We look back on how 2014 impacted on St Albans through the stories published in the Herts Advertiser

A controlled explosion of munitions found in St Albans

A controlled explosion of munitions found in St Albans - Credit: Archant

It was a year dominated by some hoary old issues - think rail freight, Luton Airport expansion, school places and the ongoing saga of the Thameslink train route.

Terry Wogan and Matt Adams at St Albans Literary Festival

Terry Wogan and Matt Adams at St Albans Literary Festival - Credit: Archant

But there was no shortage of the fresh and new including the opening of The Odyssey Cinema, the launch of the first St Albans Literary Festival and Heritage Lottery Fund support for both a new museum at the Town Hall and a visitor centre at St Albans Cathedral.

But as ever it was people and what they said and did who were at the core of news in the Herts Advertiser - the city’s oldest paper which celebrates its 160th birthday in 2015.

Whether they were raising money for charity, volunteering, putting their backs into helping others or campaigning on local issues, the Herts Advertiser celebrated them and their achievements.

Here is a snapshot of some of the highs and lows of the past year.....

St Albans City FC owner Lawrence Levy receives some money from Isobel Burwood, 7 who sold some of he

St Albans City FC owner Lawrence Levy receives some money from Isobel Burwood, 7 who sold some of her toys to raise money for the club after it was tragetted by thieves - Credit: Archant


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JANUARY

Normally the month of snow and frost, January was marked by rain, rain and more rain. Verulamium Park in St Albans breached its banks and the water levels closed the public toilets at the Fighting Cocks end. It was many months before the waters started to recede - and even today parts of the park remain very boggy. Flood defences were on stand-by in other parts of the area including Colney Heath, London Colney and Radlett.

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Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was urged to ‘call in’ the proposed major expansion of Luton Airport after owners, Luton borough council, gave themselves permission to nearly double passenger throughput to 18 million a year - with an inevitable impact on the St Albans district.

The Bell Meadow area of Verulamium Park is still flooded

The Bell Meadow area of Verulamium Park is still flooded - Credit: Archant

There was anger in London Colney when it emerged that about £1.3 million in development money from Napsbury Park was to be diverted away from the village and used to expand a school five miles away - which only 11 children in London Colney attend.

And fresh from emerging as runner-up in The Apprentice 2013, St Albans cupcake-maker Luisa Zissman appeared on Celebrity Big Brother, reaching the final six. The mother of one has since announced her engagement to a millionaire businessman.

FEBRUARY

St Columba's College students Rohan Mapara, Alex Gillingham and James Charteris helped a man who fel

St Columba's College students Rohan Mapara, Alex Gillingham and James Charteris helped a man who fell and hit his head in the middle of a busy St Albans road - Credit: Archant

Popular city centre restaurant Veer Dhara - which counted Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise among its customers - was forced to close after bailiffs entered the building on behalf of the leaseholders Pizza Hut in a row over rent. Veer Dhara has since reopened a restaurant in Hatfield Road, St Albans.

Heavy rainfall continued with a new lagoon forming at Westminster Lodge - soon peopled with wildfowl - and widespread flooding across rural roads. The Upper River Colne burst its banks in London Colney and in Sandridgebury Lane, a farmer came to the rescue of a bus carrying 20 schoolchildren which became stuck in floodwater under a bridge.

Philomena Lee, the inspiration behind the Oscar-nominated movie Philomena, met Pope Francis in Rome after being invited by the Vatican.

Over in Harpenden, news emerged that the town’s last hotel was to close. Harpenden House shut its doors in the spring, leaving at least 50 future brides and grooms without a wedding venue. The site was sold to Fairview New Homes.

And the announcement of another new coffee shop chain opening in St Albans - Caffe Nero in Market Place - prompted calls for a limit on the number of multiples with premises in the city.

MARCH

School places raised their head again with 96 children across the district failing to get a place at one of their preferred secondary schools. As usual, it was Wheathampstead that suffered the most with 20 per cent of all pupils being rejected for all their options.

Fears were mounting that a vital St Albans City Hospital hydrotherapy pool, used by by scores of patients, which had been shut since the previous summer would not reopen - and the doubters were right when it was closed permanently in June.

An independent Green Belt review proposed nine sites for strategic housing development including land next to Butterfly World in Chiswell Green. By July that had been whittled down to four sites - one in Harpenden, a second in St Albans and two others within the St Albans district boundary in East Hemel Hempstead.

Bomb disposal experts were called twice to an address in London Colney after three First World War bombs were discovered in the back garden of a house in Floral Drive. They were destroyed in a controlled explosion.

And despite bleeding from a serious gunshot wound to his neck, Lance Corporal Simon Moloney from St Albans repeatedly put himself in the line of fire to save comrades in Aghanistan. The former Sandringham School pupils received a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his bravery as a result.

