A year in St Albans, part one

PUBLISHED: 11:29 31 December 2012 | UPDATED: 13:44 03 January 2013

The man and his dog were rescued from the lake in Verulamium Park
Pics: Herts Fire & Rescue Service

The man and his dog were rescued from the lake in Verulamium Park Pics: Herts Fire & Rescue Service

Archant

2012 - the year of the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics and like the rest of the country, the St Albans district was caught up in them.

But there were still plenty of local issues of concern, not least the ongoing saga of the railfreight depot planned for Park Street, potential housing developments in the district and of course, our old friends First Capital Connect and their service into and out of London.

Then there was the mounting worries about the overnight street light switch off, the prospect of an incinerator on the district’s doorstep and on a far brighter note, the heart-warming response to the plight of young cancer victim Bailey Sarwa.

Here in a look back at some of the stories that occupied the columns of the Herts Advertiser this year, we reveal some of the more serious issues and the lighter ones which kept readers informed and entertained in 2012.

January

January blew in with concerns over the great news for rail passengers that their commute was the most expensive train journey in the UK - just what they wanted to hear in the same month as they were hit with an average of 5.7 per increase in fares.

A multi-million pound plan to extend the St Albans Cathedral Chapter House came to light but in May, the scheme was turned down for lottery funding and it has now gone back to the drawing board.

And the plight of Bailey Sarwa, the 13-year-old St Albans boy fighting a rare cancer, was highlighted with the launch of a campaign to secure medical care overseas after his family was refused potentially life-saving treatment in this country.

By the end of the year the campaign, which was enthusiastically adopted by not only the family and friends of Bailey but hundreds of others as well, had raised an astonishing £150,000.

On a sadder note, St Albans said farewell one of its own with the death of Lady Runcie, a renowned pianist and keen gardener in her own right who was a founder patron and joint president of the St Albans hospice Grove House which was originally named after her husband, the late Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of St Albans, Dr Robert Runcie.

The month ended with a homecoming signing session by local band Enter Shikari at HMV in St Albans for which hundreds of fans queued for hours.

February

The ongoing battle to prevent a Victorian school in St Albans from being demolished hit the headlines in February. The Pemberton building shares the same site as the new Alban City Free School but conservationists, backed by district councillors, put up a strong case for saving it.

Secondary schools in the district were once again revealed as securing some of the best results in Herts if not in the country as a whole, in 2011. St George’s School in Harpenden emerged as the top state school in the county for its percentage of students gaining A*-C grades at GCSE while all three of the Harpenden schools scored highly at A-level.

Expansion plans which could lead to the doubling and eventually tripling of the number of passengers using Luton Airport came under fire - not least because the airport is owned by Luton Borough Council which is also the planning authority.

As the weather deteriorated, dog walker Gerald Quinlan had good reason to thank the emergency services and a passing couple after falling into the frozen Verulamium Park lake while try to rescue his West Highland White terrier Charlie who had run across the ice - and fallen in.

And both Olympic and Paralympic torches began to appear across the district with visits among others to Roundwood Primary School and Bowmansgreen Primary in London Colney.

March

At the midnight hour - well maybe slightly earlier - on March 1, streetlights across St Albans were switched off as the part night lighting scheme reached the district. Police had issued assurances that there had been no rise in crime since it had been introduced in other parts of the county but many local residents remained to be convinced.

Hard though it is to believe in light of what turned out to be one of the wettest summers on record, the district was gripped by a drought in March with parts of the River Ver having dried up and Veolia Water announcing that it was going to introduce a hosepipe ban.

The digital cinema plan for the Maltings Arts Theatre was scrapped with the district council opting instead to hand over the programming to local drama group OVO.

And children in Wheathampstead who had been receiving free transport to Sir John Lawes School in Harpenden were told it was now safe to walk - even though the route meant going across an unlit footpath and the distance totalled nearly 3.5 miles.

March ended with the raising of concerns about pollution at Verulamium Lake after an expert in aquatic habitat conducted a survey of life below the surface and found only worms thriving in the excrement. But some district councillors, with perhaps an eye on the upcoming election, pooh-poohed the idea and said everything was fine.

April

It was no joke when April arrived with news that a decision on the planned rail freight depot on Radlett Airfield in Park Street had been put back. It followed a discovery by St Albans MP Anne Main and her Hertsmere counterpart James Clappison that there had been a private meeting between the then Transport Minister Theresa Villiers and Simon Hoare, lobbyist on behalf of the developers Helioslough.

Weather presenter Sian Lloyd guaranteed some sunshine when she visited Harpenden to open a new store and members of St Albans Gang Show performed in front of and then met Chief Scout Bear Grylls at a performance in London.

Arts groups hit out at the district council claiming they had been excluded from the city’s St Albans Festival in favour of professional acts. The council moved quickly to smooth ruffled feathers and bring them back into the fold.

The Herts Advertiser joined forces with the Save Our Skies campaign launched in April to fight increased plane noise and pollution across the district - and that is before any expansion plans at Luton Airport get the nod.

Teacher Piers Casimir-Mrowczynski from Gustard Wood revealed that he had purchased an island off Scotland’s west coast as his final resting place and as the Olympics and Paralympics loomed larger, it emerged that Harpenden footballer David Clarke had been selected to captain the GB Paralympic five-a-side squad.

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