THERE has been strong private sector interest in a leasing partnership for Wigan’s best-loved tourist attraction.
Five potential investment organisations have been shortlisted to develop plans to protect and enhance Haigh Hall and the plantations Country Park estate.
However the council said today it is unable to disclose the names of the organisations because of commercial confidentiality.
Those through to the next round have until the start of the New Year to submit a more in-depth proposal.
This will detail how they intend to run the site – both the listed stately home which was once seat to Earl Balcarres along with the country park.
Council chiefs will then assess each of the applications, before whittling down once more.
With the estate in need of multi-million pound investment, the council decided to seek an external partner to inject much-needed cash into the site after a decision was made by Cabinet member for Leisure Coun Chris Ready, earlier this summer.
Haigh Hall and Country Park is currently managed by leisure and culture provider WLCT, and is already a major visitor destination attracting around 300,000 visits each year.
However, research indicates that enhancing the site and improving the existing facilities could attract even more visitors and bring much-needed revenue to the area.
A range of options, including turning the hall into a hotel or conference centre and opening up the park for new sports or adventure activities are being explored.
The main aim of any investment programme is to maintain public access to the park while bringing economic and social benefits to the local area.
Under pressure town hall bosses also want to reduce the cost of running and maintaining the facility to local council tax payers. Sources expect the procurement process to take up to one year, with development plans potentially taking years to complete.
During this time Haigh will continue to host events and activities. Once selected, the partner will manage the estate on behalf of Wigan Council, who will retain ownership.
The hall and country estate was signed over to the council’s predecessor authority by the Earl’s descendents immediately after the end of the Second World War in lieu of unpaid domestic rates.
Coun Ready said: “It’s great to see the level of interest attracted from both local and national organisations. The quality of the applications made it extremely difficult to shortlist, but I’m confident that we’ve got some great potential partners with some very exciting ideas.
“I think all are more than capable of ensuring its future preservation and enhancement.”