Review of the Year – 2010

IT began with ice and snow causing chaos and ended in almost exactly the same vein.

But while the weather has been prominent in the columns of the Herts Advertiser during 2010, it is not the only issue which has been involving our readers.

Step forward and take a bow, the new St Albans cinema, First Capital Connect (FCC) travel problems and the size of the proposed pool at the new Westminster Lodge leisure centre to name but a few.

JANUARY blew in with – you’ve guessed it – plenty of heavy snow. Rail services ran on an emergency timetable, most schools closed and the refuse service could not operate. But a few hardy souls get some pleasure from the situation by skating on the iced-over Verulamium Lake – despite warnings not to.

Calls grew for FCC to lose its franchise after commuters faced more travel disruption as a result of not only the weather but also the reduced timetable implemented in December after a pay dispute with drivers led to services having to be cancelled.

A couple were forced to sleep at their nursery in Sandpit Lane, St Albans, to stop thieves targeting the generator they had been relying on since a nearby fire destroyed Mount Carmel Kindergarten’s electricity supplies. Lucia and Franco Federici were trapped in a morass of red tape over who was responsible for restoring the supply.

And the month ended with a question mark over whether cinema entrepreneur James Hannaway could raise the �1million he needed to purchase the old Odeon in London Road after exchange of contracts was put back.

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FEBRUARY found quick-thinking Richard Griffin the hero of the hour after he saved a bowling clubhouse from being burnt down by arsonists. His speedy action in moving away burning leaves and cardboard piled up against the side of the building in Clarence Park, St Albans, and then calling 999 meant the fire brigade were on the scene in minutes.

FCC was once more in the mire with numerous frustrated passengers turning out in force at a Meet the Manager session at St Albans City Station to vent their anger over the ongoing disruption to services.

The annual St Albans pancake race was not quite the flipping success it had been in the past as participants were told to walk not run because of the slippery course. The council’s tourism officer Charles Baker found himself maligned in national newspapers because of the decision which was taken because of health and safety regulations.

And at the end of February, the cinema dream was hanging in the balance as the Sale Agreed signs were taken down because of the fluidity of the situation between Mr Hannaway and the owners Wattsdown.

Secondary transfer – always a hot potato in the Herts Advertiser columns – saw in March as it was revealed that once again children from the villages surrounding St Albans had fallen victim to the process. The worst affected village was Wheathampstead with 17 children without a place at the school of their choice.

And with the worst of the weather out of the way, people were able to see the exact state the roads had been left in – and they weren’t happy. Comments ranged from “more potholes than roads” to “potentially life-threatening” to describe the way street surfaces had opened up.

But the month had one really bright note – the �1 million needed to purchase the old Odeon hit target and St Albans had a real chance of getting a cinema back in the city.

Also raising their glasses were scientist Tim Thakrar and his wife Lynsey after it emerged that a pioneering three-way kidney swap between couples had changed Tim’s life forever, taking him off four-hourly dialysis and able to live normally again.

Heartwood Forest, which is being planted in Sandridge, received a boost when Princess Beatrice went along for a spot of tree planting and said how much she would love to return there to track its progress.

APRIL opened with the inevitable April Fool’s joke as the Herts Advertiser was published on the day itself. Many readers got very angry when they read that St Albans Clock Tower was to be moved to the middle of the London Colney roundabout to create a new gateway to the city – fooled you!

On a more serious note, the planned Urgent Care Centre at St Albans City Hospital was scrapped by the Primary Care Trust because of a lack of funding provoking an angry reaction from local people who had already seen accident and emergency services go and be replaced by a minor injuries unit.

But contracts were exchanged on the old Odeon cinema – leaving James Hannaway needing to raise another �2 million to open it as a sister cinema to The Rex in Berkhamsted.

The countdown to both a General Election and local elections was underway with politicians on the doorsteps, party political broadcasts on the television – and most people counting the days until it was over.

