Here's what happened in January 2017:

NEARLY 600 people started the year on the right note by signing up to a Weight Watchers programme paid for by Hampshire County Council, writes Nick Osman. The council was spending more than £2 million on a programme for obese people to take slimming classes as figures revealed that 65 per cent of adults in Hampshire are overweight or obese. The free 12-week course was offered to anyone with a Hampshire postcode and 596 people signed up – saving them the cost of the course but costing the taxpayer £37,500.

SMOKERS who seek out cheap cigarettes and tobacco in Southampton are unknowingly helping to fund organised crime and even international terrorism, experts warned. They said millions of pounds in profits from illegal and fake tobacco products easily available from rogue traders was finding its way into the pockets of the worst criminals and killers. It was part of a Daily Echo investigation that showed how a flood of illegal and fake tobacco products were openly being sold across the city by some unscrupulous traders and individuals.

THE University of Southampton came under fire after it was revealed it had paid out more than £250,000 to its vice chancellor when he left his a post year earlier than scheduled. Professor Don Nutbeam received £252,000 as “compensation for loss of office” plus a £43,000 “performance-related bonus” before stepping down at the end of September 2015. The six-figure payout was labelled as “embarrassing” to the university sector by the University and College Union. Regional director Moray McAuley said: “Staff, students and their parents will understandably be shocked that the University of Southampton decided to pay its vice-chancellor £250,000 to stop working. Staff are constantly being told there is no money for pay increases and have seen their pay collapse by 15 per cent in real terms in recent years, while shady remuneration committees determine pay at the top.”

SOUTHAMPTON’S historic Bargate area was set to be revived after ambitious multi-million pound redevelopment plans were approved by city planners. The city council’s planning and rights of way committee gave the green light to the project to bulldoze the Bargate Centre and replace it with a “terraced garden street” linking the 12th century Bargate monument to Queensway. The new pedestrianised street would run parallel to East Street and Hanover Buildings. It would incorporate a section of the old city walls and had been designed “to imitate the character of the gardens which were historically located along the wall”. The new boulevard would include cafes and kiosks with outside seating.

TOP selling bands including Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers and Mumford and Sons donated items for an auction of memorabilia to help raise funds for a Hampshire rock star who needed cancer treatments not currently available on the NHS. Ed Warren, who started his career out as a lighting engineer and roadie with the Southampton band Delays, organised the event in aid of the band’s frontman Greg Gilbert, who was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer and secondary lung cancer the previous month. After surgeons told the father-of-two they could not help him, Greg’s partner Stacey Heale launched a drive to raise money for a new, potentially lifesaving treatment. She was hoping a new type of immunotherapy drug, not available on the NHS, which boosts the immune system and helps target cancerous cells will save Greg’s life.

PLANS were unveiled to covert the M27 into a “smart motorway” by turning the hard shoulder into a fourth lane to improve traffic flow. The project for the stretch of motorway between junctions 4 and 11 would see pioneering technology manage traffic at busy times – such as by changing the speed limit to smooth traffic flow, activating warning signs and closing lanes if necessary. A spokesman for Highways England said work would start in early 2018 and be completed in 2020.

PLANS were unveiled for a new million landmark tower on the banks of the Solent. It would be part of the multi-million-pound regeneration scheme for Newport Harbour on the Isle of Wight that would create 500 jobs and feature a tower slightly shorter than Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower.