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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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.


• 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.


• Who would be a ‘preferred partner’ of Haringey Council?

Short version (Journal)Medium length (Independent) – Maximum: below

UNSUCCESSFUL bidders for Alexandra Palace would have been disappointed 18 months ago, at missing out on the opportunity of becoming Haringey’s ‘preferred development partner’. Now they may know how lucky they were.

The tender process, stacked in favour of one company (Firoka), was conducted by one of the least competent Boroughs in London and the lucky winner must now be wondering what they did to deserve their fate.

In the first instance, Firoka were probably mislead by the local Council about the legal status of the Palace and what exactly would be entailed in a purchase of the principal asset of a Charitable Trust. Let alone a huge Trust asset of international historical importance, about which the public happens to care.

Firoka was certainly mislead by the Council about the need for a public consultation. Maybe the Council didn’t understand that they needed to abide by the promise of a government minister over that consultation. Haringey’s legal team seems to have overlooked this – but it is hard to believe they never knew about the debate in Parliament over Alexandra Palace.

The preferred partner entered into secret agreements with Haringey but we don’t know which side wanted secrecy more. Regardless, Haringey had no business entering into any such secret agreement and this aspect was judged in the High Court to be unlawful. Any future tenderers now know there can be no more secrecy if Haringey continue to try to flog the Palace.

The level of deceit engaged in by the Council may not have surprised Firoka, but it surprised even hardened Haringey-observers. However, all the secrecy, dissembling and misleading (second nature to LBH) was not in the interests of the preferred partner, because it would come up against the law of the land.

The Council never really understood the implications of being responsible for a Charitable Trust. From the beginning (1980), their involvement has been more or less continuous mismanagement. The Council has tried to treat our Trust and our building as simply an extension of Council property management, with all that that implies.

But AP is not a municipal building. The Council cannot treat it as just a ‘disposal’ as for any other council-owned facility and flog it with gay abandon. The very fact that they needed to obtain an Act of Parliament to allow for a 125 year lease ought to have told them something. It seems Haringey just grabbed the lease extension-ability they wanted and in typical Cavalier Haringey style, simply ignored anything else that came with it, like the promise of a Minister for a full open public consultation.

Haringey Council put great pressure on the Charity Commission to limit consultation and information to the public. The council then proceeded to ignore all (324) representations by a concerned public in the matter. This was their undoing. In the High Court of Justice.

The ‘preferred partner’ then found himself listed as an Interested Party on the wrong end of a Judicial Review. Wisely, Firoka avoided legal representation and avoided the costs that the Trustees (i.e. Haringey) found themselves lumbered with.

The preferred partner - nine weeks after the High Court decision - was served with a notice of eviction from Alexandra Palace by their development partner (the Trustees). If this is what ‘preferred’ partnership with Haringey means, Firoka must have wondered what it feels like to be a ‘partner’ of Haringey who is out of favour.

The preferred partner was strung along by Haringey and messed around by the usual amateur slip-shod LBH approach. The Trustees (and ratepayers) will do well to avoid a claim for damages, over their behaviour, from their development partner. The Council’s position is understood to be, that it was known all along by all parties that the deal was contingent on a public consultation: that contention is doubtless receiving careful examination.

The preferred partner, during the purchase process was in the hands of Haringey and relied on the Council to guide them through the statutory and regulatory maze to a successful conclusion. That journey ended on 5 October 2007 in Room 28 of the Royal Courts of Justice in front of Judge Sullivan.

Haringey, in typical Cavalier style, has learnt nothing from this and there has been no apology to the public for the wasting of millions of pounds in sale costs and lost revenue (the lack of maintenance and the wasted opportunities are too big to describe here).

The unsuccessful tenderers must now be thanking their lucky stars that they never became preferred development partners of Haringey. All of this sorry tale must serve as a lesson to any re-bidders or new bidders for Alexandra Palace who might be contemplating doing business with Haringey. At first glance, it appears that there are vast profits to be made by exploiting the desperation and stupidity of London’s Least Competent. But it’s not worth it!

Haringey bungling is so potent, that it has now defeated one of the hardest, shrewdest, most ruthless operators in the business. This mess will not have been lost on other potential bidders, who might have lost patience with the Council much earlier.

Other possible bidders will have taken note of both the final outcome and the extent of waste of money and management time that Haringey caused to the successful bidder and ‘preferred partner’. Haringey referred in court to ‘Alexandra Palace fatigue’ (amongst potential other bidders). More accurately, it is ‘Haringey Council fatigue’. The lesson is clear:

You can’t run rings round the Keystone Cop Council. If you are interested in developing AP, do not deal with Haringey Council. You will be burnt. If you’d like to help develop AP, only deal with a new independent Trust comprised of people of long-term interest, expertise and integrity.


A BEGINNER’s guide to AP - click pic for bigger

ALEXANDRA Palace disorganisation chart. 
Note: this diagram does not reflect the Board's serving notice of eviction on their ‘preferred development partner’ (!) in early December 2007, but it still shows the main relationships. Note the number of committees, in practice mostly disregarded by the Council-run Trust. Tangled or what?!


