asset-stripping. It was cheaper for the developer-of-last-resort to create conditions such that staff left of their own accord, rather than having to pay redundancy.

APTL lost both staff and reputation. The promoter of the Antique & Collectors Fair for 25 years was unable to agree new terms with the Firoka boss. On the Pig and Whistle website she said:
“key members of staff have left, the new management have shown a lack of understanding of the complexities of running the event …”
After the Trust nearly suffocated APTL, its resuscitation is now presented to us as a success. The truth is that reviving APTL was forced on the council because of the unlawfulness of Firoka’s continued occupation of the Palace and thus far, Firoka’s failure to respond with a firm commitment. The continued pleading with Firoka to take over, is the mark of an organisation still keen to abdicate responsibility.

Waiting for the developer-of-last-resort

THE Trust’s declared intention is to “wait for Firoka’s decision with confidence”. The public is waiting with apprehension as we now know how flawed the deal is. How is the public involved with this process? Firoka’s decision would relate to a deal Cooked up by the council in secret. Apparently, the council is still prepared for the same deal to go ahead – will they be more open and honest now?

The PR smokescreen is intended to hide the hedging-of-bets by the Trust. The haziness of the Trust’s timetable is alluded to by reference to decisions taken to secure the Palace’s future for “the medium term”. The short-term is a total write-off, while the prospect of a long-term future with the council makes hearts sink. “Immediate development” may not be possible, and there is doubt whether the council’s developer-of-last-resort will commit, sue, or slink away.

The council may not have noticed that the economic outlook is not good – particularly for the leisure sector and for commercial property. This could be the deciding factor and the council may be waiting a long time for Firoka’s decision.

We are told that AP has a future. But what kind of future? Is the get-rid-of-it policy still on, or off? Is the articulated lorry steered by the chair, careering ahead or not? Organizations with resolve and direction do not perform U-turns. If Firoka return tomorrow with a ‘firm commitment’, will there be another screeching U-turn? Any more driving like this and there won’t be much rubber left on the tyres.

Ultimatum? What ultimatum?

IN December, it was reported in the press that the Trust had given Firoka two weeks to make a “firm commitment”. This demand expired on 28 December without response. The tactic failed and the Trust looked more feeble than ever.

The PR article muddied the waters by having us believe that no ultimatum was issued in the first place, so an ultimatum could not have failed, could it?

To pretend no ultimatum existed only serves to demonstrate a lack of clarity. By continuing to wait for a decision from Firoka, the Trust is signalling that APTL might be a stop-gap, that they are standing by, ready to shut APTL down again in the future. This message leaves uncertainty hanging over the future and hobbles the declared intention of getting APTL to generate the maximum profit possible.

Council vacillation about the lack of response to the cut-off date/ultimatum has left APTL as a hostage to fortune. It would be preferable from all points of view if the council acted decisively and announced the Firoka deal was ended. Any idea of selling to an asset-stripper must end and end now.

Trust past and future trust

A FUTURE Leader of Haringey may yet be candid enough to regret dealings with Firoka, in the same way that the leader of Oxford City council recently and publicly regretted his own council’s past dealings with that property developer (see: saga of Oxford United Football club).

The original rationale for placing our Charity in the control of a local council was to provide a backstop in case of financial trouble. The trust could not go bankrupt because the enduring council would always be there to underwrite any loss. In practice, the very involvement of the council has increased the financial problems due to poor management, for example the more than £20m cost overrun on the re-building after the fire. The building was de facto incorporated into the council empire and drawn in to the traditional culture of municipal management. Alexandra Palace was run by amateur council managers and treated as a municipal block for 27 years.

The council privately realized their continuing involvement was not ideal and tried quietly to give it away to a property developer. They would care little what happened after that point: it would be off their hands. But AP was not theirs to sell. We need the long heavy council burden lifted and our Charity returned to us, the beneficiaries.

Few would envy Councillor Cooke’s job as chair

THE current chair is the same age as the length of time AP has been in Haringey’s hands. He cannot be responsible for the chronic, deep-seated problems with our Trust. The problems are inherited from previous politicians and past misconceived policies. Because the current chair is also a politician, it is too much to expect recognition, let alone acknowledgement, that predecessors made mistakes which cost taxpayers dear.

