Unexpected outcomes to some very familiar tales

LOOKING into the future is always an uncertain science but here Herts Advertiser News Editor Madeleine Burton tries to foretell what will be making the news in 2008 A COLD snap reveals what many had thought about the state of Verulamium Lake as submer

LOOKING into the future is always an uncertain science but here Herts Advertiser News Editor Madeleine Burton tries to foretell what will be making the news in 2008

A COLD snap reveals what many had thought about the state of Verulamium Lake as submerged supermarket trollies, litter and detritus rose to the surface and were frozen in the ice. Skaters abandoned the temporary rink at Westminster Lodge and flocked to the lake in the park for obstacle races on the ice.

Elton Duck, famed for the "glasses" created by a four-pack plastic drinks tie around his neck, made several guest appearances on the ice after an absence of many years. Attempts by well-wishers to cut the tie resulted in a nasty peck and numerous calls to the RSPCA.

A CENTIMETRE of snow brought the district to a halt. Roads were jammed, schools closed and the police refused to leave their warm stations for icy highways and pavements on health and safety advice.

At the same time Herts County Council began consultation on the closure of St Peter's Street on the basis that when it was last closed the traffic just disappeared. Residents of numerous city-centre roads pointed out that it might have gone from St Peter's Street but it had been sitting nose to tail outside their homes instead. Most responses to the consultation pointed out that there was no point in closing St Peter's Street because the traffic barely moved along there at the best of times and jay-walking was fast becoming a St Albans sport.

TO great shock and amazement Tesco finally submitted a planning application for the former Evershed's site in London Road. It showed a much larger supermarket than had been mooted with less parking and no improvements to London Road to ease congestion. A Tesco spokesperson said that as nothing they had done to persuade people they wanted the superstore on their doorstep had won anyone round, they had decided to do what was best for them - and their profits. St Albans District Council earmarks another huge sum for a public inquiry.

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Harpenden primary schools are once more in the news as the county council comes up with the idea of closing all of them, selling the land off for housing, and building a large new school to serve the whole town on a Green Belt site close to the boundary with Luton. A spokesperson for children, schools and families explains that consultation had revealed no support whatsoever but they were going ahead with it anyway.

THE month's expected showers become a deluge with the River Ver breaking its banks in Redbourn and the Jersey Farm lake reappearing. A planning application is immediately submitted to turn it into a water-skiing attraction which the district council rushes through before the summer's expected drought. But at the 11th hour health and safety intervene over the absence of sufficient lifeguards and it is replaced with another splash pool for children.

Developers Helioslough respond well - too well according to action group STRiFE - to the failure of their appeal to build a giant rail freight terminal on Radlett Airfield.

At a press conference after the announcement, a team from Helioslough grin from ear to ear and refuse to say it is the end of the story. Ominously they are joined by a representative of Tesco.

MORE head teachers at the district's oversubscribed secondary schools take a leaf out of the book of Norman Hoare, the head of St George's in Harpenden, and stake out homes of parents they suspect of making up false addresses to get their offspring a place. Police announce that they have three heads in custody on charges of causing a nuisance.

First Capital Connect celebrates the failure of the rail freight depot application by telling its passengers that it can now stand in first-class carriages when trains are full - but should they put so much as a hand on a seat or get within a metre of a first-class passenger, they will be liable for prosecution. A ticket inspector complains that he can no longer get along first-class carriages because so many passengers are wedged along the central aisle.

THE EAST of England Regional Assembly (EERA) announces that it is going to allow thousands of new homes to be built in and around the district because so many people have said they want to live in St Albans and that is good enough for them. When questioned about the lack of new infrastructure, they point out that as all the villages, St Albans and Harpenden will be joined up, there will be no need for anything additional to be built because there will be no room.

The district council rolls out its first wheelie bins and in a bid to be different from other local authorities which operate green and black bins, it opts for yellow and blue, the council's colours. Angry householders demand to know which bin takes what only to be told that they should think of the yellow bin as the sunny smile of recycling. Council refuse contractors report huge confusion.

JUST in time for the peak holiday period, consultation begins on the St Albans district taking all the additional gipsy pitches in Herts because every traveller questioned wants to live here, all hospitals in the county closing except for Lister in Stevenage to save money and changes to secondary transfer which would fill undersubscribed schools first with the remaining pupils going to oversubscribed ones. The consultation period on all three issues ends when the children go back to school in early September but promises are made that all responses will be closely considered.

Health and Safety close down the children's splash park in Verulamium Park after a mother complains because her child got water in his eyes and she thought he was crying. Despite council objections, there are no plans to review the decision before the autumn.

AFTER the row over grazing cows on Nomansland Common, the council announces that it is allowing a herd of buffaloes to run free there because the trampling of their hooves will be a good way of managing the eco-culture. Residents turn out in force to register their opposition only to have the herd turn on them and stampede down Wheathampstead High Street and into the River Lea. Fire crews from all over the county are called out to take part in a rescue operation but delays in getting equipment from other parts of Herts results in some of the buffalo being swept away. At least one is found in the bar of The Bull.

St Albans market traders set out their stalls in the new car-free city centre and await the first shoppers ..... and wait and wait and wait. After several hours of little or no activity, fruitsellers start pelting district council officers with rotten peaches, pears and apples despite their cries of, "It's nothing to do with us, it's the county council's scheme." A quick recce in surrounding roads reveals a total snarl-up with vehicles fortunate enough to get into car parks, unable to get out again, jammed traffic in surrounding roads and more incidents of road rage than St Albans had ever seen.

The owners of the new restaurant in the front of the Town Hall confess they might have made a mistake opening there. The manager admits: "It was to have been our flagship but I think we will probably pretend we have never heard of the place."

Parents protest about the failure of primary schools in the district to find places for all the children who want to go there. Despite extra classrooms being provided in several schools, numerous children are told they will be bussed to Hatfield, Watford and Hemel Hempstead - for the first year at least and then their families will have to find a way to get them there out of their own pocket. The county council maintains there is no need to build an extra school because the additional intake is just a "blip" and nothing to do with the thousands of extra homes which are being built in the district. Their forecasts show that numbers will drop by 2020 and there is not a strong enough case for more places now as there are places elsewhere in Herts. Their stance is backed by EERA which points out that there are vacancies in Norfolk primary schools if all else fails.

The annual St Albans firework display is missing a key ingredient this year - fireworks. Health and safety guidelines say that if any bangs, hisses or flashes are allowed, it could have a devastating effect on people wearing glasses or with hearing aids or pacemakers. As a result music plays to the crowds at Verulamium Park accompanied by a film of fireworks with the sound switched off. A spokesperson for the organisers, St Albans Abbey, described the atmosphere as, "quite unique" but admits that takings could well be down on previous years. The district council confirms that the February pancake race might well have to go ahead without pancakes next year for similar reasons.

The year ends with the shock news that Tesco has offered its London Road site to Helioslough as a rail freight depot. Even Stop Tesco protesters are lost for words over that development. Its proximity to the railway station is seen as a key factor with only a short spur line needed from St Albans City Station to the new site to make it a reality. The development would mean the demolition of most of the property around the station but the two parties are confident that they will get Government approval for the scheme even if St Albans council turns it down. They point out that with all the new homes being built in what is now known as the Greater St Albans area - to differentiate it from the Greater Harpenden and Greater London Colney areas - there will still be plenty of places for people to live.