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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


AP: where we stand today: the consultation about the future of our Trust, Alexandra Palace

LAST month, I attended the Stakeholder Workshop at Alexandra Palace with about 40 other interested people. At last this was a genuine attempt at consultation. Although things are moving slowly, after a long time in the wilderness, the Palace may finally be pointed in the right direction.

At this point of change, it is worth reflecting on how far the fortunes of Alexandra Palace have come over the last 15 months, since a former slum-landlord finally withdrew his interest.

In 1980, control of our Palace passed from the GLC to Haringey council. The new Trustee began with a big dowry (£8m) and good intentions. In the same year a devastating fire led to a then-huge insurance payment (£20m?). Haringey, with all that cash, then proceeded to lose all control over re-building costs. Haringey had a fool for a client while the Trust had a fool for a custodian.

Our Trust has been stewarded with the all the flair of parking wardens; our building was managed with the dynamism of an estate manager; and our People’s Palace was marketed with all the entrepreneurship of a municipal swimming pool. Our council-run Trust has limped along for more than 20 years. The involvement of a single, skint council has been seen to have been an unmitigated disaster.

AP is so big that it was always beyond the resources of one local authority. But if all the cash wasted on consultants and sale attempts over the years had been spent on repairs, we might at least have had more to show for our money.

THE CORE problem has always been the Trustees’ conflict of interest: between their duty to the Trust and their duty to the Council. This affected every decision they made from biggest to the smallest and every poor decision of the Board begat another poor decision. When there were two choices before the Trustees, they normally chose the wrong one. This record of failure extends over 29 years.

For more than a decade, the council-trustee has had a policy of the “holistic” sale of all Alexandra Palace – in one go – to a property developer. This was a policy of despair but which would have swept a much dirt under the carpet.

The policy of outright sale, for exclusively commercial use of our Charity’s main asset, was always unlawful. This assertion was not tested in court but that was the considered opinion of a leading Charity barrister.

What was tested in the High Court (in 2007), was the proposition, that the Public Consultation organised by the Charity Commission, was unfair and unreasonable. The Judge agreed easily. The case was in the name of Jacob O’Callaghan but he was acting on behalf of all of us. The judge’s quashing of the Lease was the beginning of the end for the entire flog-it policy.

There is no illusion that the current policies have been brought by a change of heart: real consultation is happening now only because the sham consultation of the Charity Commission (insisted on by Cllr Charles Adje's Trust), was exposed in the High Court.

In the past there have been attempts to rescue our Palace: but the difference this time is that it follows the most spectacular defeat ever of the municipal Flog-it policy. If would be helpful and would concentrate minds, if the council were to announce formally, that the Flog-it policy is ended. There is still cynicism today, but there is surely no alternative to radical change to our Trust’s governance.

Having circled our Palace for about three years, with jaws snapping, in August 2008, Firoka announced that they were ending all interest. Last March came the less welcome news that they are suing our Charity for £6.2m. The Board should resist this cheeky claim robustly with an expert competent legal adviser.

The past focus of the Board has always been short-term. One of the enduring themes of AP governance is that we can’t discuss openly and learn from a past mistake, because it would be embarrassing and might affect current operations.

A recent example has been the efforts of the Trust Solicitor to minimise reference to the damning Walklate investigations in the Trust Annual Report. Generally, concealment and suppression has been counter-productive and it should end.

Now, with open discussion of governance alternatives, we may be seeing the end of the obsessive secrecy that has characterised our Trust.

Today: Five Options
There is a serious consultation underway and it will determine the future of our palace. There are broadly five options to be considered for the governance of our Palace. Three of the five would see Haringey Council retain a controlling interest.

If any one of these three council-alternatives is chosen, nothing will have been learnt and we will have a cast-iron guarantee of continuing failure. No experienced Trustees (or major sponsors) will touch the place if the council stays in charge.

If there is to be even a chance of success, it is vital that tired municipal control is phased out, as fresh independent trustees are phased in. The effects of bringing in committed, interested experts should be reflected in improved trading performance and slowly but steadily, reliance on taxpayer support will reduce. AP must pay for itself in the long run. We cannot will the end without willing the means to that end.

Having been fortunate to have had a comprehensive tour, I can see that much rebuilding will be needed. One day, the large basement should be a hive of activity, possibly a subterranean market. I would prefer not to see a casino (whether or not it is linked to a hotel), but I think a hotel and even a large hotel will probably be needed, to help bring the foot-fall.

