Concerns raised over stalled Alexandra Palace TV studios restoration

Alexandra Palace's TV studios were due for restoration, but the venue's management has put the proje

Alexandra Palace's TV studios were due for restoration, but the venue's management has put the project on hold over a lack of funds. - Credit: Archant

Concerns have been raised over a failure to begin restoration work on Alexandra Palace’s TV studios.

In a public meeting between Alexandra Palace chief executive Louise Stewart and the venue’s statutory and consultative committees on Tuesday it emerged the BBC studios would not be restored any time soon.

Committee member Jacob O’Callaghan said afterwards: “Everyone was delighted when it was announced that the original TV studios were to be rescued from dereliction and neglect by means of a lottery grant, part of which would go to reopening the Victorian Theatre.

“It is disappointing that the Palace management is still rather unforthcoming about just what is to happen.

“Many if not most people in Britain would say that the start of television was the most historically important thing about Ally Pally - and the studios remain as a physical monument to that achievement,” Mr O’Callaghan added.

In February this year it emerged there wasn’t enough money to complete both the restoration of the theatre and studios, with the latter being dropped.

“The public surely has a right to know why all that Heritage Lottery Fund money is now being spent on the less important Victorian Theatre, what the Fund thinks about this change of plan, and exactly how and when the shortfall will be met to enable both projects to go ahead.

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“And whether, importantly, the delay can allow us to get even better plan than the original one, which planned to strip away too much of the studios to the former Victorian wing,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

Urged to confirm the details of any plans, Ms Stewart told committee members that developers were drawing up plans to ensure the work was not abandoned before adding her team were “extremely busy” delivering other construction projects.

Alexandra Palace is regarded as the birthplace of television. In 1935 the BBC leased the eastern wing of the Palace from where the first public television transmissions were made.

In March 2015 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £18.6million of funding to restore the East Wing.

Under the plans, the eastern end of the Palace, made up of the studios and Victorian Theatre, were set to be repaired and refurbished.

The Heritage Lottery Fund contributed £18.6million towards the total cost of £26.7m, with the London Borough of Haringey pledging £6.8m.

Speaking a day after the meeting, Ms Stewart said: “Earlier this year, the Alexandra Park and Palace charitable trust, with full support from the Board, made a difficult but prudent and timely decision in the best interests of the Park and Palace, which led to the re-scoping of the project to focus for now on the theatre and the new public space in the East Wing.

“This has received support and understanding from the main project funders the Heritage Lottery Fund, Haringey Council, our partners and stakeholders.

“The trust has been clear that it still absolutely intends to bring the television studios back to use for public benefit and enjoyment but as a charity with limited resources we can’t always do what we or others aspire to in the timescales we would like.

“The Alexandra Park and Palace restoration project team are working with partners to develop a plan outlining the next steps for the television studios project.

“We are confident the original television studios will become an interactive celebration of the proud history of broadcasting and the BBC at Alexandra Palace as well an exploration of cutting edge broadcasting and technology.

“In the meantime, work is well underway on the theatre and East Court and the progress we are making in bringing them back to life is really exciting.”

A spokesman for the Heritage Lottery Fund said: “Following unforeseen delays and cost increases, our Board has approved the removal of the BBC studios visitor attraction from the original scope of the Alexandra Palace restoration.

“Large and complex restoration projects are not without risk and we considered this a pragmatic way forward which protects the National Lottery’s investment to date.

“The Heritage Lottery Fund acknowledges the historic importance of the studios and we hope to see a viable way forward for this part of the scheme.”