APRIL

The month opened with good news for St Albans Cathedral when it learned that it had received pump-priming money for the Heritage Lottery Fund for a major new development designed to boost its appeal as a visitor attraction.

An all-star line-up judged Harpenden’s first Battle of the Bands competition including McBusted drummer Harry Judd, his wife Izzy and fellow Escala member Chantal Abel together with Ed MacFarlane and Edd Gibson from Friendly Fires.

Flood waters had still to recede at Verulamium Park where the area known as Bell Meadow at the St Michael’s end remained underwater with no sign of drying out.

There was better news for St Albans Town Hall after the Heritage Lottery Fund came good for the second time in the month with the go ahead for work to start on converting it into a new museum and gallery.

And love was in the air when Tim Day proposed to his wife-to-be Jen Berridge in Gustard Wood with a flash mob of over 50 family and friends. Tim serenaded Jen with the Bruno Mars song Marry You.

MAY

Support for a new school in Harpenden has come from the town’s three existing secondary schools which all want to see a fourth one open of the same calibre. But the row goes on about the site with the county council currently having another look at potential locations after concerns were voiced about its proposal for land on the corner of Common Lane off Lower Luton Road in Batford.

The curtain went up on the second St Albans Film Festival with an opening screening of the Hitchcock masterpiece The Birds.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles incurred the wrath of many by refusing to launch a public inquiry into the Luton Airport expansion scheme.

And St Albans council was even less popular with local traders infuritated by the introduction of a £1 Sunday parking fee in the city which they claim was brought in without any consultation and would affect business.

Coffee wars continued with a last-ditch bid to persuade the council not to allow Caffe Nero to change the use of a former clothing store in Market Place on the grounds that the city was saturated with coffee shops.

At Butterfly World in Chiswell Green, a freak accident killed off the country’s biggest colony of leafcutter ants which were electrocuted after some of the insects chewed through electrical wiring.

And in May, it was all change on the tracks as FirstGroup lost their bid to run the new Thameslink franchise - and it was instead awarded to previous operators Govia.

JUNE

A Harpenden landmark, its Water Tower, is set to be demolished with residents concerned about the details of what is planned for the site.

Over at Clarence Park, St Albans City Football Club was broken into with thieves causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and leaving a trail of destruction. Co-owners Lawrence Levy and John McGowan have been looking to build a new stadium elsewhere and felt the break-in showed how badly the club needed to pursue that aim.

Young fan Isobel Burwood was so upset by the break-in that she decided to sell some of her toys to help them out and raised £11.25 at a stall outside her home which she presented to Lawrence Levy.

An angry reaction greeted the ticketing of a cancer survivor who had volunteered as a marshal at the St Albans Half Marathon and was fined after parking on the grass verge by the Batchwood Drive/Bluehouse Hill roundabout. Pointing out that there was ‘clear signage’ prohibiting parking there, the district council made a £35 donation to the cancer charity that had reimbursed the marshal.

JULY

Only 40 days after being elected to represent Marshalswick South ward, Cllr Seema Kennedy was chosen to represent the Conservatives in the parliamentary seat of South Ribble in Lancashire, resulting in calls for her resignation. Subsequently, fellow Marshalswick South councillor Heidi Allen was also selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate for South Cambs. Both vacancies will be the subject of by-elections in the New Year.

Tennis coach and latterly Strictly Come Dancing contestant Judy Murray officially opened the state-of-the-art Batchwood Sports Centre - despite having to battle through torrential rain and gridlocked traffic to get to St Albans.

In mid July came the news the district had been dreading - Communities Secretary Eric Pickles (yes, him again) gave planning permission for a massive rail freight depot in Park Street, a scheme which St Albans has been fighting for years. But the battle against the scheme goes on and a High Court hearing into aspects of the planning permission is scheduled for early 2015.

Independent nursery Aylett’s was devastated when mindless vandals destroyed specimen plants they were growing for their annual Dahlia Festival. The vandals stole a Land Rover from the back of the North Orbital Road nursery, drove it through the security fencing and across the dahlia beds destroying many prime blooms.

AUGUST

The lights went out in St Albans as they had in most of the rest of the country to commemorate the centenary of Britain entering the First World War in 1914. A special candlelit vigil service was held in St Albans Cathedral attended by hundreds of people.

The issue of late night opening in city centre pubs came to the fore when the district council decided not to oppose extended hours at The Snug Bar in French Row despite initially backing the concerns of residents.

Up to 54 acres of farmland in Plummers Lane, Harpenden, could be covered with solar panels after Lightsource applied for temporary planning permission to install them.