Unless there is external intervention from the Charity Commission, the Council itself as Trustee will have to make the brave decision to let go and to trust outsiders. This will be a massive change in mindset and it is by no means a forgone conclusion.

There are still those with reservations about the Stakeholder Workshop. But I say it is much better to make any kind of start than no start. And in my view, it was a very good start. Credit for the Workshop has to go to the AP trading company’s energetic managing director Rebecca Kane and to Chairman Pat Egan for agreeing to it. They have a big task ahead and deserve our constructive support.

With a building as big as Ally Pally and with so many facets, no single individual can get everything they want from it. But let us not make the best the enemy of the good. It would be unlawful to be purely commercial and it is unrealistic for it to be wholly charitable. It has to be a mixed development, in my view. We must seek a broad consensus that works for the majority of the owners, the public, the beneficiaries.

Anyone with new, novel or remarkable ideas about the future of our Trust and Palace should contact:

Amanda Sears
APTL Executive Assistant
Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace Way
Wood Green
London N22 7AY
Tel: 020 8365 4366
Fax: 020 8883 3999


Alexandra Palace: The 2007 Fireworks cash buckets scandal – Why the indifference of the Charity Commission?

THIS Saturday, 7 November, perhaps 40,000 people will again attend the annual Alexandra Palace fireworks display, the biggest in London. The public may again be asked to contribute by way of donation at the gates. Historically, collections from these evenings have been donated to charities and staffed by volunteers.

But in 2007, our Palace was run by a commercial operator under a licence granted by the Charity. At the gates in November 2007, many collectors demanded a "donation" for viewing the fireworks. When asked where they had come from, they said they were employed by the licensee to collect the money, and for the most part came from outside London. The unsealed buckets were labelled "donations for Alexandra Palace Charity". Some estimates put the amount collected that evening at in excess of £60,000, in cash.

Where did all that cash go?

Despite many questions being raised as to what happened to this money, it would appear that it never reached any charity, nor used directly for any charitable purpose.

The management of the Palace later refused to answer questions relating to how much had been collected, or where the money ended up. In a Board meeting, the previous (now-departed) general manager said that the cash was not accounted for "separately".

Which means that the cash was literally not accounted for.

Did these charitable donations in fact end up in the accounts of a company controlled by one of Britain's richest men?

Should the Charity Commission not be investigating these sort of matters, and examine the system where large amounts of cash donations are made? After pressure from members of the public, the Commission reluctantly began an enquiry into the Trustees' Licence-to-Firoka in 2008. Two case officers were appointed. But despite the evidence in September 2008 of the independent Walklate report, the Commission's own "enquiry" was wound-up prematurely by the end of 2008. Why?

The last 29 years of control by the local authority have been a dismal and expensive failure. It is hardly surprising because the Trustees are all Councillors and have neither the time nor commitment to make it work. Councillors come and go on a regular basis, often lasting no more than a year or two. It was always going to be a recipe for disaster, as it has proved to be.

The Commission has a policy that charities which are controlled by local authorities should be phased out and that the ownership and control of the assets should be maintained by properly constituted Boards of Trustees who have the necessary experience, qualifications and motivation to ensure that the charity is run in accordance with its charitable objectives.

Why is the Commission still sitting on its hands and not getting involved with the phasing out of the local authority control of Alexandra Palace? Should we not have new, independent Trustees on the Board?

Dame Suzi Leather became chair of the Charity Commission in August 2006 and is a political appointee of the current government.

One is bound to wonder whether the political connections between the many majority-group councillors, who have gone on to significant positions within politics, may be inhibiting full and proper investigation of the activities of Alexandra Palace. An enquiry that might expose the poor, and possibly corrupt, decision-making of political figures.

Alexandra Palace needs to be taken out of the political arena so that it can fulfil its true potential.


Consultation on Ally Pally's future: a Casino back on the agenda?

THE council-controlled Alexandra Palace trading company is currently holding a consultation about the future of the building with the owners of the building.

In law, the owners of Alexandra Palace are the beneficiaries of the Charitable Trust, i.e. the public of north London (this has normally been an inconvenient truth for the council). I would encourage members of the public to participate in the current consultation, which is an opportunity to influence the future.

Among the options being considered are: a hotel, sport, tertiary education and prestigious tenants. Other uses also being looked at are flats, commercial office space and a casino (the quashed Lease to Firoka also promised casino use).