But nature intervened before April was out with teachers missing from schools and local residents, including a honeymoon couple, stranded abroad because of the Icelandic volcano which grounded planes.

The month ended with controversy after planning permission was given for work to start on the new Westminster Lodge leisure centre just days before the elections on the casting vote of the chairman.

It was the turn of primary age children to face a shortage of places in May as nearly 200 youngsters in the district could not get into their nearest school. Some parents were talking about educating their children at home as a result of the travel difficulties they would encounter.

Conservative Anne Main fought off a Lib Dem challenge to win the St Albans constituency in the General Election while her Tory colleague Peter Lilley won Hitchin and Harpenden convincingly. The Lib Dems held on to St Albans council where several well-known faces including Labour leader and prospective parliamentary candidate Roma Mills lost their seat.

In Wheathampstead and further afield, people were starting to rally round to raise money for brave seven-year-old Freddie Rowe-Crowder whose family and friends appealed for funds to pay for new cycles of cancer treatment. So speedy was the response that by the end of the month enough money had been raised for Freddie to have his potentially life-saving treatment to counter neuroblastoma which he had been fighting since the beginning of 2009.

Children were in the news once again when a proud St Albans father-of-four delivered his baby daughter in a Colney Heath pub car park. Lola Rose was delivered by Paul Small after wife Fay went into labour on the way to Watford General Hospital.

World Cup fever was rife in the St Albans district as well as the rest of the country in June. One pub which went to town in support of England was The Gate in Bricket Wood which was festooned in red and white for weeks before kick off.

Primary school place campaigners received a boost when the county council announced that it had decided to make Francis Bacon in St Albans into an “all through” school for children of all ages from next September. Despite coming out of special measures, the secondary school had failed to attract sufficient pupils putting a question mark over its viability in the future.

Closure loomed for St Raphael’s Home for the elderly blind and partially sighted in Avenue Road to the dismay of the 74 residents. The St John’s Guild which owns the home – the only home for blind people in Herts – blamed increasing amounts of red tape for the decision.

And the month finished with motorway widening works revealed as causing huge problems for Bricket Wood with nudist camp Fiveacres Country Club facing particularly unwelcome exposure.

CUSTOMERS rallied around toy shop Little Wonders in July when it was given just 30 days to relocate from the Maltings shopping centre in St Albans to make way for a retail multiple. Co-owner Elena Ripoll hit out at the lack of help and support in the shop’s efforts to find alternative premises.

Children at Mandeville JMI in St Albans dressed as Bob the Builder at the end of term as the old part of their school was demolished for redevelopment – only to find that when they returned in September that the scheme had not progressed because of cost-cutting requirements.

There were celebrations all round mid month when the long-running saga of the rail freight depot in Park Street appeared to have finally reached an end with the defeat of a second planning appeal by Helioslough to build the massive scheme.But the story was not over – within weeks Helioslough announced it was challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to overrule his planning inspector and a High Court hearing is to be held in the New Year.

Elsewhere in the city, residents got wind of a plan to build a massive new housing development on land near St Albans Girls School and geared themselves up for a battle to prevent it.

And on a happier note, former pupils flocked back to Sir John Lawes School in Harpenden as it celebrated its 70th anniversary.

More development threats to residents – this time a sports village near Bricket Wood and an elderly care village off Chiswell Green Lane, came to light in August.

And the burgeoning Pool Too Small group fighting for better swimming facilities at the new Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre suffered a blow when St Albans council’s cabinet voted unanimously to push ahead with the existing plans and not increase the number of lanes from eight to 10.

Tempers were rising in south Harpenden over planes to and from Luton Airport flying low over the neighbourhood with some reported to be a mere 4,000ft above homes.

And centenarian Violet Robertson was forced to move from St Raphael’s Home for the Blind as the closure programme continued.

But for Crispy the duck there was a warm welcome at a St Albans pub where he had been hand reared two years earlier. Gail Payne, who owns the Black Lion in St Michael’s, rescued the then duckling in 2008 and was reunited with the fully-grown Crispy when he waddled back into the door of the pub.