Councillor Cooke now chairs both the Trust Board and APTL and bears a heavy responsibility for the AP future. But he also has a rare, brief chance to break the cycle of one AP chair handing on AP’s problems to the next chairman. One of Haringey’s mistakes is believing that all their AP problems will be over as soon as they get rid of AP to a property developer – but still remain as Trustees. It will be hard to let go.

There is little long-term hope for AP while it continues – as it has for the past 27 years – under council trusteeship. The trustees, including the chair, are all fleeting figures whose priorities are properly their wards and council business. Councillors are only ever able to give AP passing attention and then only for a year or two before new faces arrive.

The ‘advice’ that is acted on by the councillors – and in practice, the real decisions – come from long-term senior AP employees and hangers-on, who are deeply entrenched. Some of their advice to the transitory politicians, including legal advice, has been questionable and the Board might reflect on this. If the still relatively-new chairman is sincere about things at the Palace changing, he would be sensible to question closely the ‘advice’ he receives from the advisors handsomely paid for by us.

Problem presents opportunity for radical change

THE council might allow that the Trust has long been a distraction from core council responsibilities. If the council still want to divest themselves of this Trust asset – and there would be few who would dissent from that proposition – they will have to consider the tough and difficult decision to hand over responsibility to new trustees who have abiding interest in the building and its internationally important history.

Any continuation of the failing, flog-it-to-Firoka policy could end up in the High Court again. When the Trustees are defeated again, they may begin to detect their policy is not ideal. But, in the wake of the humiliation of a damning Court defeat – and its repercussions – there are created conditions conducive to real radical change.

Management theory has it that problems also present opportunities. The fact there is a big problem at the Palace also means that the chance for dramatic change is also large. Matt Cooke could build a big positive reputation as a fixer if he seized the chance: exhibit bold leadership and cast out the old failed policies.

This would see the council relinquishing control of our Palace by handing over responsibility to a new fully independent board of dedicated trustees, appointed for their experience and professionalism. In this way we would see a return of the People’s Palace to the People and set in motion a virtuous chain of events that leads to a restoration of AP to its world famous heritage status. A win-win outcome for both the Council and the People. A consensus.

• Alexandra Palace declared a no-pride zone

HARINGEY Council has declared Alexandra Palace to be a no-pride zone, extending to the boundaries of AP park. The zone is to be enforced against council staff who exhibit pride in the Palace’s history.

The Council agreed contracts for the fire-sale of the Palace to Firoka and these documents provide for the vanishing of the world’s original television studios.

The signal radiating 25 miles from the world’s first television mast is the basis for the stylized ‘lightning flash’. For 40 years it has been the theme for the Council’s corporate identity. Once, there was pride in this achievement. The symbol is still there, even on the Borough Coat-of-Arms.

Nine weeks after the deal was quashed by a judge, in December the Council served notice of eviction on their “preferred development partner”.

Even though Firoka failed to respond to the ultimatum to commit by 28 December 2007, Haringey are now begging Firoka to return. Not content that the Trustees agreed contracts allowing the destruction of BBC Studios A and B, our council are now imploring Firoka to return and destroy the potential UN World Heritage site.

A palace spokesman said: "A formal pledge has not been given and, based on Firoka's lack of correspondence, we cannot say whether it is still interested in the project or not … The board previously stated it is still a willing participant if Firoka is keen, and that statement still stands."

The “lack of correspondence” isn’t because Mr. Kassam didn’t put enough stamps on the envelope. The ultimatum expired some time ago and the continued pleading shows self-respect has evaporated. It’s undignified for a London Borough to prostrate themselves like this.
Historian Jacob O’Callaghan tried repeatedly to restore pride in the AP-zone but was shot at repeatedly. Enforcement is now formalized: the council’s no-pride memo lists phrases banned from use by council staff:

“Birthplace of Television”

“Most important building in the Borough”

“The Bletchley Park of London”

“Potential UN World Heritage site”

References to AP being the site of one of Britain’s greatest achievements of the last century and “leading the world” are banned. The Chairman of the Board has led the way by punctiliously avoiding the worst offending phrase “World’s first television studios”.

Transgressions of the new code will be brought to the attention of the Re-education Team, comprising Councillor-trustees Egan and Peacock. Repeat offenders will be whipped by the Chairman.