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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


Official: Haringey Council stops flogging Alexandra Palace on eBay

THE COUNCIL has decided not to sell Alexandra Palace. I, and I'm sure many others, will welcome this decision. But it's worth pausing to reflect on its meaning. This volte face is not just a signal to would-be property-developers and it's not only something that's been called for, for a long time.

The writing has been on the wall for Haringey Council's sale policy since October 2007, when the High Court quashed the last sell-off attempt.

The council-controlled Board isn't exactly nimble in adjusting to changed circumstances. That it took the Trust Board two and a quarter years to come to this decision, is further evidence of the unsuitability of the current governance regime. After 15-odd years of the Flog-it policy, the climb-down shows how misguided was the previous politicians' policy. The Board has been dull, unwieldy and cumbersome. Anyone would think the local authority were running our Charity as a council department. Oh, hang on, they are!

The fitting failure for the "Flog-it" formula, followed the fiasco of Firoka's final flight. But that was in August 2008 – nearly 18 months ago.

The time taken to acknowledge reality also illustrates key features of the Council-Board: inertia, bureaucracy, unapologetic, unresponsiveness and an unreadyness to be seen to be wrong. During the Firoka-era and its aftermath, approximately one third of Trust Board time was spent hiding its most recent horrors; another third was spent rectifying older wrong decisions that had surfaced – and only one third of their time was focused on formulating fresh muck-ups.

The Trust (in truth, the council majority group) alludes to their inviolable responsibility for spending precious public money carefully. Such duty and dedication might be praiseworthy and even credible, were it not for the evidence: under 100%-pure council-control, the Trust has been a furnace taxpayer's-cash for 30 years and stoked by politicians. Is the view of the council that its their sacred right to burn our money?

How much has the previous, long-held Flog-it policy cost us? I would have thought the waste of our taxes runs into many millions and not just in direct costs.

By way of direct sale costs, there have been surveyors, a PR company, hoards of legal advisers (with questionable 'advice') and various sundry consultant hangers-on. The ill-judged Licence-to-Firoka alone cost a minimum of £1.5m and probably nearer £3m (council tax-payers actually subsidised a private company to this tune). If only the millions burned up in 'sale' expenses could have been spent more wisely and usefully. Independent trustees could surely do no worse than the council – and in all probability, do a great deal better!

All along, there has been the contentious vicious-circle of the self-reinforcing council-subsidy.

But perhaps the greatest cost of all of the Flog-it policy has been the opportunity cost and the chances for a better future – squandered for 15 and more years. It was a self-imposed planning blight.

The woeful neglect of our Charity's main asset (the building) has meant not only that the Trustee has been in Breach of Trust, but that the eventual bill for repairs will be bigger thanks to council carelessness. Normally, Trustees have an onerous responsibility. In a perversion of real Charity governance, Haringey indemnifies Trustees (i.e. itself) so that no individual Trustee bears personal liability for poor collective decisions. Individual responsibility disappears and we end up with a diffuse and largely meaningless collective accountability. Apparently no one is responsible for the millions in cash burnt up so far.

Towards the end of the Firoka episode, the council was practically begging one of Britain's richest men to buy our heritage for a rumoured £1.5m. Even though the reckless sale was eventually thwarted, the council still managed to press a huge subsidy into the hands of the company he controlled. It always surprised me that a Labour council would – in effect – try to give the crown jewels of our Borough to a former slum-landlord and developer-of-last-resort.

Haringey's 'preferred partner' (Firoka) – most carefully selected after exhaustive advertising and tendering – now sues the Trust/council (that's us, folks) for £6.2 million. The council record of disaster over our Charity's asset is long, deep and consistent. It began in the 1980s when they lost all control over rebuilding costs after the 1980 fire. The long-term Flog-it policy wasted yet more. If Haringey remain in charge, it is likely there will be further poor decisions.

It has been proved time and again that municipal control of our Charity represents chronic, systemic, failure. There may now be some attempts to interest developers in bits of the palace – attempts that are likely to fail. The council seems not to understand that no one wants to touch the place while the bureaucrats and politicians remain in control and the future is uncertain.

The notion of a multi-story car-park at the back has apparently been dropped by the Trustees. This half-baked scheme was an example of the piecemeal approach from a dilatory Board lacking a credible, coherent and continuous plan for our great building. The key issue facing the Board is root-and-branch governance reform and this ought to come before all else.

A positive interpretation for the abandonment of the flog-it policy, is that the council sees that as a necessary step to having independent trustees. One can only hope that if and when the council finally brings itself to 'admit one' independent Trustee, that it will not be under conditions that are either impossible, that no one would wish to take up or that any genuine independent trustee would soon tire of.

Meaningful governance – that could lead to AP being everything it could be – has to be more than being expected to read half-inch thick council officer reports and turning up for board meetings. Will the inertia continue or can the current chairman break the mould? There seems to be some reason to hope. Our palace is currently pointed in the right direction, but progress is slow.

Possibly no significant decisions on AP will be made before the next council election in May. Which in itself is yet another reason why the governance model (of transitory local politicians) is chronically flawed. New board members – who will be rotating politicians – will blame the old ones and so may continue the lack of continuity.

The best decisions the council could make now are: (1) to discharge the £40,000,000 of largely bogus 'debt' (2) to agree an annual grant for park maintenance [circa £750,000] (3) to phase-out council cash/control and (4) to phase-in a hand-over to a *largely* independent board of trustees, comprised of expert and experienced, committed and competent, enthusiastic men and women.