The most prominent casino-lobbyist in the council is Cllr H. Lister, who had vowed to make the council return to the AP casino proposal when on 21 March 2006, the Cabinet Executive voted against starting the casino process. In April last year, Cllr. Lister chaired and dominated the Full Licensing Committee Hearing that awarded the council's trading company a permanent gambling Premises Licence at Alexandra Palace. The council denied that would set a precedent for a casino.

Renewed consideration of a casino is surprising in view of the previous AP Trust chairman's statement last year:

"I want to put this on the record. There is not going to be and can be no casino at Alexandra Palace. It is true there was talk of a casino back in 2005 but to license a new casino under the Gambling Act of 2005, Haringey Council would have had to apply to the Casino Advisory Panel by the end of March 2006. Haringey chose not to, and so a casino is simply not possible. Full stop. Because casinos are controversial, some people have been using that particular red herring to spread intrigue and concern, but that wilful misleading has to stop – there is simply not going to be one."

(Cllr. Matt Cooke, letter to H&H Broadway, 31/01/08)

Some were reassured by the Chairman's unequivocal promise. But regardless of one's views about casinos, this categorical statement illustrates one abiding truth about the governance of the Trust: the lack of continuity. Any long-term promise or commitment by one politician-chairman is subject to voiding by the next politician-chairman.

The vicious-circle of political-control and lack-of-continuity can only be ended by the introduction of independent trustees who are, committed, competent, interested and who might last more than five minutes.

It is unsurprising that few of the current Trustees are able to pay much attention. Regardless of their re-election prospects, their first duty is to their Ward- and Council-work. Some Trustees are on the Board for just a few months and there is normally wholesale change every 12 months (in May).

The chronic instability of governance has partly been compensated for – by default – by permanent officers and municipal managers. This has led to the endurance of cosy and unhealthy relationships and not least in the legal framework within which the Trust operates.

The 15-year old municipal "development strategy" (i.e. flog-to-a-developer), led to directly to decay and dereliction of duty. Few repairs but massive fees for lawyers, PR and consultants. Can the council confirm that the policy of "holistic" sale of Alexandra Palace as a "developer shell" has now been abandoned?

I credit the current chairman with making an attempt to break this mould. Haringey should have learned that one of the principles in law of an effective consultation, is that it needs to be made at the early, formative stages of proposals. There is likely to be dissatisfaction if this turns out not to have been the case.

As to what should happen at Ally Pally, it is certain that the views of no single individual will prevail. The council has the difficult job of trying to synthesise views and come up with a consensus. They should be given that opportunity.

Ideas and comments should go to Amanda Sears at Ally Pally, who is happy to receive them:

Amanda Sears

020-8365 4366



"Improving Governance" at Alexandra Palace

THE LOCAL council had no idea what it was taking on when it assumed responsibility for Alexandria Palace from the GLC in 1980

First, Haringey did not appreciate the implications of being a Trustee of a big Charity and secondly, the size of the commitment might stretch most single London councils, even without trying to recover from a devastating fire (also in 1980).

Haringey took over a Charitable Trust which is of course governed by the law of Trust and Charity. But Haringey has found it expedient to run Alexandra Palace as though it were a municipal department, governed by the Local Government Act. The two sets of laws seek to achieve different things, and with Alexandra Palace, they are in perpetual conflict. This has not yet been tested in court, but the differences seem irreconcilable. It has led to serious, chronic conflicts of interest which are just ignored by the council. One conflict of interest begets another. One mistake begets another.

Given this fraught legal background, only the most savvy, expert legal advice could even begin to help. But for more than 15 years, the Trust has received advice from a single source which has been indifferent at best. The forthcoming Tender for Legal Services is long overdue, especially given that the Board may be considering action in connection with the Licence to Firoka and Firoka currently suing our Charity for £6,200,000 over the botched sale.

The supervisory Charity Commission see all this as a big can of worms and avoid getting involved, so much so that their willingness to discharge their regulatory function has to be questioned.

The current Trust Board Chairman, while chairing a recent Consultative committee, said they were unloved. One wonders why? The new chairman will try his best, but the likelihood is that in another 12 months, the poison chalice will be passed to a new chairman just as in the past, without fundamental progress.

