Year in Review: TV stars, Gardens of the Rose close and snap election
PUBLISHED: 11:00 01 January 2018
A spate of criminal behaviour across St Albans shocked residents, starting with baseball bat wielding looters in London Colney. Then young thugs started consistently trashing the same council owned garages, a savage video of a teenager being beaten on Bernards Heath playing fields circulated online, and drug paraphernalia was found littering the side of the River Colne. A group of hooded motorcyclists starting riding around Cottonmill without licence plates or helmets, intimidating residents and being anti-social.
Just coming into the gardening season in April, allotment holders were flabbergasted when SADC floated a 400 per cent price hike in five years - many fearing they would be forced to give up the hobby. After a hard fought campaign over the next few months, St Albans district council (SADC) backed down and set up a payment increase plan in line with inflation.
TV fans were treated to a host of St Albans-based hopefuls. In April St Albans drummer DJ kept MasterChef fans gripped while she spun plates and wowed the judges with her science techniques.
Lyndsay Evans only fell down when her recipes were over ambitious, sometimes presenting numerous different dishes on one plate. Nevertheless, her unique flavours saw her right through to the semi-final rounds, before her cooking journey ended and she was kicked off the show.
A budding professional dancer from Wheathampstead, Jac Coxall, was part of a troupe to try their chances on Britain’s Got Talent in May. Although the judges were thoroughly scared by the nightmareish clown costumes and the group got through to live voting rounds, that was the end of the road for TNG. Later in the year, he appeared in international superstar Zayn Malik’s music video for Dusk till Dawn.
Kind publicans started a campaign to raise money for the disabled son of a regular patron. Danny King Gordon has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and was suffering with an old, worn, broken and too small wheelchair. In a matter of months Dave and Caroline Beale, owners of the Garibaldi Pub, had raised £8,000 to cover the cost of a new wheelchair for Danny, greatly improving his quality of life.
For another year, walkers noticed a build up of bird poo, alge, leaves, and natural material in Verulamium Park’s lake. The dirty water has been subject of much debate since a spate of avian botulism in 2015 and there have been repeated calls for silt to be removed and a permanent solution devised.
In April Howard Berry was so frustrated about pulling dead geese out of the lake that he threatened to take every corpse to SADC’s civic centre until the problem is fixed.
The campaign to stop Luton Airport flight paths cutting across the district’s airspace gained momentum for another year, with residents arguing complacency about the issue could be an “environmental catastrophe”. The activists are still fighting for quieter skies going into 2018, despite making a speech at 10 Downing Street in May.
Marshalswick residents rallied to save a 400-year-old woodland from “sanitation” in May - felling trees and concreting paths. Later, they would produce a petition and ask St Albans district councillors to reevaluate maintenance plans for The Wick.
Well established St Albans tourist destination Gardens of the Rose went into administration in May, after being taken over by joint administrators Stephen Goderski and Peter Hart, of PKF Geoffrey Martin & Co. St Albans MP Anne Main said it had been “in trouble for a long time” and it followed the fate of neighbouring attraction Butterfly World’s closure in December 2015. Later in the year the garden site was put on the market.
Voters exercised their democratic rights in May and June, firstly for HCC. Conservatives consolidated their power in the area by gaining five seats at County Hall, while Labour suffered huge losses. Then, the nation was shocked when PM Theresa May called a snap election in June and more stunned still when her Government lost a majority and was forced to partner with the DUP. Despite St Albans’ Remain stance and a fervent Liberal Democrat campaign, St Albans MP Anne Main was re-elected for a fourth term. For Hitchin and Harpenden, Conservative newcomer Bim Afolami was elected with 31,189 votes.
In June, train users urged Thameslink to U-turn on a 21 per cent price hike for off-peak tickets, noting the “low quality service” they get in exchange. Backlash was so furious the operator altered the fares a second time reducing the cost back down.
St Albans bid farewell to former mayor Cllr Frances Leonard and welcomed in a new mayor, Cllr Iqbal Zia. He promised to put the community at the heart of his tenure and despite temporarily losing the consort chain in his office desk, has attended numerous events since June.
A Harpenden kidney patient who owes her life to her mum’s donation in the 70s spoke out about the number of people waiting for transplants. Diane Gough highlighted the number of people awaiting transplants in Herts and that one person dies every single day in the UK waiting for a new kidney.
The long-running Nascot Lawn campaign kicked off in June, with Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG) threatening to withdraw its £600,000 funding to compensate a £38m overspend last year. A online petition racked up more than 10,000 signatures from families with disabled children who rely on the Watford centre, pleading with the CCG to rethink its plans. The saga will rumble on throughout the year, finally coming to a close in November.
Small shuffles towards St Albans’ dreaded Strategic Rail Freight Intercharnge (SRFI), initiated in April after years of silence. Developer Helioslough submitted its plans for a county park, as necessitated by the planning permission. Meanwhile, St Albans MP Anne Main made noise about the potential of a lorry depot if it cannot work alongside the Network Rail passenger line, meeting Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to push for answers on timetabling.
After coverage in the Herts Ad, St Albans residents came together to help a terminally ill ten-year-old to be at home in his final days. In a matter of months, a staggering £30,000 was raised for Shay Murray and a palliative care unit at home. He has an rare energy disorder called Pearson’s Syndrome.
St Albans district council (SADC) leader, Julian Daly, quit his six-year role in June, only weeks before a St Albans Strategic Local Plan (SLP) High Court judicial review began. He was involved in creating the plan and devising its controversial housing projections, which were disputed in the civil case later in the year. He is now portfolio holder for development at SADC.