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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


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.