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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


• 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.