MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
Last night’s landmark decision by the Board of Trustees, to abandon the search for a single developer for Alexandra Palace, has been welcomed by local Liberal Democrats. Yesterday the Ally Pally Board agreed to a more realistic and ‘organic’ approach towards development at the Palace, rather than through one developer.
The Liberal Democrats hope that the important decision now draws a line under repeated and failed attempts, driven by the Labour Council, to impose a ‘big bang’ development solution on the much-loved Palace. This strategy led to the failed deal with Firoka, a mistake that has already cost local taxpayers millions of pounds. The Palace was only saved by a successful judicial review driven by local campaigners, and has since endured damning reports on woefully lax governance arrangements that were exposed in the fiasco.
Cllr Robert Gorrie, Leader of Haringey Liberal Democrats, comments:
“Finally, we are seeing some much-overdue sense prevailing at Alexandra Palace. Local taxpayers lost millions of pounds when the Labour decided to flog the Palace off, without regard for the consequences or the views of local residents. That expensive fiasco highlighted the virtual collapse of effective governance at Alexandra Palace and has prompted a number of long-overdue changes in personnel and approach.
“I am glad that there is recognition of the flaws in the previous approach. However, a successful and sustainable future for Alexandra Palace will only come with independence from Haringey Council and the leadership of independent trustees.”
Lynne Featherstone MP adds:
“The botched Firoka deal was never going to be in the best interests of the residents of Haringey. Campaigners and Liberal Democrats told Haringey Council this at the time, yet they forged ahead on a path which was only doomed to failure.
“I welcome the news that a new path has been set and I look forward to a revived Alexandra Palace for the people of Haringey to enjoy.”
After efforts failed this week to move the Olympic boxing events from East London to Wembley, local Liberal Democrats are urging Olympic organisers, the Mayor of London and local councillors to consider Alexandra Palace as a possible alternative venue for boxing, badminton or rhythmic gymnastics.
Liberal Democrats believe moving an Olympic venue to Alexandra Palace, one of most iconic buildings in North London, would be an ideal opportunity for residents in Haringey to benefit from the Olympics, for more young people to be encouraged into sport and for the Olympics to have a lasting legacy in the borough.
Cllr David Winskill, Liberal Democrat Culture and Sport spokesperson, Cllr Robert Gorrie, Haringey Liberal Democrat Leader and Lynne Featherstone MP have written a joint letter to Sebastian Coe, Chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee Board, the Mayor of London and the Chair of Trustees at the Alexandra Palace urging them to consider Alexandra Palace.
Cllr David Winskill comments:
“Residents in Haringey are getting little, if any, direct benefit from the Olympics at the moment. News that badminton, boxing or gymnastics events need a new home is a fantastic opportunity for the Council to be proactive and ambitious.
“Alexandra Palace is an iconic building which has a long history of holding large and important events.
“It will not be easy and some investment in the Palace would be needed to get it up to standard. But this would be a great opportunity for the borough to be put on the Olympic map and for Alexandra Palace to get some well overdue investment. It would also ensure that North London would have a legacy of the Olympic post 2012.”
Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, adds:
“Residents in Haringey deserve to have a slice of the Olympic action. Alexandra Palace is a fabulous venue that has a long history of hosting large events including boxing.
“I really hope that the London 2012 Organising Committee seriously consider Ally Pally as an Olympic venue.”
Here’s my latest column for the Highgate Handbook and Muswell Hill Flyer:
Beautiful building, fantastic location – but a financial nightmare. That’s been the history of Alexandra Palace over the last few decades as one bungle after another has seen tens of millions of pounds wasted – with the bill for clearing these losses landed on the Haringey Council Tax payer.
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen Haringey Labour desperately trying to wash their hands of the problem – but wanting to do so by selling off much of the site on a mammoth 125 year lease to a private developer. A deal was sort-of struck with Firoka, which has since fallen through – leaving Haringey facing a £6.2 million claim from Firoka.
Liberal Democrat councillors have repeatedly criticised this deal – the way in which it was rushed through, the lack of decent public consultation, the lack of proper safeguards in the deal (especially for the historic TV studios) – and the failure to sort out crucial details.
