A year in St Albans, part two

CONTINUING our look through the year’s top news stories...


By May all thoughts of a drought had flown out of the window as events across the district were hit by rain, rain and more rain. The River Colne burst its banks in Colney Heath and residents of Park Street saw water rising steadily towards their homes.

But the sun came out for vintage pop band The Zombies who arrived in person to unveil a plaque at The Blackmith’s Arms in St Albans city centre where they had first met half a century earlier.

The Conservatives tightened their hold on St Albans district council - despite only gaining one extra seat. But with Labour taking three from the Lib Dems, they comfortably remain the largest single party.

Significant damage was caused to a genetically-modified wheat trial at Rothamsted in protest at the experiment but on a brighter note, the Odyssey Cinema, set to rise from the ashes of the former St Albans Odeon in London Road, revealed it had secured �1.2 million to transform the art deco building.

The past - or more specifically a year earlier - caught up with FCC as it was roundly damned in a report into the breakdown of a train which left travellers trapped in sweltering conditions for hours on end. The train company was criticised for numerous aspects of the incident including the fact that most windows could not be opened, emergency lights were not switched on in the tunnel in which part of the train stopped and phone and Twitter messages from people trapped on the train were not received by route staff.

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And the month ended with local schoolchildren getting into the Diamond Jubilee spirit with children and staff at Abbey JMI coming in dressed in red, white and blue and enjoying themed cupcakes.


Diamond Jubilee fever gripped the district in June with local revellers undeterred by the unseasonal cold and rain over the four-day bank holiday. Town centres came alive with celebrations and there were numerous street parties and Big Lunches to mark the Queen’s 60 years on the throne.

There was drama in St Albans city centre as police swooped in St Peter’s Street as a G4S security van, parked outside Halifax Bank, was targeted by thieves. Shoppers watched in amazement as the normally sedate city centre turned into what seemed like a scene from The Sweeney with several Flying Squad officers tackling the thieves.

Opponents of the night light switch off scheme were not surprised to learn that a man was brutally attacked as he walked home to Harpenden in the pitch black. The victim’s distraught mother called on Herts County Council to reconsider their policy.

At the same time a delivery driver was hailed as a hero after his quick thinking saved the life of a pensioner. Roger Meyrick noticed that Joan Godman from London Colney looked unwell when he was delivering groceries from Sainsbury’s to her home and called a doctor. It turned out that the 77 year old had suffered a stroke.


Filming of an episode of the Celebrity Antiques Road Trip brought actors Stefanie Powers and Don Warringtonm to Redbourn. But the excitement at the visit was as nothing compared with the crowds who turned out for the Olympic Torch coming through the city.

Around 35,000 people filled parks and lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the 14 torch-bearers chosen to participate in the relay who included cancer survivor Sarah Toll, office manager Caroline Atkins, who was nominated for her extensive volunteer work and teacher Claire Weston.

A spooked resident called out the RSPCA when he saw an 18ins long snake in his garden - only for an inspector from the charity to realise that it was a rubber toy, probably left there by the children of the previous owners.

A supermarket car park was forced to close for a night when hundreds of boy racers descended to take part in a “cruise” event. Up to a thousand people poured into the Sainsbury’s car park at the Colney Fields retail park with nearby residents flooding the police with calls of complaint as the numbers kept on growing.

And there was further proof if any was needed that the drought was very much a distant memory with the city’s market traders hoping that the summer would boost visitors after heavy rain had affected sales.


There was more drama in the city centre in August when a St Albans jeweller, angry after suffering yet another attempted robbery, turned have-a-go hero to stop a thief in his tracks.

Jewellery designer Christopher Wharton thumped the raider who was smashing a side window at his shop in George Street with a large wooden implement and while the would-be thief got away, Mr Wharton took comfort from the fact that he must have suffered a bad headache.

Cable thieves caused chaos for FCC passengers after their actions knocked out a signalling system at Bedford Station, trapping a number of trains in sidings. It happened just one day before the opening ceremony for the Olympics.

One year after the blaze which destroyed the Batchwood Golf and Tennis Centre in St Albans, police admitted their investigation into its cause had drawn a blank. Although four men were arrested on suspicion of arson shortly after the fire in August 2011, they were later released on bail and no-one has been arrested since.

And on lighter note Harry the hamster proved what a daredevil he was when he scampered from his home in Harpenden and reappeared in a neighbour’s living room. The story had a happy ending when Harry Houdini was reunited with his owner and returned to familiar territory.


Shocked residents learned in September that Luton Airport’s controversial expansion plan would mean an extra 160 flights each day and one every 90 seconds at peak times - with all the associated problems of aircraft noise across the district.

