A snapshot of life in May 1998

Health bosses deny hospital decision

Health chiefs have moved quickly this week to scotch claims that a decision has already been taken to close Watford General Hospital. Watford Lib Dems have claimed “a senior health official” had leaked documents revealing that the hospital would close as a result of the current review of healthcare provision in west Hertfordshire. They say they expect the decision to be made public at the end of this month. Lib Dem spokesman Andy Canning claims he has been told the hospital in Vicarage Road will close in two years’ time and the site will be sold off to private developers. The source said the authority had already decided to make Hemel Hempstead the main hospital, offering accident and emergency and non-emergency services for Watford’s residents. But West Herts Health Authority dismissed Mr Canning’s claims, saying they were wholly untrue.

[May 1, 1998]

Homework guidelines

New guidelines to cut the hours children play computer games and watch television after school have been given a cautious welcome by head teachers. They have backed plans, announced by Education Secretary David Blunkett, for a more structured approach to homework, but warned care should be taken not to overload pupils as young as four with too much work. Westfield School in Tolpits Lane has been chosen to pilot one of 8,000 study support centres in England, to be paid for with cash from West Watford’s Single Regeneration Budget. The centres, mostly at schools and libraries, will provide supervised after-school sessions, giving children in overcrowded homes the opportunity to study quietly.

[May 1, 1998]

Fans revel in club’s triumph

Jubilant Hornets fans massed on the pitch to celebrate their club winning the Nationwide League Division Two championship on Saturday afternoon. And, after returning from Fulham where the team won 2-1, hundreds crowded into town centre pubs to toast the club’s success, some revelling in The Pond after closing time. Players were also involved in the celebrations, joining their wives and girlfriends for drinks in a packed Yates’ Wine Lodge. Inspector Mark Crampton said: “A crowd of around 100 people gathered outside Kudos and were jumping in and out of The Pond.”

[May 8, 1998]

Staff fume at smoking ban

Smokers have been banned from lighting up anywhere in the grounds of Watford General and Mount Vernon hospitals by image-conscious bosses. The rule will make it an offence for visitors, patients or hospital staff to smoke inside or outside the buildings. But exceptions have been made for patients who are terminally ill or visitors stressed because a bereavement has taken place. The new ruling has incensed staff who have threatened industrial action if designated smoking areas are not reinstated. Health bosses said the decision would promote the hospital’s healthy image, which is often marred by people loitering outside buildings with cigarettes.

[May 8, 1998]

Victory for residents

There will be no more concrete crushing in Bovingdon, after Hertfordshire County Council gave the controversial recycling plant less than six months to clear out. Residents were delighted last week when they learned from a report by a Department of Environment inspector that they had won their three year battle to halt the concrete crushing operations at Bovingdon Airfield in Chesham Road. The final push to get rid of the plant came after villagers made a stand at a public inquiry, held in January, to discuss the future of the plant. The news comes as a great relief to villagers living near the site. They have complained that dust from the site has been covering their cars and getting inside their homes.

[May 15, 1998]

Park group battles on

Storm clouds gathering over Watford’s Cassiobury Park assumed a silver lining when the organisation set up to protect it celebrated its 25th anniversary last week. The group Friends of Cassiobury Park was formed as a response to Watford Council demolishing the historic park gates. At the time, the Town Hall was filled to brimming with protesters – a very different picture to the Friends of 25 years quietly gathering for the annual meeting and birthday celebrations at Cassiobury Infant School on Thursday last week. But even as members prepared to cut the cake, it became clear that the group was still ready to do battle on behalf of the park’s wellbeing. Storm clouds over the park have been gathering because the Friends’ frequent requests for park wardens to patrol the area and protect the public and wildlife have failed to find favour with Watford Council. The Friends are also opposed to the council’s plan to put a cycle track through the centre of the park and have presented an alternative route around the edge.

[May 22, 1998]

We are now on the internet

Readers of the Watford Observer can now catch up with their local newspaper on the internet. In an exciting initiative, the newspaper has gone online to provide news, information and advertising that will be seen all over the world. A new website, found at www.watfordobserver.co.uk should provide a mine of information for surfers, advertisers and serious readers on the internet.

[May 22, 1998]

Taking town into the Millennium

The leader of Watford Council has backed proposals for a Mardi Gras-style festival in the town to celebrate the Millennium. Councillor Vince Muspratt has said he wants the people of Watford to mark the historic occasion in a colourful and memorable way, in the newly-enhanced town centre, dubbed the Millennium Square. Councillors will discuss a series of projects, aimed at taking Watford into the 21st century, during a meeting at the Town Hall on Monday night. Proposals include: a tea dance for senior citizens, a community arts programme, a sporting event featuring local teams, burying a time capsule and a bumper version of the Rainbow Festival.

[May 29, 1998]

What was happening in the world in May 1998?

• Europeans agree on a single currency, the euro (May 3)

• Unabomber Ted Kaczynski is sentenced to four life sentences plus 30 years after he accepted a plea agreement sparing him the death penalty (May 4)

• Israel wins the Eurovision Song Contest with Dana International singing ‘Diva’ (May 9)

• Seinfeld’s final episode airs on NBC (May 14)

• Indonesian dictator Suharto steps down after 32 years in power (May 21)

• The Good Friday Agreement is accepted in a referendum in Northern Ireland (May 23)