Alexandra Palace: court blocks Labour's plans

This week’s historic court judgement on Alexandra Palace (courts blocked the planned sell-off) is a damning indictment of the behaviour of the Labour councillors who rammed through the deal on Ally Pally with Firoz Kassam’s Firoka group. It is justice being done and seen to be done (see Hornsey Journal here and here and Ham & High coverage).

A real local hero, Jacob O’Calloghan (who is a local historian), is the David who took on the giant of the Labour establishment over their now found to be much wanting ‘sale’ of Alexandra Palace. Throughout the process Labour steamrollered through an inadequate consultation process in which they refused to let anyone know the terms of the contract. Yes – they were told. Time and time again local campaigners and Liberal Democrat councillors raised these issues – but Labour ignored voices that contradicted their plans.

And the Charity Commission, tasked with the proper conduct of charities such as Ally Pally, showed itself to not only be toothless but in my view negligent in their duties.

The judge was clearly appalled by what has gone on and had no qualms about saying so. During Friday’s hearing Mr Justice Jeremy Sullivan attacked the Charity Commission for being “completely unreasonable and wholly unrealistic” in its treatment of residents’ concerns.

He suggested that a fresh consultation process be launched and the lease be made available for people to see so they could make an informed decision about whether they agree with it.

But where are we now? Well Matt Cooke (the Labour Chair of the Ally Pally board) has refused to take any responsibility for this stinging judicial rebuke. He should resign without question – but he has instead spent his time writing to the local papers to churn out the sort of rubbish his quote in the Ham & High demonstrates:

“Our priority throughout has been to restore the palace for future generations of Londoners whilst removing the financial burden of running the palace and servicing its debts from the shoulders of Haringey taxpayers. We have no reason to assume achieving this objective is no longer possible and every reason to consider fulfilment is just a few short months away despite the temporary delay caused by the High Court.”

Haringey taxpayers have suffered long and hard and expensively – but only because of Labour’s incompetence over decades. Getting this judgement simply demonstrates why Matt Cooke and Labour need to get booted out altogether. They don’t even admit it when they are exposed as incompetents who freeze out meaningful public consultation – as with this example from last year:

Imagine the scene. A group of residents want to lobby Haringey Council about the plans to hand over Alexandra Palace to the Firoka group.

What does Labour do? They say, no – you can’t lobby the full council meeting, you must go to the Palace Board meeting. And when is the next Board meeting they can go to … not until after the decision will have been made about whether to give Firoka the site!

You can have your say, but only when it’s too late with Haringey Labour!

And the real issue is that the Palace could be a wonderful resource for local people and the wider population – but with Labour’s handling that opportunity is being wasted, yet again.

Alexandra Palace update

On The future of the birthplace of regular TV at Alexandra Palace is under threatThursday it was the meeting with Cllr Charles Adje (Haringey Labour councillor and Chair of Alexandra Palace Board) and Mr Firoz Kassam (of Firoka Group – who are purchasing a 125 year lease on Ally Pally). Cllr Wayne Hoban (ex Ally Pally board, Lib Dem Deputy Leader of the Opposition and ward councillor for the Palace) came with me.

The meeting was not exactly a resounding success in terms of agreeing any changes ahead of the signing of the contracts on Tuesday to protect the historic TV studios. Being so close on the deadline for signing the contracts it was clear that the long delays over signing since last May had exasperated those involved in the process and so there was reluctance to make any more changes at the last moment.

In my view – in that case it should have been dealt with earlier and anyway it is important to get everything right if you are signing something over for 125 years! As to why it hadn’t been dealt with earlier – well, when the issue was originally raised and proposed by the two Liberal Democrat members on the Ally Pally board and minuted – it was voted down. So this was a last (and unsuccessful) pre-contract signing attempt to change things.

However, Mr Kassam recognises the importance of the history of the birthplace of television. The contract provides for a museum of television history and until the deal is signed and sealed this remains the state of play. As a businessman there is also no doubt that he recognises that the historic site is a unique selling point and that he will want to maximise that advantage.

Mr Kassam seemed open to discussions on the museum post-contract signing. One point made during the public kafuffle over the last couple of weeks was the issue around the BBC expecting the Firoka Group to put up the funds to preserve the artefacts and create the television museum and the BBC not being able to put money in itself. I am hopeful that given Mr Kassam’s willingness to look at these issues with interested parties that the BBC and Mr Kassam will be able to talk the issues over.

So, we’re back to where we were a few days ago before this meeting was arranged – that is, the Charity Commission consultation that will run for one month – and remains tremendously important in terms of any issues anyone wishes to raise. Therefore, I would encourage everyone to put in their views during the consultation period by emailing the Charity Commission at enquiries@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk

As always the emails that work best with this sort of lobbying are short, temperate but clear messages that include your full name and postal address. It would be handy if you could also copy your email to me at lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org

Ally Pally progress – and conditional cautions

First – another update on Ally Pally. I’ve had a call to say can I meet Firoz Kassam (the new owner) and Cllr Charles Adje (Labour councillor and Chair of the Ally Pally Board) this Thursday (more quickly than I had suggested last Saturday when I met them at the Ally Pally firework display). The reason give is that the contract will be signed next week.

There is provision for a museum of television in the contract – but it doesn’t preserve the studios. So my proposal is to offer them a draft clause to be inserted in the contract which will save the historical parts of the old BBC studios – though with flexibility as to exactly what the rooms are used for.

I’ve got a couple of experts on the case to draw up the draft clause for me to offer to the Firoka Group and the Ally Pally Board. I hope their bringing forward of the meeting means that they want to show willing prior to the Charity Commission consultation and appear good altruists.

