The Herts Advertiser: News review of 2015
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 January 2016
As we start 2016, the Herts Advertiser looks back at what St Albans and Harpenden stories hit the headlines in 2015.
The new year got underway with a heartwarming story as missing dog Max, who was snatched from a teenager in Colney Heath four months earlier, was returned home after a reward was paid out for his safe recovery.
Eight netball players in the same team revealed that they had all given birth in the past 12 months - creating another team but this time of their offspring. The OA 7s all hail from Harpenden and St Albans and the proud new mums revealed how giving birth so close to each other had cemented their friendship.
A proposal for a new foodstore in a pub garden did not result in anyone cracking open the bubbly - in fact residents of Chiswell Green and the parish council vowed to fight the plan by Sainsbury’s to build the the convenience store next to The Three Hammers. The planning application was subsequently turned down by district councillors.
And no January would be complete without Thameslink train services being disrupted by delays and cancellations - this time due to a ruptured water main in the Clerkenwell Tunnel and upgrading work between West Hampstead and Farringdon.
A two-day High Court hearing into the legality of a government decision to grant planning permission for a rail freight depot on the former Radlett Airfield got underway with campaigners joined by St Albans MP Anne Main demonstrating outside.
Hairy Bikers Dave Myers and Si King were spotted on St Albans Market as part of filming for a forthcoming show and had nothing but praise for the location.
The Herts Advertiser learned that a farmer was facing the threat of compulsory purchase of his land on the corner of Common Lane and Lower Luton Road in Batford for the building of a new Harpenden secondary school. Farmer Phil Holt only learned about the proposal when a local police officer mentioned it in passing.
The co-owners of cash-strapped St Albans City FC, John McGowan and Lawrence Levy, revealed that the club had been haemorrhaging money for so long that a major cash injection was urgently needed and they were looking at potential sites to move it away from Clarence Park.
And even before reduction to the opening hours of household waste sites across Herts came into operation in January, it was revealed that fly-tipping incidents in the St Albans district had doubled.
Increasing numbers of homeless people had forced the district council to put some of them up in the short term at the city centre’s newest hotel, the Premier Inn. Not only were there were growing numbers of homeless in temporary accommodation but thousands of pounds had to be spent footing the bill to accommodate them.
Prime Minister David Cameron gave the go ahead for a new secondary school in Harpenden provided the county council bought a site. At the same time a father revealed that his son had been offered a place in a secondary school in Hemel Hempstead even though he lived just 300 metres from the town’s Roundwood Park School.
But it was not all doom and gloom in Harpenden - it was named as one of Britain’s top favourite towns in which to live by The Sunday Times and in the top seven in East Anglia.
The district council learned that its High Court challenge over planning permission for the rail freight depot had been unsuccessful pushing attention on the county council which, as owners of part of the land, would have to agree to sell it to would-be developers Helioslough for the scheme to go ahead.
April opened with the news that thousands of new homes would have to be built in the district’s Green Belt over the next 20 years to meet revised government house-building figures.
For those already living in the city came the sad news of the death of John ‘Paddy’ Delaney, dubbed the Accordion Man of St Albans, whose passing was marked by hundreds of tributes on social media and fundraising for a plaque to mark where he played in Upper Dagnall Strett.
For one mum of premature twins, April was a month to celebrate as her house in Wheathampstead was completely refurbished at no charge. Nicole Cochrane desperately wanted to make her Marford Road home more accessible, particularly as one of her twins suffers from quadriplegic cerebral palsy, but could not afford it. Kind-hearted Wheathampstead mum and boss of a building design and interiors firm in the village, Helen Ball, arranged for the work to be carried out at no cost to Nicole.
Fish salesman Tommy Robertson found himself hailed as a hero after he rescued an OAP from her smoke-logged St Albans home. Had door-to-door salesman Tommy not spotted that he had missed the house while on his way to the local shops and approached the property, he would not have heard the fire alarm and dogs barking which alerted him to the situation.
The month ended with General Election fever gripping the district as it was throughout the country.....
And also like much of the rest of the country, both parliamentary constituencies, St Albans and Hitchin and Harpenden, stayed firmly in Conservative hands with Anne Main and Peter Lilley respectively voted back as MPs. St Albans council also gained an overall Tory majority after one-third of seats were up for election on the same day.
A concerned mother spoke about how she had set up a petition to stop bread being fed to ducks on Verulamium Park because of the number of diseases it can cause in the birds.
And the city’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, found itself in the headlines when animal rights group PETA called for it to be renamed Ye Olde Clever Cocks in recognition of society’s growing compassion for animals and ‘in celebration of intelligent, sensitive chickens’. A week after the furore which greeted what PETA described as a ‘light-hearted’ proposal, the charity backed down over the name.
Grass cutting contractors Ringway apologised for the state of grass verges and admitted they had suffered problems since taking over the job.
And from the wealth of charity fundraising stories the Herts Advertiser carries each year, one stood out in June. Daredevil duo Matt Fisher and Mark Colombus from a London Colney-based company climbed the highest peak in Wales - with fridges strapped to their backs. They were supporting Project Harar which aims to transform the lives of African children and young people in Ethiopia suffering with facial deformities.