• CHAIRMAN’s blog Xmas day, 2007

The Christmas day message of the Chairman of the Alexandra Palace Trust.

IT was good of the Ham and High to offer a forum to facilitate a meaningful debate about the future of Alexandra Palace (editorial, 29 November). Unfortunately, the proponents of the current policy – getting rid of the whole building for a paltry £1.5 million – seem not to want to join a debate.

This is a pity, because the public - mere beneficiaries of the Charitable Trust - are often excluded from listening to the Trust Board’s deliberations; still less do they have an opportunity directly to influence the decisions that the Board makes on their behalf’s.

In his Christmas day message from Brighton the Chairman of our Trust had this to say in his Blog about the future of the Palace:
It's funny picking up a copy of the Ham & High and reading things which people attribute to you personally which are either hugely wide of the mark, totally untrue or so widely speculative that you could drive an articulated lorry through most of the arguments that are put forward by spokespeople for status quo and/or unrealistic ideas about ally pally's future.
If there is anything in the Ham & High that is ‘wide of the mark’ the chairman owes it to himself to spell it out clearly and if there is anything ‘totally untrue’ about him in the paper, he needs to identify it and insist on a correction, so we are all better informed. If Cllr Cooke honestly feels that he is being misrepresented, he should represent himself by joining the debate which the Ham & High offered to host.

If Councillor Cooke thinks ‘you’ could drive an articulated lorry through most of the arguments [of his opponents] … why doesn’t he climb into the cab and drive it forward himself? He does have an HGV licence doesn’t he?

Even defeat in the High Court, costs being awarded against his Trust and scathing condemnation by the judge, have failed to persuade Cllr. Cooke that his Trust’s ideas about Ally Pally’s future are unrealistic.

There seems to be a readiness to engage in bluster, but an unwillingness to address specific points. The Board avoids talking about detail – indeed they avoid saying anything at all - and prefer to speak through a PR company.

When Cllr. Cooke attempts to make a detailed point, like the (false) claims of asbestos in the TV studios, he is quickly shown not to be in possession of the facts. Cllr. Cooke - in person - claimed to me and two members of local residents associations, that it was a myth that a Casino was a part of Firoka’s proposals (the casino is shown in Firoka’s architects’ plans which are a matter of public record). It is a myth that young Matt is fully familiar with his brief.

Cllr Cooke and his fellow trustees are reluctant to talk about the world’s first television studios and refuse even to utter that phrase, lest it draws attention to the fact that his Trust is acquiescing in their eventual destruction.

I have previously referred to several of Cllr Cooke’s claims, including his denying there was any Casino proposal, his (scurrilous) claim alleging asbestos in the TV studios and his claims that everything about AP’s future was in the public domain (dissembling, to put it mildly).

In the Ham and High others have drawn attention to the false claims about wheelchair inaccessibility and misleading claims about BBC disinterest in the Studios. The huge, chronic misleading about finances is too great a subject to cover here; for them moment, I say that the Council has not been accurate over its claims of debt owed to it by AP.

The unwillingness to join open public debate is no surprise. Obsessive secrecy has been the hallmark of the scandal of the sale of Alexandra Palace, something which Cllr. Cooke has done nothing to rectify since becoming chair in May. He regularly insists on excluding the press and public from Trust Board meetings. Cllr Cooke has personally mislead about the extent of the secrecy, notably in a council debate in July when he said that the future of Ally Pally was all in the public domain: utterly, outrageously, untrue.

In his Christmas message, Cllr Cooke goes on to say:
What I really hope to achieve through the coming period as chair is for a period of calm reflection about how things could have progressed differently over the last year or so at the palace and how we move forward in a way which is informed by that past whilst also being visionary and having the confidence of local people …
(Funny there was no mention of his Trust’s defeat in the High Court in October and the fact that costs were awarded against his Trust because of his Trust’s conduct. He does not quote the Judge’s remarks: “The Trustees are the authors of their own misfortune”. We will look for content in the blog in the weeks ahead.)

At the end of the waffle about moving forward and being visionary, Cllr Cooke seeks the confidence of local people. Fat chance. His Trust had done everything in its power to limit the public consultation and restrict information available to the public. He may not have noticed that of the 328 people wrote in to the Charity Commission, 324 wrote in expressing at least some concern about his Trust’s proposal (i.e. 99%). This may be unprecedented for a Charity Trust asset disposal.

If we assume the 4 (four) people who wrote in support are probably connected to the Trust, it is safe to say that the Trust’s proposals do not enjoy the confidence of local people.

It is surprising that the Chairman does not go into any detail on his own personal Blog, where he need have no fear of being contradicted, misquoted or misrepresented. He could have taken the opportunity to refute any wrongful things said about him. He seems to be ambivalent about which are the matters best left to the public relations company.