We will see. I gather that the Firoka Group’s current view is that they don’t feel they should spend money on it when the BBC hasn’t. A completely spurious argument as the BBC is hard pressed to spend public money in a building that isn’t theirs and has had a cloud over its future – and has a debt ridden history. And, Firoka are going to have to spend money on the building anyway.

(UPDATE: I’ve put the text of the Early Day Motion I’ve put down in Parliament up on in the news section of my website).

Hopefully, I will be able to persuade Mr Kassam to see the preservation of the directors’ gallery and the other fine parts of the structure as an asset (which it is) rather than a nuisance.

Later – the Police Justice Bill came back to the Commons in the ping pong it is having with the Lords. Ping pong is when the Commons and Lords vote for different wording to be in the Bill – so it goes back and forth until agreement is reached. The last two issues being battled out are extradition to the USA and conditional cautions.

I lead on the cautions – and the Government had tabled some improving amendments in the Lords which the noble Lords had accepted. So my job in my speech was to accept them but flag up all the remaining problems – of which there are many. However, the battle continued on extradition – and it may well be that this goes to the Lords and returns again on Tuesday to the Commons. We will have to see.

More pong than ping – I should say!

Alexandra Palace: BBC cover story too

Rather Interviewed by the BBC about the threat to Alexandra Palace's historic TV studiosappropriately, I was interviewed by the BBC earlier today about the threat to the historic TV studios at Alexandra Palace. The media coverage of the issue is hotting up – hopefully enough to add to the pressure on the local council to take action to save the studios. (And don’t forget, you can lobby too to help save them – see my earlier blog posting for details).

Alexandra Palace update

Following up on the threat to our country’s first TV studios at Ally Pally – the EDM has now been tabled and I am writing to both BBC Heritage and the Royal Television Society to get them to lobby hard as well. This is a tragedy in the making!

So please get lobbying (details on my original blog posting – and don’t forget, anyone can approach their own MP to sign the EDM too; you can contact your MP via www.theyworkforyou.com).

Birthplace of TV at Alexandra Palace to be lost?

Another The future of the birthplace of regular TV at Alexandra Palace is under threatlocal issue that has blown up is the danger that the Ally Pally TV studios are in as the Ally Pally Board, headed by Haringey Labour councillor Charles Adje, has now confirmed that there is no long-term protection for the studios (the birth place of television) in the proposed sale of the Palace to the Firoka Group on a 125 year lease.

The television studios at Alexandra Palace were occupied in 1935 by the BBC, and in 1936 the first television broadcasts were made from the site. The lease that could be signed with the Firoka group only requires that the group provide a space for a museum somewhere within the building, not the maintenance of the original studios.

My Lib Dem councillor colleague, Bob Hare, who is Lib Dem Alexandra Palace spokesperson put it very well I thought – “This is the equivalent of losing Stonehenge and replacing it with a fibreglass replica. The television studios are of vast historical importance not just locally but nationally and internationally. It is a crying shame that in their rush to complete the deal with Firoka, there has been no thought given to their long-term survival. We must do everything we can to ensure that our children do not regret the hasty decisions that are being made about the future of Ally Pally.”

The Charity Commission will soon start a short, one-month public consultation on the proposals to sell the Palace – so here’s your chance to have a save and help save the TV studios by emailing the Charity Commission at enquiries@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk

As always the emails that work best with this sort of lobbying are short, temperate but clear messages that include your full name and postal address. It would be handy if you could also copy your email to me at lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org

(It would also help the campaign if you can mention this lobbying campaign, such as by linking to this blog posting, on any appropriate website or blog you have).

I am also tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament – so if you don’t live in my constituency you can contact your MP asking them to sign this EDM when it comes up for signature.

UPDATE: You can read about the latest state of play here.

Labour dodges public on Alexandra Palace

Speech to Haringey Community Empowerment Network (HARCEN) this lunchtime. HARCEN is a Government-funded and last time I was here was to hand out money awarded to various voluntary and other community groups to help them develop in a variety of ways. This time I am there to speak about ‘building a local enterprise economy’. Given the needs in Haringey, there is no better empowerment than employment – and self-employment is a pretty good pathway.

Straight into Parliament for Home Office questions – where Nick Clegg, the new Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary, tackles the Government proposals to go back to the voucher system for asylum seekers all over again. It caused a big stink last time they tried devaluing human beings this way – and we are there to make sure that they are exposed again. They were livid – and of course they said we were wrong – these vouchers weren’t like those vouchers. Yeah right!

Spent rest of day preparing for committee stage of a bill tomorrow.

Local major issue is the looming sell off of Ally Pally. And as ever – democracy in Haringey is done Labour style!

Imagine the scene. A group of residents want to lobby Haringey Council about the plans to hand over Alexandra Palace to the Firoka group.

What does Labour do? They say, no – you can’t lobby the full council meeting, you must go to the Palace Board meeting. And when is the next Board meeting they can go to … not until after the decision will have been made about whether to give Firoka the site!

You can have your say, but only when it’s too late with Haringey Labour!

Alexandra Palace

A flurry of emails from Labour admirers indignant that I dared to voice concerns about Alexandra Palace (where Labour managed to run up bills of over £60 million in a series of bungled rebuilding escapades) in my blog last week.

Shame they don’t show the same enthusiasm for answering questions or providing information about Ally Pally! (Haringey Council even previously tried to claim it was “illegal” to include information about the bills run up at Alexandra Palace in the information sent out with Council Tax bills. Only when I confronted the Chief Executive and asked him to quote the bit of law which made it illegal did he admit that after all information could be included).