The two peripheral committees (Consultative and Advisory) act as lightning rods for discontent. The council humours and largely ignores them. The Advisory Committee has Statutory powers, but they are so vague that the council is able to define their remit so that they have no authority. The recently departed general manager described some of what he did as "operational matters" and beyond influence of the committees. At one time, he described the Advisory Committee as engaged in a "land-grab"!

Away-day junket-jollies have been organised to enable everyone to get to know each other better. One hopes this will not have the effect of rebuilding the corrosive crony-culture that characterised control in the past. The current regime of political control (by party voting) ensures that the Trust Board will remain dysfunctional and is likely to lead to more wrong decisions.

Post-Walklate, everyone repeats the mantra of "improving governance". But months after the critical Walklate reports, there is not a single independent voting Trustee on the board. Instead, improved governance takes the form of municipal action plans. The council just cannot let go and yet their policy of sale has still not been renounced.

Since they lost control of the re-building costs in the 1980s, Haringey Council has had two main aims with respect to Alexandra Palace. The first is doggedly to evade responsibly for their past crazed spending and second, to sell off the Palace for property development, as secretly as they can. (The spending included extravagance such as the shipping of eight 20 ft high palm trees from Alexandria in Egypt.) The council would prefer to sell the palace in great secrecy before it ever assumed responsibility for its past failure.

It's a problem of ego and pride. The current majority group is a prisoner of past mistakes and cannot bring themselves to do things that will in effect, be a judgement on the actions of their party political predecessors. The prime goal, to evade accountability for the huge rebuilding cost overruns (for which they alone were responsible) has been the council's most consistent and entrenched policy. The refusal to own up led to the council's huge cost overruns being dumped into our Charity's accounts.

The bogus debt currently stands at £37,000,000 and will grow larger with interest. But the sheer size of the bogus debt – now equal to the amount Haringey stashed in the frozen Ice-banks – is becoming an embarrassment. It is high time that the reality of nonsense was faced. Much of this so-called debt amounted to little less than false accounting and it does appear from the seminal 1996 Treasury Solicitor letter, that the council were thought of as cheats and fraudsters, although of course, more genteel language was used.

Improved governance needs to be more than increasing the paper flow between existing employees. With Alexandra Palace, it should mean vision, leadership and judgement – uninfluenced by party politics. Independent Trustees of integrity who would be expert, committed, interested and professional would be a tiny step in the right direction but it must lead to a Board where political control is tapered to a minimum.


• No independent Trustees for Ally Pally

SO FAR, Haringey Council appear to have learnt nothing over the past three years from the botched sell-off, of Alexandra Palace.

The new Charity Trust Board line-up comprises politicians. This, despite the exposure of their Flog-it policy as misconceived and, as shown by the independent investigation of the Walklate 2 Report, executed recklessly.

Despite calls for an independent Board, or even some independent trustees, or at least an independent chair, the council's majority group has again arranged the Board as a political instrument, by ensuring that majority group members will always outvote others (4 to 3). Only the transient politicians can vote.

This guarantees that council majority group policy is implemented. It means in effect, that the Board continues as no more than a puppet. Minority group members and the non-voting observers are there for window-dressing.

This is not how a Charity is supposed to work.

One of the worst abuses of majority voting occurred when the last annual accounts were "approved" by a majority-only vote and not unanimously. The 2007 accounts saw a £3,000,000 loss, including huge losses attributable to the Firoka Licence period, pushed for by former AP Chairman, Councillor Charles Adje, of the council majority group. The effect was to sweep the loss under the carpet.

A few months ago, the nominally independent board "requested" the council to lift the £37,000,000 of bogus debt.

In the next Board meeting of our Charity (30 June), we may hear whether or not the council has 'responded' to the 'request' to lift the bogus debt, which has long hobbled AP's future. This would also have the effect of burying even more deeply, the losses caused by Councillor Adje, who has a list of questions to answer.

Removal of the bogus debt would be to do the right thing for the wrong reason.

The other constructive thing that the council could do, if it chose, would be formally to renounce the discredited policy of the "holistic" sale of AP, a goal towards which the council has been working for 12 years.

Holistic sale meant selling Alexandra Palace lock, stock and barrel as a "developer shell" to the favoured property developer. This led to a running down of AP's trading business, a running up of debt and the retention of many expensive advisor hangers-on.

£1,000,000 was wasted on Haringey's lawyers and a single PR company. Haringey wanted to demonstrate to the Charity Commission that AP was haemorrhaging money and to provide more evidence of this, they burnt truckloads of (our) cash.

