Councillors in cabinet back protestors over unsafe path in Haigh Hall access row
Campaigners have celebrated a major victory after the borough’s political leaders dramatically sided with them over access at Haigh Hall.
Councillors who make up the cabinet accepted that the alternative path visitors to the 19th century landmark are told to use when Contessa Hotels locks the gates during events is unsafe.
This echoes what campaigners in the group Friends of Haigh Hall Heritage and Open Access for All have been saying for weeks, with the panoramic path slammed as unsuitable for wheelchairs, prams and buggies or residents with mobility issues.
Councillors have now given Contessa Hotels an ultimatum to fix the issue and the firm has just a few days to act if it is going to meet the deadline which has been set.
If this is not done the cabinet has asked civil servants to look at “all available options” for resolving the problem and pencilled in early February as a date to decide what to do next.
Wigan Council leader Coun David Molyneux said: “Haigh Woodland Park and Haigh Hall is a hugely popular visitor attraction and we are committed to continuing its growth as a premier leisure destination not just for residents but for people across the North West.
“We have been continuing to listen to residents on what they value at Haigh and some of them continue to raise the issues relating to public access through the grounds of Haigh Hall.
“The cabinet knows much work has been put into trying to find a solution to the issue of public access.
“But it is felt that the alternative path that cabinet was prepared to accept as a route through the grounds remains unsafe for users.
“The hotel has stated that improvement works will be implemented before the end of January.
“But in light of the current access issues officers have been asked to consider all available options that can be taken to get the matter resolved and a further decision will be made in early February as to what follow up is needed.”
That is a markedly different tone towards the development at Haigh taken by councillors compared to town hall officers.
It has been met with an ecstatic reception from the campaign group, which has submitted an application to the local authority for the road beside the main hall to be designated a public right of way.
Their quest has been backed by more than 3,000 residents and, in a telling and rare public intervention, by the 94-year-old Earl of Crawford who wrote a supportive letter from his Scottish home.
A campaign group spokesman said: “We are really pleased to hear that the cabinet has halted plans to direct community members to an unsafe path.
“They have finally accepted that the route is unsafe. We asked an independent inspector to have a look at the path back in October but the council still made the decision in November that it was suitable.
“We hope this means there will be no more locking of the gates so people who may need additional help with mobility are not discriminated against.
“We also hope this now represents a return to the council’s position in 2016 in which they told a group member that the lease requires access to the public is maintained.
“We would love the council to work with us and we have offered that opportunity. We don’t want to stop development and would love to be able to support it with access maintained.”
The group is now aiming to get 5,000 signatures on its petition, at which point it will push for the matter to be either debated at full council or discussed by a scrutiny committee.
To find out more about the campaign search for Friends of Haigh Hall Heritage and Open Access for All at www.thepetitionsite.com or follow it on Twitter @FriendsOpen