The other side of developments in technology were experienced by St Albans schoolboy Kieran Sorkin who hit the headlines worldwide after a surgeon carried out a double ear reconstruction using the nine year old’s ribs. The six-hour operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital resulted in Kieran hving ears for the first time after he was born without them being properly formed.

And the month ended with a St Albans hotel being blasted for holding a fireworks display described as sounding like the Buncefield fuel depot explosion in 2005. Sopwell House Hotel apologised for the six minute firework display on behalf of a bride and groom who held their wedding reception there.

SEPTEMBER

The potential impact of cuts to bus services hit home with residents of the district with five routes facing evening and weekend reductions. By the end of the year, the county council was looking again at the proposals which generated thousands of objections across Herts with only a handful of people in support

Just like its neighbours at St Albans City in June, Harpenden Town FC was targeted by vandals leaving volunteers facing a bill for several hundred pounds only days before a charity match.

But the better side of human nature emerged when three quick-witted students from St Columba’s College were hailed as life-savers for helping a man who was knocked unconscious in the middle of one of the city centre’s busiest intersections. Alex Gillingham, Rohan Mapara and James Charteris put their first aid skills to good use when the man fell and hit his head while suffering an epileptic fit in the middle of the Holywell Hill crossroads.

First Capital Connect finally came to the end of the Thameslink line and handed over to Govia - but it was not long before the new operators came under fire from frustrated commuters who thought the service had got even worse.

Police carried out a high-profile raid in a St Albans street in mid month after a stash of wartime explosives, believed to have been taken from heritage and protected sites, were found in a shed, The householder in Windmill Avenue has not been charged and is still on police bail.

OCTOBER

Suggestions that one way to alleviate overcrowding on the Thameslink line by taking away seats and forcing more people to stand horrified local commuters who were still getting used to Govia taking over the line from First Capital Connect.

There was also disbelief at an analysis by a northern newspaper which listed St Albans as the second least cultural place in Britain - based on the number of museums and fine dining restaurants!

The Manchester Evening News was obviously unaware of the second St Albans Fashion Week held during October and the city’s first Literary Festival in November - not to mention the Cathedral’s first flower festival held in late September.

In Harpenden a rogue builder forced the closure of a busy road for over a week by pouring concrete down a drain. Thames Water confirmed that the disruption in Station Road between Arden Grove and the A1081 High Street was due to the actions of a builder ‘selfishly and irresponsibly pouring concrete into our sewers.”

And while passengers were fast falling out of love with new Thameslink operators Govia, they were really sorry to say goodbye to James Allen, the welcoming voice of rail travel, who moved from St Albans City to St Pancras taking his uplifting train announcements with him.

NOVEMBER

London’s colourful Mayor Boris Johnson - putative MP and hot tip for the future leadership of the Tory party - visited St Albans to back the new proposal to turn the old Town Hall into a museum and art gallery.

Octogenarian Joy Lintill paid her own special tribute to servicemen from London Colney who died in the First World War by painstakingly knitting a wreath of poppies in commemoration of each one of them.

The city’s first-ever Literary Festival, presented by the Herts Advertiser but run by volunteers, was hailed as a phenomenal success with hundreds of book lovers flocking to dozens of events across the city centre.

On the St Albans/Radlett border, the go ahead was finally given for the new Harperbury Free School which will enable it to be built on the northern end of the former hospital site. It will admit its first pupils next September although they will have to be housed in temporary accommodation initially.

And the month ended with St Albans entrepreneur and founder of the Living the Dream performing arts company, Zoe Jackson, making it onto a coveted list of outstanding women published in Elle magazine - putting her alongside the likes of Michelle Obama, Victoria Beckham and Oprah Winfrey.

DECEMBER

The curtain finally went up at the new Odyssey Cinema in London Road, St Albans. Herts businessman and entrepreneur James Hannaway saw his dream of restoring the former Odeon cinema come to fruition after years of fundraising.

Footballing icon David Beckham was involved in a car crash near the Arsenal training ground in London Colney where he had been collecting his oldest son Brooklyn who was playing with the Gunners’ youth side.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited the city to give the royal seal of approval to two local causes - the Herts Community Meals sevice at the Jubilee Centre in Catherine Street and homeless charity Emmaus St Albans.

But there was gloom among the bright lights of the St Albans Christmas market after up to 17 chalets were broken into despite security patrols operating throughout the night.

The year ended with dire warnings about the fate of Redbourn should thousands of new homes be built on Crown Estates land within the St Albans district but effectively part of Hemel Hempstead. Campaigners fear the village will be swallowed up.

So that was 2014 in a nutshell and all that remains now is for the Herts Advertiser to wish all its readers and advertisers a very Happy New Year.

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