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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


Secrecy in Council decision-making

Or, Alexandra Palace and the code of omertà about the sale

THE intense secrecy pervading the sale of Alexandra Palace continues. The Palace is a Charity, paid for by all of us and whose beneficiaries are all of us. But its disposal, as a Developer Shell by Haringey Council to their favoured property developer, doesn’t feel like simply the sale of surplus land.

The sale is treated with all the secrecy of a big arms deal to a dodgy third-world dictator. Replete with bribes, kick-backs, immorality and government-subsidy, together with excuses of ‘commercial confidentiality’ – unlawful, but said to be in the interests of National Security. It’s surprising the press hasn’t been slapped with a D-notice!

Again and again, the Council uses commercial confidentiality to excuse the mystery about the deal. This is despite the fact that entering into these arrangements was ruled unlawful in the High Court last October and not least, because these arrangements were in defiance of the specific promise of a Government Minister in Parliament in 2004. The shady deal is currently stalled; since the High Court defeat, the silence from the developer himself has been deafening.

Even some Trustees of the main Trust Board have difficulty obtaining basic information from the coterie of council-cronies who control our charity.

Sometimes it is possible for the public to attend an entire Trust Board meeting. But often press and public are told to leave when the meeting agenda reaches Exempt Items. The items the council wants to conceal from the public are always labelled Exempt. These are said to be commercially sensitive but are probably politically sensitive or just plain embarrassing. They might reveal details of council ineptitude and the level of quality of the legal advice that the Council receives.

Some of the current negotiations about the sale of a Lease of 125 years, are believed to be about the need to provide for full disclosure (during the required Public Consultation) and to maintain commercial confidentiality (!)

Month after month, the general manager provides either verbal or written reports which say that there is nothing to report. The Council has been furnished with an Opinion from leading Charity Counsel, that shows that any Lease of AP cannot be solely for commercial purposes. But Haringey is unable to face the fact that this unlawful deal has to be called off.

What little information is released to the public, is carefully channelled and spun via the PR firm Lexington Communications, which our council-controlled Trust has employed at great cost since January 2005.

As for the two nominally autonomous committees which might be expected to have a say about the future of our Palace, the Council cares little what they might say. Nonetheless, the Council has artfully managed to muzzle those two watch dogs: the Statutory Advisory and the Consultative Committees.

Haringey council corrupts their proper independent functioning, by inviting favoured members of those committees to have access to documents on the strict condition that they are sworn to secrecy. By granting access to some members of those committees, the council divides those committees and extends the conspiracy of silence.

Those members selected for access will feel special and privileged and may do more than just keep quiet. They are likely to stifle any reservations they may have had and defend council policies against attack. But by agreeing to such restrictions, these members loose any basis for arguing that the documentation should be open to all, as it should be. Their position is compromised and their independence is shot. The Council has deployed the insidious technique of omertà in order to pervert both committees.

Each committee is also dependent on the council organisation for resources and facilities including venue, Minutes, administration and legal “advice”. The Consultative committee is chaired by the same Councillor who chairs both the main Trust Board and the Palace’s trading company.

Secrecy in local government is probably never likely to lead to good, well-rounded decisions. It can cover-up mistakes. An absence of scrutiny allows a culture of waste and inefficiency to develop. Councillors and council officers, of course, feel more comfortable in such a climate but it is not good governance.


• £3 mlln. loss to Council at Alexandra Palace Trust

IT IS REPORTED there is a £3,000,000 hole in the Council’s accounts caused by losses at the Alexandra Palace Trust. Mismanagement has been a chronic problem at the Council-controlled Trust, but the past year saw a ballooning of waste, mistakes and irresponsibility. The Council recklessly tried to give our Palace as a ‘developer shell’ to their favoured property developer (Firoka). And now the Charity Commission has opened a case about the matter, with two officers appointed.

The Trustees’ decision last year, to grant a temporary trading licence to Firoka, was like agreeing to sell one’s house for say, £1.5m. Then, on the day of Exchange-of-Contract, handing the keys over and giving vacant possession—without waiting for completion. All this, without taking any deposit, let alone receiving the purchase price.

Then, after you move out, you continue to pay the rates, gas, electricity, phone and insurance bills on your old house. You also still pay the wages of your old cook, cleaner and the gardener at your former home. And you pay for an odd-job man, plumber and electrician just as the new ‘owner’ requires. To do this, you’d have to be either a half-wit or Haringey Council.

The councillor-trustees agreed—probably unlawfully—to a similar sketch for our charity. With this background, is it any wonder that Firoka enjoyed such a long, profitable time in our house at our expense, before the Council reluctantly evicted them?

Despite spending three quarters of a million pounds on their own lawyers, the council appears meekly to have just signed every document placed in front of them by Firoka’s lawyers.

In May 2007, the current Trust Chairman inherited problems from the previous AP chairman, in the recurring cycle of this depressing saga. As the chairman has now been reappointed for another 12 months, sooner or later he and his fellow Trustees ought to begin to take responsibility. The likelihood is that in another 12 months the chalice will be passed on, without progress, to another set of inattentive amateurs.

