Year in Review: Looking back on January to March 2021

Inside the vaccination centre at Batchwood Hall.

Inside the vaccination centre at Batchwood Hall. - Credit: Archant

The start of the 2021 was quite unlike any other in living memory, as rising Covid cases across the country led the Prime Minister to make a major U-turn and throw the country into full lockdown again.

With weeks of disruption ahead, the Herts Ad urged residents to support our independent retailers, pubs, restaurants and market traders by buying from them instead of online.

Meanwhile, schools and leisure facilities were closed, and the director of Public Health Hertfordshire Jim McManus warned against complacency as the number of Covid hospitalisations reached its highest level since the start of the pandemic.

We backed the efforts of those tasked with delivering the vaccine to the people of St Albans, and took a look inside the centre at Batchwood Hall.

Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits are threatened by development.

Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits are threatened by development. - Credit: Nick Pettit

An alliance of wildlife groups joined forces to save a rare colony of birds threatened by a housing development. Hertsmere Borough Council included plans for 6,000 new homes at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits in its Local Plan, risking the future of breeding tree sparrows.

Local footballing legend Lee Bozier passed away in January 2021.

Local footballing legend Lee Bozier passed away in January 2021. - Credit: Bozier family

We remembered much-loved local footballer Lee Bozier after he passed away following a long fight against cancer aged just 52, and the Alban Arena pleaded for patience over cancelled shows as staff struggled to cope with a backlog of refunds and exchanges.

Zoe Hancock left after 10 years as principal of Oaklands College.

Zoe Hancock left after 10 years as principal of Oaklands College. - Credit: Emma Marshall

Oaklands College principal Zoe Hancock said farewell to the institution after 10 years at the helm, and we looked back over her time in the role, while the Bishop of St Albans called on the Football Association to lead the way in tackling sports gambling.

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Moving into February, and St Albans was identified as one of the best cities in the country to run in, while we looked at how the district was going to recover in the wake of the pandemic.

Plans were unveiled to develop the market depot in Drovers Way for social housing, a low-key announcement which would have greater repercussions later in the year as the Charter Market was thrust into the spotlight, and the council issued a 'call for sites' as part of the process for a new Local Plan.

A protected natural habitat home to rare dragonflies and newts was polluted at Smallford Pits, after vandals dug out ponds, razed surrounding scrub to the ground, and poured fuel into the water. Although the police investigated this and subsequent incidents, they failed to gather enough evidence to prosecute.

Ch Insp Mike Todd.

Ch Insp Mike Todd. - Credit: Herts police

Top cop Ch Insp Lynda Coates stepped aside to make way for Mike Todd, and Batchwood Hall was recognised by then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock for its "fantastic efforts" in rolling out the Covid vaccination programme, and businesses started looking ahead to the easing of the latest lockdown.

A massively flawed public consultation began into whether to replace stalls with gazebos at the Charter Market, with the Lib Dem administration claiming they needed to take urgent action to reverse £600,000 in losses over the past five years, while reactions to another ongoing issue, that of road closures in the city centre, appeared to suggest the majority of people were in favour of permanent pedestrianisation.

Five years after the closure of tourist attraction Butterfly World, the site was again marred in controversy after it became used for a vehicle recovery and storage facility, and thousands of acres of Green Belt land were revealed to be at risk of development in Dacorum Borough Council's Local Plan.

Thousands of trees have been cut down in Luton Lane, near Redbourn.

Thousands of trees were cut down in Luton Lane, near Redbourn. - Credit: Tim Firmin

March opened with villagers living near Redbourn waking up to discover hundreds of trees had been felled on Green Belt land in Luton Lane, adjacent to the golf club and A5183, and we exclusively announced plans for a major renovation of the ageing Alban Arena, which were eventually revealed in more detail in November.

District councillor Tony Swindell.

District councillor Tony Swindell. - Credit: Archant

Tributes were paid to independent councillor Tony Swendell, the green light was given for work to begin on a new children's playground at Clarence Park, and the district council was forced to introduce a tough budget to cope with a £1.7m revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic.

After what seemed like the longest Christmas holiday in history, children finally returned to school on March 8, we turned the spotlight on violence against women following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, and St Albans-based CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) celebrated its silver anniversary.

The month ended with a reflection on the 12 months since the start of the first lockdown, the challenges and achievements over this period, and how businesses, residents and councils reacted to the crisis.