Review of the Year - Part 1

Newlyweds Patrick Valentine and Lady Katie.

Newlyweds Patrick Valentine and Lady Katie.

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The Northumberland Gazette takes a look back at the top stories of 2011.

JANUARY

Fire damage at Seabank flats in Alnmouth.

Fire damage at Seabank flats in Alnmouth.

ANGER mounted as Northumberland County Council progressed its plans to hand over some key services to town and parish councils, in a bid to address stinging budget cuts for the coming financial year. A letter from the authority to parish leaders said there was a ‘realistic possibility’ that a number of services would either have to be cut back or stopped entirely unless they were adopted at local level. But it was warned that the move could lead to some small councils having to quadruple their annual precept to cope with the increased responsibility. Following widespread condemnation, the county decided to maintain the status-quo for the rest of the year.

• Wild winter weather continued to wreak havoc across Northumberland, following the heaviest snowfall in living memory. Roads remained blocked in many rural parts of the county, while trade in the towns was heavily disrupted. The Met Office confirmed that the snowfall was the heaviest for this time of year since 1965.

• Alnwick’s Bailiffgate Museum reported a substantial surge in visitor numbers for 2010, up by 20 per cent on the previous year. The attraction was also named as one of the 25 best days out in the country for youngsters.

• The fate of the troubled Northumberland Foods factory in Amble was cast into further doubt after it was put up for sale. More than 220 lots, including machinery and equipment, were listed for auction, with a bidding deadline of February 23. The business had only recently become part of Longbenton Foods, which took over the site in October 2010, following a lengthy period of uncertainty.

Pupils and staff from St Michael's First School enjoying their time at Ford castle.

Pupils and staff from St Michael's First School enjoying their time at Ford castle.

• Three seal pups from the Farne Islands were discovered 350 miles away on a Dutch beach, one of which was just three weeks old. It was believed that strong winds and raging seas had swept the marine mammals out into the North Sea, although some biologists said seal pups were prone to exploring, often travelling hundreds of miles from their colonies.

• A major windfarm application at Wingates, near Longhorsley, was rejected by county planners. But it was revealed that the scheme, for nine turbines, would be taken to a public inquiry by the developers, in a bid to overturn the local authority’s decision.

• Former Coquet High School headmaster Paul Allen was appointed as the new harbour master for Amble by Warkworth Harbour Commissioners.

• The chief executive of Northumberland’s top tourist attraction made a shock announcement that he was standing down. Frenchman Christian Perdrier, who was formerly a boss at Disneyland Paris, revealed he was to leave his post at Alnwick Castle and Garden for family reasons.

The Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, opened  the new home of St Paul's RCVA First School and St Paul's RCVA Middle School in Alnwick.'The bishop is seen with headteachers Maria Wilson and Dorothy Brett and pupils Katie-Lou Friend, Aoife Matta, Bartek Niepsuj, Jane Fannon, Abbie Balmbra and Zac Brown.

The Right Reverend Seamus Cunningham, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, opened the new home of St Paul's RCVA First School and St Paul's RCVA Middle School in Alnwick.'The bishop is seen with headteachers Maria Wilson and Dorothy Brett and pupils Katie-Lou Friend, Aoife Matta, Bartek Niepsuj, Jane Fannon, Abbie Balmbra and Zac Brown.

• The Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle officially launched the new joint St Paul’s RCVA first and middle schools at their new home on South Road in Alnwick. It was the end result of a decision to close St John’s RCVA First School, on Lisburn Terrace, and Thomas Percy RCVA Middle School, on Blakelaw Road, and relocate both at the former Convent School site. The old school sites were earmarked for new housing.

• It was confirmed that rock legends Status Quo would headline this year’s concert in Alnwick Pastures.

FEBRUARY

ELDERLY residents in Alnmouth had a narrow escape after a stolen car was set on fire in a parking space beneath their block of flats. The blaze quickly spread, shooting a 30-foot wall of flames which engulfed the balconies above, prompting fire crews from Alnwick and Amble to respond with four hosereels. Two men were subsequently arrested.

Christian Perdrier, Alnwick Garden.

Christian Perdrier, Alnwick Garden.

• The search for the face of the county was launched, with the first Miss Northumberland competition for young women aged between 17 and 24. The contest, sponsored by the Gazette, attracted scores of entries from across the region, with heats being run over subsequent months.

• Rothbury’s Cragside Estate was left counting the cost of a wave of destruction caused during the extreme winter weather. Trees more than 100 years old were destroyed and an estimated £50,000 worth of damage was caused by the heavy snow and Arctic conditions.

• It was revealed by Northumberland County Council that Ford Castle was to close as an educational centre at the end of August.

• Brave five-year-old Shilbottle boy Matthew Phillips lost his battle against an aggressive brain tumour, which had been diagnosed when he was just 22 months old. The plucky youngster went through five relapses, 13 operations, 14 months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. His death was greeted with an outpouring of grief in the close-knit community, which had rallied around Matthew’s family during his treatment.

• Plans to privatise RAF search and rescue helicopters were halted following irregularities in the bidding process. The proposals, which would have replaced the ageing Sea Kings with a fleet of modern Sikorsky S-92 aircraft operated by civilian crews, were highly controversial.

• Outgoing Alnwick Castle and Garden chief executive Christian Perdrier bid farewell to Alnwick and returned to his native France. The former Disneyland Paris boss resigned his post in January, after 15 months in the town.

• The family of Ellingham woman Eilidh Cairns, who was killed while cycling in London in 2009, took their fight for safety improvements on heavy goods vehicles to the European Parliament.

• It was revealed that Druridge Bay Middle School would close, after a consultation into the merger with the new James Calvert Spence College in Amble. Children would become part of the middle school at the South Avenue campus.

• Staff at Northumberland County Council held a protest at County Hall over ongoing job losses as part of massive budget cuts by the authority.

• It was announced that world-famous chef Jean-Christophe Novelli would be the guest star at the forthcoming Alnwick Food Festival.

• Lady Katie Percy, eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, was married at St Michael’s Church in Alnwick to city financier Patrick Valentine. Crowds lined Bailiffgate to see the bride’s coach head from Alnwick Castle to the wedding and back.

MARCH

NO money was found in the county council’s budget for the rebuilding of Alnwick’s Duchess’s Community High School and the £18million promised for a new leisure centre in Ashington struck a nerve with campaigners.

• 10cc was revealed as the support act for Status Quo for the August concert at Alnwick Castle.

• A blaze at Low Middleton Farm near Belford that destroyed 200 bales of hay kept firefighters working for nearly 12 hours.

• A parish council chairman warned that rural communities needed to pull together and make their voices heard in the face of cuts in services and rising fuel costs.

• A fund-raising mission was launched for brave Amble lad Brandon Ballance, who was battling a brain tumour, to fund his dream trip to swim with dolphins.

• The parish of St Paul grabbed a last-gasp winner in Alnwick’s Shrovetide match. The Shrove Tuesday football game has been played on the Pastures beneath Alnwick Castle since 1828, except for during the Second World War.

• Festival organisers across north Northumberland were hit with a bombshell when council bosses announced they would start charging for services that in the past had been offered for free, such as street cleaning, road closures and the erection of staging.

• In another controversial move, the county council decided to remove charity clothing banks from their recycling sites and replace them with their own in the hopes of raising around £300,000 a year.

• There was a devastating outcome after months of uncertainty when 80 people at an Amble food factory were made redundant. Attempts by Longbenton Foods to buy the former Northumberland Foods site at Coquet Enterprise Park fell through.

• The Gazette launched a campaign to clean up the streets of north Northumberland of dog dirt. Scoop the Poop encouraged residents both to clean up after their dogs and to expose dog owners who flouted the rules.

• Towns and villages in north Northumberland appeared a little lost as Google Maps placed them all in Cumbria.

• Alnwick’s art scene was dealt a blow as it was revealed that Alnwick Playhouse and Northumberland Theatre Company lost out on a funding bid from the Arts Council. At the same time the Queen’s Hall in Hexham saw a 174 per cent increase in its funding and the Maltings at Berwick a 270 per cent increase.

• The organisers of a proposed 15,000-person music festival near Seahouses urged residents not to miss out on a great opportunity at a meeting which saw angry residents raise a number of concerns over the plans.

• County council chiefs agreed to hike the price of being laid to rest, increasing the cost of cremations and burials and even putting a charge on the right to have a headstone. Conservative opposition councillors branded the decision – taken under delegated powers – as ‘vindictive and clumsy’.

See the website tomorrow for Part 2