Judge defers Haigh Hall decision until April
A high court judge will now decide on the future of Haigh Hall after hearing Wigan Council’s case against a hotel chain it wants to kick out of the historic building.
The council served notice of its intention to use a break clause in its contract with Contessa Hotels back in September 2019, but the company continued to occupy the building despite its lease being terminated by the local authority.
At the time, Wigan Council said it was seeking to terminate its agreement with the tenant at Haigh Hall due to its ‘failure to comply with terms of the lease’.
The town hall said the lease included milestones by which time development was required to have taken place in accordance with planning permission.
However, speaking on behalf of Scullindale Global at the court hearing which finished on Thursday (March 12), Andrew Latimer, defending, said the local authority and its legal representatives ‘did not understand’ the lease.
He blamed Wigan Council which ‘wrecked the wedding business’ at the venue when couples cancelled their bookings after hearing about the break notice being served on the hotelier before the terms of the termination were agreed.
He said: “Wigan has effectively blighted its own property.
“Wigan wrecked the wedding business itself by publishing the break notice.
“Couples said, very sensibly, they need to go elsewhere because they couldn’t put their wedding at risk.”
Delays caused by a ‘constant change’ of building control officers at the council – four in 14 months – were also blamed for some ‘difficulty’ with development.
Restoration works were completed to the windows and doors at the historic hall – however, the council’s complaint was that not enough work was done.
A ‘rooftop ceremony room’ was also planned but not built, the court heard.
And there was some disagreement over how many rooms were open.
But Mr Latimer claimed that the lease did not require the hotel operator to carry out any work – it simply needed to obtain a four-star rating as a hotel.
He said: “Scullindale isn’t actually in breach if it doesn’t develop the premises.
“It’s not in breach of the lease, it’s simply opening up the opportunity to use the break clause. It doesn’t say that Scullindale must open and run a hotel.
“The safeguard is you have to get that four-star rating. It doesn’t require 30 rooms or even 15. It simply requires you to get the four-star rating.
“Planning permission does not require any works to be done. If you don’t implement, then, in time, often they lapse. But you’re never obligated to build. If you do ever build and take up the council on its permission, you’re then bound by it.
“If you take them up on the offer, you have to do it in accordance with planning permission, but you’re free not to do it if you so choose.”
He added: “Wigan Council read the lease and the planning laws as if they’re the same. They’re not wholly independent, but we can’t run them together.
“Scullindale doesn’t actually accept there’s been breaches on any wider conditions. But Scullindale’s position is that they do not matter.”
Judge David Hodge QC is expected to hand down his judgement on April 1.
Wirral-based Contessa Hotels Limited has Craig Baker named as a director on the Companies House website and he was involed with the Haigh Hall operations.
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