Following the collapse of the deal, there have been two independent investigations – both with damning conclusions about how Labour councillors have behaved. The second one – known as Walklate 2 – concludes that “entering into and maintaining the licence [with Firoka for them to take over Alexandra Palace] has led to losses to the Trust in the region of £1,500,000. The Trustees were not given financial information of the effect of the licence … nor were they given the opportunity to consider whether they wished to revoke the licence.” That is £1.5 million in losses in addition to the £6.2 million claim.
As the reports have shown, the Trustees of Alexandra Palace were kept in the dark about major parts of the deal, they were not told of the concerns raised by some staff and they were not told key financial information either. In other words – there was such a drive to try to get Ally Pally off Haringey’s hands that things were rushed, kept secret and done badly.
The report also concludes that, “There is a moral imperative on any senior management team, particularly in the public sector, to take collective responsibility for such matter and this simply did not happen.” Mistakes, losses – but no-one carries the can other than the rest of us – who have to pick up the pieces through our Council Tax bills.
You just wonder when this pantomime of hideous errors and misdeeds will end; when we the taxpayers will stop having to foot the bill for incompetence and possibly worse and when our beloved Ally Pally will be free of the smell of things not quite right. Next local elections perhaps?
If you missed it before, you can still watch my short YouTube film about Ally Pally.
Went out after surgery yesterday to visit two of the local projects funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
First off – the makeover for Alexandra Palace Park – where there is a real transformation. Now we have views along the axis – like a mini (very mini) Champs Elysees. Landscaping and renewal around the rose garden. The children’s playground is now a delight and the views no longer screened by scary clumps of growth where mothers with toddlers used to fear strangers might lurk. The skate part and the graffiti wall are doing just fine. The fishing decks and revamp of the cafe make an afternoon or morning boating or walking, playing or fishing a delight. It was really great to see the park blossoming and fulfilling its potential in a way that it always should have – but never did.
Thank you Lottery Fund! And thanks too to the staff whose enthusiasm and commitment have seen it through from concept to completion.
The second of our visits was to the George Padmore Institute in Stroud Green. This was a treasure where the history of one man’s vision and drive (John Le Rose) led to the birth of the fight for rights in black education and arts. Black history is now far more to the fore – but this is the man who drove the agenda forward and somehow knew the path to force intellectual, cultural and artistic change. Lottery funds have and are supporting the archiving of the documents that give testimony to this history. This was a real treat of a visit – and thank goodness for the funding for without it such important and transforming history might not be preserved and archived.
Last week Nigel Scott (Liberal Democrat by-election candidate in the Alexandra by-election) published his plan for the future of Alexandra Palace:
A good plan! Alexandra Palace is a cultural and historical icon that needs to be raised above the quagmire of Haringey Labour’s financial and political bungling. As Nigel said:
“Alexandra Palace is a community treasure. Labour’s shady and incompetent dealings with the Palace’s have been fully exposed this week. This must now stop.
“We need a plan that will really engage with the people of Haringey, a plan that will provide independence from Labour’s incompetent meddling with strong independent leadership. We need a restored building that cherishes the Palace’s historic uniqueness and protects the good work carried out by CUFOS.”
Press release is pretty self-explanatory, so here it is:
Haringey’s Liberal Democrats are calling for the resignation of Labour’s finance boss and former Council leader Cllr Charles Adje following the publication of a damning report into how, as Alexandra Palace Chair, he pushed through the controversial licence for Firoka to operate in the building. The Liberal Democrats say the revelations in the report show he can’t be trusted to run the boroughs finances.
The report into affairs at Alexandra Palace was published late last week for consideration at an emergency Alexandra Palace board meeting this Friday. Among the most scandalous of many revelations in the report is an assertion that Cllr Adje pushed the controversial licence through for political reasons, so that he could tell the Haringey Labour group’s Annual General Meeting it had been achieved – at which time Cllr Adje was bidding for the job of Labour finance boss.
Whilst Cllr Adje claims to have had limited involvement in the process, the others interviewed for the report indicate that it was he who was driving the ill-fated process forward.
Haringey Liberal Democrat Leader, Cllr Robert Gorrie, comments:
“Firstly, it’s clear that Charles Adje must be removed as soon as possible as the Haringey’s finance chief. There are many damning revelations in the report, but suggestions that Cllr Adje was rushing this disastrous process forward, without proper procedures in place, in order to suit the needs of the Labour Group’s Annual General Meeting is an absolutely scandalous revelation. This point alone requires further serious investigation.
