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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


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.

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