Blind footballer David Clarke was in the news again after holding the Paralympic flame during the opening ceremony - but sadly his Team GB side were knocked out before the semi-final stage.

There was no respite from the saga of the rail freight scheme planned for Radlett Airfield in Park Street as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles proposed a third public inquiry into the scheme - this time jointly with an inquiry into a similar proposal for Colnbrook near Slough.

By the end of the year objections, primarily from the Slough contingent and prospective Radlett Airfield developers Helioslough, persuaded Mr Pickles to drop that idea and instead he is planning to make a ruling on the Park Street scheme without another inquiry being held - watch this space in the Herts Advertiser next year.

The month came to an end with a pregnant woman made to show her bump to an over-zealous FCC inspector when she sat in first class in an overcrowded morning train. FCC once again maintained that customers who had bought first class tickets complained when seats were taken by those who had not paid the correct fare - but most passengers would rather see first class done away with completely.

And after a long and frustrating wait, the long-awaited Strategic Local Plan - the district council’s blueprint for development up until 2028 - was finally unveiled.


But less than a week or so later in October, a petition opposing one of those prospective housing schemes - 350 homes earmarked for Green Belt land at Oaklands College off Sandpit Lane - was being drawn up.

A celebrity bash was held for little Bailey Sarwa at Luton Hoo, attended by several EastEnders stars Bailey enjoyed the night so much that he is hoping for another one like it to celebrate Christmas.

Only too aware of the shortages of secondary places in Harpenden, one of the town’s three schools, St George’s, announced that it was going to redistribute places which had traditionally gone to children outside the town.

Unlike most local newspapers, the Herts Advertiser tried to ignite interest in the looming elections for a police commissioner in Herts - but the electorate did not rise to the challenge and the turnout was 16.4 per cent in the St Albans district.

In fact there was more interest in the annual Herts 10K in aid of Grove House which, maybe because of the Olympic factor, was a sell-out for the first time with a record 3,000 runners taking part.

Two new hotels finally got planning permission - a Premier Inn in St Peter’s Street and more controversially, a Hilton Hotel on Green Belt land in Chiswell Green.

The month ended with Harpenden residents up in arms about a major proposal to develop extensive football facilities and possibly a school on another Green Belt site - land at New Farm - primarily for use by Harpenden Colts.

And while councillors are used to finding themselves in the eye of the storm, one member of the district council found himself in it quite literally. Cllr Anthony Rowlands was staying with friends in new York when Hurricane Sandy struck and the house in which he and his family were staying took a direct hit from a 120ft tree felled by the superstorm.


Deadly ash dieback disease had been found in trees at the new Heartwood Forest in Sandridge, the Woodland Trust revealed in November. The seven trees which were planted as landscaping in the car park had been destroyed.

The local fire brigade had one of the busiest periods of their lives when two major fires brought smoke and acrid smells across parts of St Albans. Blazes erupted at Glinwell Nursery in Smallford and Wood Recycling Services in Potters Crouch within 12 hours of each other - and the latter is still smoking more than a month later.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles stepped into the row over a planned incinerator on the borders of the district and put a hold on its development. He has still to decide whether to call in the scheme for consideration by his department but residents of Colney Heath, which is right on the doorstep, were relieved at his intervention.

The new Westminster Lodge leisure centre opened to the public with its 10-lane swimming pool, achieved after a successful campaign by local residents. Like most new buildings, it has had its fair share of teething problems but has been so successful that parking nearby has been at something of a premium.

James Bond himself - or one of them at least - in the shape of Roger Moore was at the Abbey to receive an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree. The actor quipped: “For an absolute illiterate, it’s a great honour.”

And Elvis Shmelvis, aka Martyn Dias, of Chiswell Green, revealed that he had become the first Elvis celebrant in the country and could start regularly conducting wedding ceremonies.


The end of the year and the end of the Strategic Local Plan - for now at least. Councillors decided to put it on hold while they carried out a review of Green Belt boundaries despite fears that it would leave the district wide open to unwanted development.

A campaign group was formed to fight the Harpenden Colts pitches plan and protect the 13 hectares of farmland from what was described as “inappropriate development.”

Partying pensioner Tom Parker proved once and for all that he was the oldest swinger in town when he celebrated his 90th birthday throwing some shapes at Batchwood Hall nightclub in St Albans where he has been a regular for more than 30 years.

And the month ended with mixed news for two families. While Jeff Claridge and his two children in Marshalswick were waiting to hear if they could spend Christmas with his wife and their Russian mother Sasha after her visa application became tangled up in Borders Agency bureaucracy, St Albans woman Hayley Flitton was reunited with her long-lost dad John after an appeal in the Herts Advertiser.

So as another year ends, all that remains is for everyone here at the Herts Advertiser to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas and New Year.