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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


• 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