As for this year’s £3.1 million loss that Haringey taxpayers are expected to make good, the chairman had this to say, probably drafted by Lexington Communications, the PR company employed by our charity:
“The Palace’s accounts are always discussed in open forum and this years’ discussions were no different, these figure have been a matter of public record for months. As unanimously agreed by councillors, a provisional deficit of £3.1 million is in line with the revised budget allocation confirmed by Haringey Council in the last financial year. Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust’s accounts are currently in draft and will be audited and agreed later this year as normal.”

Lexington’s language
  in effect means, ‘move along, there’s nothing to see here’. In attempting to pass off this huge loss as business-as-usual, the Board Chairman is correct in this respect: the poor decisions by the Councillor-Trustees are typical and they will continue – as long as Trustees are Councillors. A disaster is presented as not merely normal, its almost a matter for celebration. A unanimous vote that there is a deficit, is almost a triumph.

It seems presumptuous to state ahead of time and publicly, that the accounts … will be audited and agreed. An auditor of a private sector company would rightly take umbrage at such a statement, which no real CEO would be likely to make. Auditors are supposed to be independent. The chairman’s statement seems intended either to intimidate the auditor (as the trust bullies the Charity Commission), or it demonstrates little regard for the importance of the auditor’s function as an objective check on the Trust accounts.

The chairman also stated categorically that “We are not subject to any investigation by the Charity Commission”. And yet, when a member of the public asked the Council for an unredacted copy of the licence that permitted Firoka to occupy our palace, it was refused in writing by the Council itself, on the grounds that there was an on-going investigation. The apparent contradiction of this with the chairman’s statement, could be accounted for, if the running of our charitable trust by the Council is the subject of investigations by multiple regulatory agencies.

Most of the Trustees take little interest in this multi-million pound business. Trustees that do try to take an interest, are obstructed in obtaining the most basic information from the coterie of council-cronies who control our charity. One Trustee was informed that he would need to complete a formal Freedom of Information application to obtain a basic document.

Obsessive secrecy has long been a feature of this unfit-for-purpose body and the lack of scrutiny has led to huge losses. One bad decision begets and another bad decision. As a whole, the Trust Board has no shame and take no responsibility for their ineptitude. Meanwhile the opportunities of a community-based solution are brushed aside and council tax payer pick up the bloated bill for bungling.

Edited version
"Bill for Bungling has passed £3m"
Ham&High Broadway

Pally finances still in disarray'
published in Hornsey Journal,

16 July 2008


• A Civic Centre Casino – regeneration benefits?

HARINGEY Council intends shifting the Civic Centre up the road to Woodside House. Which leaves the big question of what to do with the old Civic Centre in Wood Green High Road?

This unlovely, uncared-for building needs re-development. Our Council Leader describes the current Civic Centre as “increasingly unfit for current requirements and inefficient, with an escalating maintenance bill.” As for future use, Cllr. Meehan said: “And we can deliver further regeneration benefits by releasing the existing civic centre site for an appropriate development.”

Has the Council considered converting the Civic Centre into a casino? Some councillors argued the case for a casino at Alexandra Palace in 2006, but were thwarted, at least temporarily.

The Council Chamber (renamed Casino Mayorale), would be a grand setting for roulette tables. The game with the highest stakes could be sited under the Mayoral dias, with one-arm bandits located where backbench councillors now sit. The long committee-room wing could house a large number of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), known colloquially as the crack-cocaine of gambling.

Necessary modifications would include: removal of any clocks; blacking out of windows, plentiful cheap food available on site and lots of lavatories. The big car park at the rear would encourage punters to come from beyond Haringey, enabling our Council to tax the residents of neighbouring Boroughs! Punters could be dropped off at the front porch by taxis and chauffeurs, just like the side entrance of the Ritz casino.

According to the Council report of 2006 Casino proposal at Alexandra Palace, a “Small Casino” would be permitted to have up to 80 category B gaming machines with a maximum jackpot of £4,000. But the volume of the Civic Centre would surely be sufficient to house a Large or Regional facility? The report argued strongly for the regeneration benefits of a casino at Alexandra Palace, saying that the impact of a casino at Alexandra Palace “would be of particular benefit to black and minority ethnic communities and socially excluded neighbourhoods,” so what is the Council waiting for? It surely follows that the larger the gambling premises, the greater the regeneration benefit?

The profits to the Council—and possibly to some Councillor supporters—would be huge and would take pressure off CPZ’s and parking fines as a means of lifting Council income (the social and family cost of such a facility is harder to quantify).

There would be no difficulty in obtaining a licence. The Council would apply to itself for a gambling premises licence just as it did with Alexandra Palace (the charitable trust it controls). Any licensing committee Hearing could be arranged to be chaired by one of the councillor casino-advocates, who might then finally get the full casino they want. We can find a precedent for that in the permission the Council gave itself in April for the off-track betting premises licence at Alexandra Palace.

Fortunately, gambling is not linked to crime. (Or at least, that’s what we were told by a solicitor acting for the licence Applicant at that Hearing, the Council-controlled company Alexandra Palace Trading Ltd.).

A Civic Centre Casino would be a fitting use for premises that have seen such gaming in the past and such gambling with the future of the Borough.