Alexandra Palace: Labour loses even more money

Alexandra PalaceHaringey Lib Dem council group leader Neil Williams tells me that he is increasingly worried about council tax payers being taken to the cleaners by the current goings on at Alexandra Palace.

As ever with Ally Pally, it’s a complicated story – and one to which neither Haringey Council, nor the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (also, alas, a Labour councillor) will give full and frank answers, but it goes like this.

When the Trust (and for this we must sadly read Haringey Labour in practice) thought they had a ‘done deal’ with their chosen developer (Firoz Kassam and Firoka), they (the developer that is) were allowed to start trading in the building, to get their feet under the carpet, as it were. It’s a bit like thinking you had sold your house, and then giving the potential future owners the keys before the deal was signed.

However, the deal on the lease was thrown out by the High Court – as the Charity Commission was found to have failed to consult the public properly on their plans for the Palace. The whole process now has to be done again. This could take months, if it happens at all.

In the meantime, as the Trust had no ‘plan B’ to cope with this cock-up, Firoka is now running the trading business at the Pally – and pretty much pocketing the profits coming in, from events and exhibitions, and so on.

Previously, some pretty tidy contributions from trading have always been used to bring down the cost of the Palace to the Haringey taxpayer, possibly up to about £2 million a year – but this pot of money is now essentially in the hands of Firoka, who show no visible signs of passing it on.

Haringey Council describes this situation as “unfortunate” and blames the Save Ally Pally campaign as well as the Lib Dems – i.e. anyone other than themselves, even though it was they who came up with the flawed sell off and they who let Firoka in to start earning money before the deal was finalised. Indeed, they have employed blue-chip PR advisers, Lexington Communications, who are helping them say so – all being paid for by the Haringey taxpayer, just to rub salt into the financial wounds of this all.

Not good!

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

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

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!