Fallen trees in Harpenden left a trail of destruction in September as several large specimens toppled at St Stephen’s Court in Station Road crushing up to five residents’ cars.

X Factor-style auditions were held at the Alban Arena for the Christmas panto – the first mention of the festive season in the Herts Advertiser, is that a record? – and Westfield allotment campaigners in Harpenden were celebrating victory after the council’s cabinet ruled out a plan by the town council to build affordable housing on the site.

Redbourn’s 900th anniversary celebrations ended on a spectacular note as the figure of 900 was photographed from the air at the finale of a day of festivities which included a world record-breaking conga dance, visits from former England cricket captains Mike Brearley and Mike Gatting and a Redbourn’s Got Talent competition.

A party in Harpenden advertised on Facebook was signed up for by 21,000 people (including Justin Bieber, Stephen Hawking and Susan Boyle allegedly) and made headlines around the world. Police promised to step up patrols on the night of the party which was to have been held by a 14-year-old Harpenden teenager at Sir John Lawes School.

And there was a happy ending in September for little Frankie McGovern when he was reunited with his stuffed pig Ratty which had been accidentally left in the Maltings shopping centre.

OCTOBER opened with news that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver would be opening one of his Jamie’s Italian restaurants in St Albans city centre.

A groundswell of opposition emerged to the new Heartwood Forest car park and access road in Sandridge although both had already been given planning permission. Villagers argued there was a better site north of Sandridge and criticised the lack of consultation on the issue.

A former minerals site in Colney Heath/Smallford was mooted as the next possible site in the district for 250 new homes while, at the same time, Nicholas Breakspear School’s plans for a multi-use games area (MUGA) alongside its premises in Colney Heath Lane were turned down in the face of opposition from local residents.

And STRiFE – the action group set up to fight the rail freight depot proposals – learned that it was facing a ban from appearing at next year’s High Court action involving developers Helioslough and the Secretary of State Eric Pickles.

In Harpenden, First Capital Connect announced that it was to install ticket gates at the station in a bid to improve security and discourage fare evasion.

A DECISION not to merge Oaklands College with another further education provider made the headlines in November, at a time when the district was wreathed in stunning autumn colours.

Revised plans for a Hilton Hotel opposite the Noke in Chiswell Green were submitted to the council and neighbours living on two unadopted streets in St Albans grouped together to fund and carry out vital maintenance work. Residents of Oster Street and Thornton Street were left with little choice after last winter’s weather conditions left their roads littered with potholes.

A junior school was celebrating during the month after it was named as among the best in the country. Cunningham Hill Junior in St Albans came 32nd in the Sunday Times top 100 based on a three-year aggregate of end of Key Stage 2 SATs results.

The Westminster Lodge saga went on with news that McNamara and Co, the council’s chosen contractors, had gone into receivershipo only days after the deal had been approved by the council’s cabinet.

But that was of little concern for St Albans couple Stephen Salvatore and Rebecca Salvatore as they learned that their chosen wedding day would be shared with one Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton.

And so to December which saw the first snowfall of the season early in the month but with no hint then of what was to come.

It was no joke for elderly residents of Thomas Sparrow House in Wheathampstead when they were left without power for more than 16 hours in sub-zero temperatures because of a power cut. Staff in the district council’s housing department were praised for rallying around to help including laying on a fish-and-chip lunch for the 20-plus residents including a 107-year-old woman.

There was better news for anxious parents living in the city centre as the county council announced it had entered into negotiations to buy the University of Herts faculty of law in Hatfield Road, St Albans, with a view to turning it into a new primary school. But most people’s memories of the month will be of snow, snow and more snow as the big chill settled on St Albans and the rest of the country with rail services affected, roads impassable and the county council accused of running out of salt supplies.

So all that remains of 2010 is for the Herts Advertiser to wish all our readers, a happy, prosperous – and hopefully snow-free – New Year.