Is Councillor Cooke prepared to stand by the press releases of the PR firm that he is paying with our money? Our Charitable Trust is using Charity funds to employ one of London’s leading public relations firms (Lexington Communications) to mount a PR campaign on behalf of the Trust. They have their work cut out. Is our Charitable Trust paying enough money to the PR company in order to get their message over? Cllr. Cooke’s complaints about press coverage seem to suggest the PR company have not yet succeeded in the PR campaign and more of our money may yet have to be spent in order to persuade us.

The Councillor is sure of the righteousness of the Trust’s flog-our-heritage policy, but because he is convinced he knows best, he won’t get into any detail, beyond misleading claims that AP is costing the Council money.

While the chair engages on quiet meditation over the weeks ahead as to where it all went wrong, the practical consequences of the failed policies pile up. We can only hope that the chairman takes a genuinely fresh look at the Palace and questions the fundamental assumptions of the get-rid-of-it policy.

The one thing we can all agree on is that the present situation cannot continue. It is (typically) misleading of the chairman to speak of as proponents of the status quo.

The “status quo” comprises Council-appointed trustees pursuing a bankrupt policy of trashing our history and heritage and flogging Alexandra Palace for £1.5 million, a sum almost certainly exceeded now by the sale costs.

The positive alternative proposed by, is for the Council to agree to a hand-over of the Trust to new, non-political Trustees. New independent Trustees would be unlikely to do a worse job of stewardship than the Council has over the past 27 years, and would quite possibly do a very much better job. Such a change would probably enjoy more public support than the proposals supported by Cllr Cooke. New Trustees would be the first step to a brighter future which would not involve a total betrayal of the Trust’s original charitable objects.

Let’s get the politics and the politicians out of our Charitable Trust of which we are all beneficiaries.

letter sent to and published
by the Ham and High
10 January 2008

Responsibility and irresponsibility

AFTER the GLC was smashed up by Margaret Thatcher, in 1980 responsibility for the historic Alexandra Palace landed up in the sole hands of one of London’s least competent borough councils.

THE current Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Alexandra Park and Palace is, like most of his fellow Trustees, a political appointment of the ruling majority group of the local council (Haringey).

He is reported recently to have said of the recently announced multi-million pound deficit at Alexandra Palace,
“obviously the financial situation we find ourselves in is not ideal.”
It sounds like the Trust Board is the victim of an inexplicable freak accident. But who was at the steering wheel of the vehicle that sustained £2.5 million damage? Perhaps the posing of a few questions might help the current chairman (only since last May) discover the mysterious cause of the less-than-ideal financial situation in which the Trust finds itself …

WHO allows the same management of trading operations to continue – despite mediocre performance – year after year?

WHO embarked on a fatally-flawed and misconceived policy of flogging Alexandra Palace for a paltry £1.5 million?

WHO, by the end of 2006, had spent £1.2 million on advisors in AP sale-related costs (2007 will add much to this bill)?

WHO ruled out all respected and experienced bidders for Alexandra Palace?

WHO entered into secret commercial agreements in defiance of the promise of a Government Minister?

WHO agreed to a late change in the Lease permitting the ‘preferred development partner’ to occupy the Palace two months before a judicial challenge – capable of overturning the sale – might be mounted?

WHO let Firoka bosses into the Palace and start intensively milking the cash-cow without payment and without a formal agreement?

WHO let Firoka trouser hundreds of thousands of pounds of cash for events and exhibitions since May 2007, for little or nothing in exchange?

WHOSE conduct led the High Court to award costs against them in the Judicial Review of 5 October 2007?

WHO did the Judge describe as the “authors of their own misfortune”?

WHO retains the same legal advisor – year after year – the same advisor who allowed them to sign a Lease allowing Firoka occupation before payment and who led them each step of the way through the ‘public consultation’ and right up to the High Court dénouement?

WHO mislead the preferred development partner over the need to have a Public Consultation?

WHO left themselves open to a huge law suit, due to their incompetence?

WHO often holds their meetings in secret session, away from public and press scrutiny?

WHO bear no personal responsibility for their decisions and indeed, some of whom profit regardless?

WHO is facing enquiries by the Attorney General and the District Auditor?

WHO does not recognize the conflict-of-interest where an individual is responsible to both a Council and to a registered charitable Trust?

WHO is so unable to defend the situation they “find themselves in”, that they pay a public relations firm to speak on their behalf?

The answer to each question is the same: the Trustees of the local Council-controlled Alexandra Palace Trust. The failure to take responsibility is typical, chronic and set to continue.

In the past, for the problems at Alexandra Palace, the Council-controlled Trust has put blame on everyone around them: their political opponents, a failed AP-bidder, a campaign group and even on an individual private citizen!

Now it seems they blame the stars, chance or bad luck (at least this is consistent with their intention of granting themselves a permanent gambling licence at the Palace).

The problems will go on until amateur Councillor trustees of our charitable trust are eventually replaced with committed trustees of long-term interest, integrity and independence.

In the meantime, ratepayers pick up the multi-million pound tab for more or less continuous incompetence and mismanagement. The public deserve better.

7 January 2008