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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


• 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