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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


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