In dealing with Listed buildings, a frequent developer tactic is to neglect repairs or even encourage deterioration. Our council appears to have anticipated the needs of their preferred bidder; repairs appear to have been deliberately ignored.

In the 1980s Haringey paid unknown sums to remove all asbestos from the BBC studios. Completing this task was never a priority. The real reason that the council was unwilling to finish the asbestos removal job in the studios, was that their preferred bidder wished to turn the world's first TV studios into 30,000 square feet of commercial office space. The recently departed general manager emphasised the cost of asbestos removal. But cost was never an objection to the approximate equivalent amount of £200,000 that the Board spent on the PR company.

There has been no public apology for the chronic waste and grand-scale mismanagement. The deceit, secrecy, misleading and untruths uttered in furtherance of the sale have been shameful.

Trust Haringey to select a partner that ends up suing them (us) for millions. None of the Trustees are personally liable for any debts of the Charity as the Council indemnifies them (with our cash) This has encouraged irresponsibility.

There has been no renunciation of the long-held sale strategy. Until that happens the policy remains in place and the council will be hoping that, after a decent interval, they can begin again with another run at a sale with another developer-of-last-resort.

Haringey has yet to demonstrate that it has learnt anything, while any new potential property developer needs to look well at the Firoka fiasco before partnering with the council.


SAP petition: the Government’s response

LAST Friday, the government finally issued a response to the 2,407 petitioners who asked the Prime Minister to instruct Haringey Council not to sell Alexandra Palace to a property developer. The petition closed on 27 February 2009. Three months later the Prime Minister's office responded :

The Government takes the view that local authorities should be given the primary responsibility for any land disposals they undertake, including disposals made by the granting of a lease. Local authorities have general and discretionary powers under section 123 of the Local Government Act 1972 to dispose of land in any manner they wish.

This view wholly ignores several relevant factors.

First, this local authority (Haringey) does not own the land that they are seeking to dispose of. In law, the owners are the beneficiaries of a Charity, i.e. us, the public. This is quite different from where the council is a freehold owner of land. The Trustee and Charity were referred to in the petition details and the government is mistaken.

Second, the Palace is the principal asset of a Charity. With Alexandra Palace, the Local Government Act to which the government refers, is in conflict with the law of Charity and Trust and although not yet tested in court, we believe that the former is unlikely to take precedence over the latter. The law of Trust is older and better established than the Local Government Act, and it deals in fundamental principles of law in contrast to administrative local authority legislation.

Thirdly, the government seems unconcerned that Haringey has acted recklessly over many aspects of the sale and together with the Charity Commission, acted unlawfully in important respects. They ignore both the High Court judgement and the conduct of Haringey Council.

The Government does not have a role in policing the land disposals made by local authorities and the Secretary of State’s for Communities and Local Government only statutory function in relation to section 123 - and hence her only power- is to give or refuse consent to a proposed disposal where the authority will receive less than the best consideration that can reasonably be obtained which is usually the open market value of the site.

Best consideration and open market value. Given the unlawfulness of Haringey's approach to the sale, money value is a second-order consideration. Putting that aside, it is impossible to gauge whether the council achieved best consideration (value). The Lease & related documents were kept secret at the time of the public consultation.

To this day, all financial details remain secret. Although Haringey were instructed by the Information Commissioner to release the Lease, all financial information was allowed to remain redacted (censored).

An "open market" value was never tested and did not exist. The rumoured sale price of Alexandra Palace was £1.5m, which is the probably less than the value of a couple of houses behind Alexandra Palace. Some might think this a poor price, even at face value. It is also understood that the council hoped to share in Firoka's profits. The likelihood of Haringey's developer-of-last-resort disclosing significant profits available for sharing with the council, can only be a matter for speculation, given the absence of documentation and perhaps, Firoka's reputation.

When carrying out land transactions, local authorities should act within the law and with due regard to their general fiduciary duty to their taxpayers. But within these constraints local authorities are free to undertake property disposals as they see fit.

Again, this ignores completely the Trustee's duty to the beneficiaries of the Charity, which is related to the reason why the attempted disposal failed in the High Court, i.e. the need for the Charity Commission to hold a genuine public consultation that was fair, unflawed and fully informed.

