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Row breaks out over Alexandra Palace regeneration plan

PUBLISHED: 12:15 30 January 2015 | UPDATED: 13:07 30 January 2015

Controversial: Plan would open up colonnades in Palace's East Wing

Controversial: Plan would open up colonnades in Palace's East Wing

Archant

Managers at Alexandra Palace have defended plans to refurbish the former BBC studios and Victorian theatre in the building’s crumbling east wing after conservationists said the scheme would cause “irrevocable” to damage its historic character.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Alexandra Palace.Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Alexandra Palace.

Over heated exchanges at a packed planning forum in Muswell Hill on Wednesday, campaigners opposed an application to reinstate windows in a series of bricked-up colonnades along the building’s south terrace, ahead of a final decision on the scheme by Haringey Council planners in a fortnight.

The colonnades in the Grade II-listed “People’s Palace” were originally bricked up to create Studios A and B from which the BBC made television history with the world’s first high-definition broadcast on November 2, 1936. Opening them up again has proved to be the major sticking point among the otherwise well-received and wide-ranging scheme.

Speaking after the meeting where the Palace unveiled its vision for an interactive exhibition and gallery space illustrating the Palace’s role in broadcasting history, Lynne Zilkha from campaign group Save Ally Pally said: “We support the work that’s been done but preserving the blocked-in colonnades really is the heritage golden goose.

“They need to keep more of the fabric of the building and I’m worried the feel of the original place will be lost irrevocably. The front of the building isn’t beautiful but neither are the huts at Bletchley Park.”

At the meeting, Alexandra Park and Palace chief executive Duncan Wilson defended the opening up of the colonnades and rejected protestors’ claims that the planned film room and gallery spaces would create a series of “black boxes” that shrouded the studios’ original architecture.

He insisted the plans, submitted after a two-year consultation process, “strike the right balance” between preserving the heritage of the BBC studios and the faded glamour of the theatre whilst opening up the site to an estimated 90,000 new visitors every year.

Mr Wilson later said it was “disappointing we haven’t managed to convince everyone,” but insisted that opening up the colonnade to a first-floor Victorian balcony and gallery corridor was part of the original design and would be “essential” to re-establish the link between the Palace and the park.

It is estimated the scheme would generate between £50,000 and £100,000 every year, against a current loss of £2.1million.

Highgate councillor Clive Carter said he was “90 per cent in favour” of the scheme but the plans for the colonnades meant he could not give it his full backing.

However, many residents joined author and former Crouch End councillor Nigel Willmott in endorsing the plans. Mr Willmott, who gives guided tours around the Victorian theatre said: “This is the first time the People’s Palace may actually be able to function as it was originally designed, and I think if this opportunity is missed the people of Haringey or the people of London will never forgive us.”

More than 40 residents have made written representations to Haringey over the scheme, with the council accepting submissions until February 16.

+ To give your views on the plans, click here to be taken to the application lodged with Haringey Council.

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