A much-heralded Slip and Slide Day at the Redbourn showground was condemned as a shambles - after the slide was set up on flat ground and event organisers allegedly had to put shampoo and baby oil on it so that people could move down it.
A familiar face appeared at the annual Alban Pilgrimage in June - Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Popular city centre vicar, the Rev Anne Hollingshurst, of St Peter’s Church, was appointed Bishop of Aston, only the sixth female Bishop to be appointed in England.
Newly-appointed headteacher of SS Alban and Stephen Infants School, Bernadette Dempsey, revealed that she had done pretty well every job there in the previous 20 years including dishing up dinners, cleaning the toilets and acting as a lollipop lady. She took over the role of head in September.
There were celebrations in Colney Heath after Communities Secretary Greg Clark refused an application from Veolia to construct and operate a waste burner at New Barnfield, a mile away from the village.
But things were not good at Verulamium Lake where a mystery illness was killing the ducks and some dogs had become ill as a result of drinking the water.
Tests on the water at Verulamium Lake revealed that ducks were being killed by a strain of botulism which affected the nervous system. But the row continued with the councillor responsible for the lake insisting that dredging was not the answer - and many others saying it was the only solution.
A wheelchair-bound man and his mother received thousands of pounds in compensation from the county council for refusing to give him the services he was entitled to. Kaye Hemming, who lives in St Albans, went to the Local Government Ombudsman over the treatment of her son Dominic and her tenacity paid off when the county council was ordered to pay compensation and make procedural changes.
August was also the month when a vicar called on local residents to be vigilant after her church was targeted twice by thieves. The Rev Em Coley, of St Leonard’s Church in Sandridge, made her appeal after part of its copper lightning conductor was stolen and then lead was taken from the roof.
In a bid to get a petition calling on the county council not to sell their land on Radlett Airfield to developers for a rail freight depot up to the requisite 10,000 signatures, the Herts Advertiser highlighted the fact that the nine members of county cabinet would make the decision about the sale. With just weeks to go before that figure had to be reached to trigger a debate on the issue, hundreds more signed the petition and pushed it over 10,000 names.
Thameslink expanded the list of those they exasperate by cancelling trains which should have taken local fans to and from the Rugby World Cup. One disgruntled fan, who had planned to meet with friends prior to the Samoa vs USA clash eventually arrived just in time for the start of the match - and had almost as many problems getting home.
Generous St Albans residents who had been responding to the Syrian refugee crisis managed to fill two council-supplied garages with vital supplies for those housed in camps in Calais - and later in the year, two Herts Advertiser reporters, Taylor Geall and Sophie Crockett, went to France with StAlbansForRefugees to distribute donations.
And then it happened - the earth literally moved for residents of one road in St Albans when a massive sinkhole opened up. The collapse of the road in Fontmell Close made global news headlines with over 50 homes affected by the loss of power, water, gas and sanitation services, not to mention a huge hole outside their homes.
Twenty people were evacuated at first but later other residents had to leave and a temporary emergency access road was created across a playing field behind the site so residents could get their cars out. It transpired later in the month that misgivings about building homes above a deep historic clay pit - as Fontmell Close and neighbouring Bridle Close were - had first been voiced over 40 years ago.
Also in the news this month was a bid by St Albans siblings Amy and John Squires to launch a major fundraising campaign to raise money to pay for a bionic leg for their father, also called John, after he suffered horrendous injuries while riding his motorbike.
Second World War veteran John Jenkins demonstrated that it is never too late to honour a hero when he was awarded the highest decoration in France by the French Government for his part in the liberation of Europe.
But Royal British Legion poppy sellers collecting money for those selfsame servicemen and women were far from impressed with Marks & Spencer when they were moved on from outside the St Peter’s Street, St Albans, store by a security guard – despite years of selling poppies outside that pitch.
Verulamium Lake and its doomed ducks were still in the news as solutions to the problems with the water came under the spotlight at a scrutiny committee. The year has ended with no clear plan of action.
And the Heritage Lottery Fund came up trumps when it gave the green light to a £2.5 million grant which will enable St Albans Town Hall to be converted into a new city museum.
And so 2015 drew to a close. It was not the best month for Odyssey Cinema boss James Hannaway who was fined £19,000 for exposing family, friends and volunteers to asbestos waste while work was going on to convert the former Odeon into the city’s newest picture house.
Unbelievably it was the 10th anniversary of the massive Buncefield explosion in neighbouring Hemel Hempstead – a blast which damaged properties in Redbourn and St Albans including Townsend in High Oaks which copped the full impact and suffered 67 separate areas of damage.
And owners John Breheny revealed that Butterfly World in Chiswell Green had taken its final flight and would close at the end of 2015. Struggling though the recession and unable to build its butterfly biome which would have made it an all-year-round attraction, its trading losses proved too great. But as the year ended, at least two petitions have been set up to try and keep it in business.
Everyone at the Herts Advertiser wishes our readers a very happy and prosperous New Year.