Since the High Court Judge's decision to quash the Lease turned on the promise (for full open public consultation) of a Minister in Parliament, and which promise was ignored by Haringey, one might have expected the Government to take this matter seriously and to understand the issues. Particularly since they involve promises and integrity.

It is disappointing that the government appears wholly indifferent to the fate of the first television studios in the world, as this aspect does not merit the slightest reference.

The response from the Prime Ministers Office is hasty, shoddy, ignorant, misleading and disingenuous – a bit like the reasons advanced by Haringey Council's to justify the sale.


Firoka to sue Alexandra Palace Trust Board

Firoka to sue Alexandra Palace Trust Board, or
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

I SEE Haringey Council's "preferred development partner" for Alexandra Palace (Firoka) is now to sue the AP Trust/Haringey over the failed sale. The Trust is controlled by Haringey and the claim on our Charity's funds is in effect, a claim on taxpayer cash.

Firoka's claim is probably without merit. We are of course unaware of any still-secret side agreements, such as possible indemnities over the sale falling through, given by Haringey Council to Firoka. That would be a disaster for our Charity. Regardless, we must all hope that the council will resist this vigorously, in court if necessary and preferably with a counter-suit.

From the outset, both parties (Council and Firoka) were aware, or should have been aware, that if the sale of Alexandra Palace to Firoka was to 'succeed', then two conditions had to be met:

  1. A public Consultation by the Charity Commission (before an Order to sell) that was fair and unflawed; and then that
  2. A Judicial Review (within three months of the Order) did not happen, or if it did happen, that it did not succeed in quashing the Lease.

Each of these points was surely well understood by both sets of richly-rewarded legal advisors to the two development partners, Haringey & Firoka. But neither of these events transpired. Both development partners knowingly took the risk of ignoring these factors and just hoped the deal would go through. Both parties acted unwisely.

The two partners knew, or should have known, of the promise of full, open public consultation about any sale by a Government Minister. The promise was made in a debate in Parliament about AP, specifically to assuage concerns raised about the proposed sale. But Haringey is a law unto itself.

Both partners were aware that their shady deal was against the public interest; both partners were keen to minimize public scrutiny of the Lease and both partners were keen on maximum secrecy. Even if that secrecy led to actions by the Charity Commission, that was later ruled in the High Court, to be unlawful (The Judge awarded costs against Haringey because of their conduct).

Both parties are responsible for the fact the Lease was quashed by a Judge but Firoka alone is responsible for not reviving the sale, because they resisted seven months of pleading by Haringey to resume talks.

As a member of the public, I politely asked Haringey for a copy of the Lease in good time in early December 2006. The belated response from Haringey's politicized Legal Services Department comprised excuses, prevarication and dissembling: and no Lease.

The Lease to Firoka was cynically withheld from the public until the Charity Commission Consultation ended on 5 January 2007 (a point noted by the Judge). A severely redacted version was later released by the deeply wretched Legal Services Department of the council.

An almost complete Lease (without financial data) came one year later, but only after the Information Commissioner directed Haringey to release. The Commissioner agreed that Haringey's excuses "were not engaged" (i.e. were wrong).

Firoka were complicit with the Trust Board in the risk-taking of keeping the Lease secret during the Charity Commission's Consultation. We have Mr. Kassam's own Witness Statement to the High Court as evidence for his keenness on "commercial confidentiality" or in layman's terms, secrecy.

[NB relevant extracts from Kassam's Witness Statement at the bottom.
This is in the public domain]

Mr. Kassam was not relying solely on "suggestion" from the Trust about the risks of openness, as he disingenuously asserts in his Witness Statement: he has his own legal advisors to tell him what might be involved in a Statutory Consultation over the sale of a major public asset and of the possibility of a Judicial Review.

This is another sorry chapter in the saga of our Haringey-controlled Charitable Trust. The poor judgement will go on until low-quality governance by local councillors is replaced with an independent Board. The current Board is populated mainly by placemen-councillors, some of whom are of no more than average ability.

This Board, which does not start by overflowing with talent, has long been the victim of poor legal advice. That the Trust Board pretended that predictable legal requisites would not happen is their own folly, aided and abetted by the long-time AP Trust Solicitor. The same Trust Solicitor who guided the Trust through the botched sale, is to try to resist Firoka's law suit.

If a lawyer is at least as concerned about protecting his own record as he is of his client, can he be expected to give the best possible advice? Is now not just the right time that the Board had the benefit of fresh, independent and competent legal advice?

