The hotel firm running Haigh Hall has been forced into a massive climbdown over public access in an enormous victory for campaigners.
Contessa Hotels has been ordered by Wigan Council to provide unrestricted routes around the landmark 19th-century building having previously directed the public towards a path deemed unsafe by the borough’s top politicians.
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Following weeks of intense pressure thousands of furious residents supporting the campaign group Friends of Haigh Hall Heritage and Open Access For All Contessa capitulated as Wigan Council acted on the growing pile of complaints.
The campaign group celebrated its victory, calling the change of heart “the right thing to do”, but said it would continue to hold those involved to account to ensure promises are kept.
A pedestrian route will now be installed at the side of the main gates on the route between the car park and the hall.
Instead of diverting people towards the panoramic path, which was heavily criticised by the council’s ruling cabinet recently, there will simply be an access point next to the gates before visitors return to the main asphalt route they have used for decades.
However, this suggests Contessa Hotels has been caught out as it comes just a few weeks after co-director Craig Baker told the Wigan Observer he shut the gates on the main route because it was too steep for wheelchair users and residents with mobility issues.
Now, however, the firm and town hall say that exact route will be suitable for all residents wanting to visit, including cyclists and families with prams. The gates, which have caused so much anger, will continue being closed during weddings to control the flow of vehicles around the hall, the council said.
The local authority said it will work with Contessa to manage the increasing numbers of visitors flocking to the hall and woodland park, especially when there are events on.
Coun David Molyneux, leader of the council, said: “Our message for residents is we are listening to your concerns and we are taking this issue extremely seriously.
“We have asked the hotel to create pedestrian access so people can access the park at all times and are pleased that they have agreed to create separate pedestrian access.
“We do understand the needs of the hotel so we ask that residents are respectful of the hotel guests, particularly at weddings, and do keep to the paths.”
A spokesperson for the campaign group said: “We are pleased to hear that Contessa are not going to restrict access, and saddened that it took a campaign to achieve it. It was always the right thing to do.
"We need to know further detail in order to ensure that all that glitters is gold and to ensure that unrestricted access means unrestricted access.
“Our campaign continues to dedicate the path as a right of way in order to protect the path for future generations as we are aware that the lease contains a clause that enables the hotel group to change the use in eight years time.”