“This politically motivated incompetence has cost Haringey’s taxpayers millions of pounds. Why was Haringey Council so slow to take steps to bring the Palace into line? The Liberal Democrats, and local campaign groups repeatedly raised the issue from last July onwards. Cllr Neil Williams brought it to the Council, to the Cabinet, and to the media. It was raised repeatedly by Lib Dem Ally Pally board member Bob Hare, whose demands for answers were simply brushed aside.
“Following a request by council officers there will now be an action plan to ensure that this does not happen again – but this is as much about incompetence as it is about governance. No amount of procedural changes will protect the Trust from people in charge who have shown they should not be in such positions of authority. That’s why Charles Adje must step down.”
Lynne Featherstone MP adds:
“This is a flagrant abuse of power which appears largely to have been pursued because of political self-interest. This is not someone who should hold the purse strings to half billion pounds of public money through Haringey Council’s finances. Further questions must also be asked how this was able to carry on without the scrutiny of the rest of the Labour party and the Council.”
Well, well – Ken Livingstone has been at it again – recycling old, broken promises just as election day nears. In this case – he’s making the same comments about Alexandra Palace that he made four years ago – and then didn’t act on in the four years since.
As the news release from my colleague Monica Whyte (candidate for the Enfield & Haringey London Assembly seat) says:
Local Liberal Democrats have exposed Ken Livingstone’s cynical bid for votes over Ally Pally, admidst Haringey Labour’s catastrophic mismanagement of the cherished building.
The Lib Dems are reminding local residents that his promises this week comes four years after Labour’s Mayor made a similar bid for votes at the last Mayoral election – since which he has done absolutely nothing to help as local Labour bosses have wasted further millions in a disastrous attempt to dispose of the site.
When the last Mayoral election was days away, Ken Livingstone told local newspaper the Hornsey Journal that the Ally Pally was a “regional resource” and a “huge financial burden” for the people of Haringey – and suggested that extra funding could be made available to it from the Mayor’s budget (Hornsey Journal, 3rd June 2004).
In the past four years however, he has done nothing to help, while the local Labour Council has orchestrated a disastrous attempt to flog the building to a developer through a failed lease that has been thrown out by the High Court – leaving local taxpayers with another multi-million pound bill on top of the £50 million already squandered.
Local GLA candidate and Haringey Lib Dem councillor Monica Whyte commented: “Ken Livingstone’s empty promises to save the Ally Pally from the clutches of Haringey Labour would be great if they were true – but this just shows that he will say anything for a few votes in this area.”
“He said he’d help save the Ally Pally last time and what did he do? Absolutely nothing. Instead, Lib Dems have had to battle another fiasco of mismanagement over the Firoka deal, which has cost local residents further millions.
“Local residents will not be fooled by Ken a second time round!”
Brian Paddick came to Hornsey & Wood Green and we visited a number of hotspots. The area is becoming a bit of a regular haunt of his – he was here during the Highgate by-election too. This time I showed him Wood Green cross – which is the area that local residents in the Wood Green area are most worried about crime wise. There stands a disused and vacant and deteriorating police box. Originally conceived and procured to ease peoples’ fears by having police on the spot – it never really opened for enough hours for anyone to have the slightest confidence that there would be a police person in the box. So it failed. Such a stupid waste for what was a good idea.
We went to Alexandra Park station (Oyster needed / on the way); Ally Pally – to show Brian the historic building which Labour Haringey first built up a debt (for which we locals had to pay) and then tried to sell on in a highly controversial deal – stopped at the moment by a local group taking Labour Haringey to court; then off to the 603 bus route in Muswell Hill where Brian pledged to extend the operating hours of this much loved route.
In Crouch End he promoted the Crouch End Traders ‘Bag for Life’ and posed in front of the Clock Tower whilst he did various interviews with the local press. He tried to squeeze in Weston Park Post Office – but in the end Monica Whyte (GLA candidate and local councillor) and David Winskill (local councillor) went there to meet a disabled lady whose life will be ruined if Labour’s proposed Post Office closures go ahead.
And I went to visit Bonnie – living with husband, two children and sister in two rooms in terrible state – but more of this story in a while. I am on the warpath for this one.