The Lease negotiated by Haringey with Firoka overwhelmingly served the interests of the latter and from this, Kassam will know that Haringey is both feeble and has indifferent legal advice.

The wily chancer Kassam will be aware of Haringey's aversion to embarrassment, accountability and responsibility. He will literally be Banking on the council's reluctance to fight his absurd claim in open public court.


The relevant parts of Mr. Kassam's Witness Statement to the High Court:

(3) ... For the avoidance of any doubt I (and my fellow Directors) fully support all the efforts made by the Charity Commission and the Trustees of Alexandra Park and Palace ("the Trustees") in these proceedings.

(7) ... If, during these negotiations, the Trustees had suggested to me that, as part of the consultation process which the Charity Commission had agreed to undertake prior to granting the required Order, the lease (and perhaps the other associated documents) would need to be disclosed in full for public scrutiny, I would have been extremely uncomfortable and would have seriously considered walking away from the project at that stage".


Haringey Council to write-off £37 million

NO, not the £37 million that Charles Adje (cabinet member for resources) and his colleagues put into Icelandic banks. It's a different £37 million and the "losses" have accumulated over the past 20-odd years.

Only 13 years after having been directed to do so by the government, Haringey Council will finally do the right thing and write-off the supposed debt of £37 million that our charity (Alexandra Palace) owes to the Council. The formal writing-off will be effected in an obfuscatory and bureaucratic fashion by the AP Trust Board, stuffed with councillors, in a public Board meeting on Tuesday night (24–ii–09).

The money that Haringey has claimed our charity owed it, is the matrimonial equivalent of a husband invoicing his wife for rent and a house-extension, plus bills for his smoking, drinking and gambling. She needs a divorce!

In a most important letter of 02–v–96, the Government Treasury Solicitor ruled that a majority of the expenses Haringey claimed over AP was not reasonably and properly incurred for the benefit of our Charity (the total that Haringey set fire to was larger: a figure of £100 million has been mentioned in Parliament. There's little to show for it).

Haringey, being Haringey, never accepted that damning conclusion, because it would amount to admitting their own failings. The council has misrepresented the TS letter, drawing attention to the minority of expenses that were allowed to be "indemnified".

Long-time Haringey residents will remember that this "debt" initially related to the Palace re-building costs after the 1980 fire, over which the council lost control. Interest was piled on top, waste and financial mis-management added much more over the years, and then interest was added to that too. Is it any wonder that our Palace has been able to be represented as loss-making?

The discussion document is dressed up and disguised in jargon by the general manager ("Charity Indemnification" of LBH), but the council has finally recognized the reality, that this so-called debt is, and has been, utter nonsense.

The council probably took this decision internally several weeks ago. The council's instrument, the rubber-stamp AP Board, can be expected to make (effectively ratify) the decision publically on Tuesday night. This is not how a Charitable Trust Board is supposed to work, where Trustees' first duty is to the Charity. If in the past, Board members had acted in accordance with Trust Law, they would never have agreed to these debts in the first place.

Those who understand the principles of double-entry bookkeeping will apprehend the oddity (since 2006/7) of the council's books no longer recording this as an asset, but on the other side, the books of their instrument the Trust Board, saying this huge "debt" continued to be owed to the council. This is Alice-in-Wonderland-accounting, Haringey-style.

Does this volte-face have anything to do with the fact that the minority group on the Trust Board, refused to sign the scandalous accounts at the last Board meeting, but the council still rammed them through, without full agreement?

The £3m Adje-loss is to disappear!

Is this wiping of the slate clean related to a need to bury the three million pound loss during the Licence-to-Firoka period, a Licence that was sought by none other than the current head of Haringey's finances?

Has Councillor Charles Adje approved the burial of the Adje-loss?!

We need an independent Trust Board, with independent Trustees.


SAP's petition to the PM closes in one week

The Save Ally Pally campaign's petition to the PM,
about Haringey Council & Alexandra Palace, is closing soon

THE PETITION to the Prime Minister, about stopping Haringey selling Alexandra Palace to a property developer, has been running for almost 12 months and now has fewer than seven days to go before closing.

The SAP petition was worded so as to be against sale to any property developer, rather than to a particular one. SAP foresaw the possibility of Firoka dropping out (as they did, eventually). For a long time and especially during the official "consultation" period, the details of the sale were concealed from the public by Haringey Council, but since February 2008, the most sensitive parts of the Lease to Firoka, the User Clauses, have been on public display on the PM's petition web-site – see the petition, under More Details from Petition Creator.

The extracts were provided not only to show egregious samples of what was in the agreed Lease at the time with Firoka, but also to show examples of what Haringey, in its reckless desperation, was (might still be?) prepared to agree to, in order to further their "asset disposal" of our Charitable Trust, as a "developer shell".

Although Haringey Council is unlikely to attempt such a stunt again in the short- or medium-term, they have never apologised nor officially renounced the flog-it policy. Anyone would suppose Haringey had never suffered comprehensive defeat in the High Court (5/10/07), with scathing criticism from the Judge about their conduct and that of the Charity Commission.

Currently, the petition has gathered more than 1,450 signatures, including the relevant local MP (Lynne Featherstone). At the closing date of 27 February 2009, this petition is likely to have the highest, or second-highest, number of signatures in the category Government, politics and public administration.

Because the SAP petition has more than 200 signatures,
"it will be passed to officials who work for the Prime Minister in Downing Street, or sent to the relevant Government department for a response. Every person who signs such a petition will receive an email detailing the Government's response to the issues raised."


IS the Council saying that our Charity is to blame for the £3m Firoka sham Licence?

THE LEADER of Haringey Council, Ms Clare Kober, and the Director of Corporate Resources, Julie Parker are called on to stop the mounting pressure that is being placed on the Trustees of the Alexandra Park and Palace Trust (our Charity) to sign the wholly unsatisfactory draft accounts.

At the Special Board meeting on Tuesday 6th January 2009 the Trustees were placed under considerable influence from Trust Solicitor Iain Harris and Council Officers to agree the accounts with only trivial changes, and sign within 48 hours. It would seem the trustees are not being advised as trustees, but as councillors.

The Trustees have a statutory duty of care to safeguard our Charity and its assets. Signing the accounts as they currently stand is likely to lead to a Breach of Trust by the current board. Trustees, according the Trust Law, are personally responsible if not liable, for their actions.

The Trustees, who are also Councillors, were instructed by Trust Solicitor Iain Harris in a September 2008 letter attached to the Walklate Report that they should leave politics behind when acting as trustees, and putting their fiduciary trustee duties first and foremost when representing our Charity. They are now being pressured into making decisions that are not in the best interests of our Charity.

The Council, as the main Trustee, has the responsibility to prove that any expenditure was reasonably and properly incurred on behalf of our Charity.

The accounts relate to the eight months of the Firoka unlawful occupation which lead to a £3 million loss to our Charity. This occupation was authorised by a temporary Licence that was investigated by the Walklate report that found that the Board of Trustees had not approved the final version of the licence. Furthermore the Licence was issued for three months but was actually allowed to run for eight months which exacerbated the financial losses. Our Charity has not seen any of the income generated during the Firoka occupation whilst the Council has paid all salaries and expenses.

The ice rink (which normally produces a substantial and direct income to our Charity) was wrongly transferred to Firoka as a result of the unapproved Licence. It made up a substantial part of the £3 million loss whereas in the previous year, it had contributed £1 million to our Charity's fund. The ice rink is a charitable activity – a legal term meaning that only The Board of Trustees has the authority to transfer it. It was only after Firoka's occupation and losses having been incurred that the decision was made to transfer it to APTL – a limited company and trading arm of our Charity. The accounts as they stand incorrectly state the ice rink status at the time of the occupation.

A second report, Walklate 2, it is understood, has been commissioned by the Trustees to investigate the financial impact of the unapproved licence and how to recoup the losses. This report is due, we are told, in February. It is premature and imprudent for the auditors and Trustees to finalise the accounts before this second report is out.

The pressure that is now being placed on Trustees to sign the accounts looks suspiciously like the old regime and the Council wishing to exonerate itself for the financial mismanagement of Alexandra Palace under the occupation by its ex-preferred partner Firoka, when it was the Council who insisted on the sale to Firoka by whatever means. Further, the Council seems to wish to perpetuate the myth that Alexandra Palace is debt-ridden and therefore unattractive to potential investors and partners in our Charity.

This is yet another example of the conflict of interest here, whereby the Trustees are also Councillors. It is clearly time for the trusteeship of Alexandra Palace to be made independent of politics and be run competently for true public benefit.